Hop Harvest: 2014 Edition

A sure sign that autumn approaches: our hops have been harvested!


Last weekend, Head Gardener Sandra Spudic and I teamed up with a band of intrepid hop harvesters to gather in our crop for Ed’s Wet Hop Ale. After introductions in the Visitors’ Centre, we went straight to our hop garden behind Laskay’s Emporium. The air was cool and fresh from recent rains – perfect weather for harvesting. As we admired the hop trellises, Sandra told us a bit about their cultivation.

Hops grow fairly quickly and easily, but they are vulnerable to dampness. You need a lot of airflow to ensure healthy plants – hence the wide spacing between our trellises. Sandra describes training the hops as a “Maypole effect.” That is, three plants grow up and around the central pole. When they reach the top, some of the more vigorous ones start spiraling back down!

I then shared a bit about the history of brewing with hops. Hops have two major uses in beer. Their lupulin, the yellowish powder found in female hops, acts as a bittering agent (it also creates a mild soporific effect) and the oils and resins in the hops helps to keep beer from souring. However, hops were not always used in brewing.


The first reference to cultivated hops dates from 736, and they were used in brewing in the Low Countries by the eleventh century. Otherwise, beer was brewed with gruit, a mixture of herbs including bog myrtle, yarrow, and rosemary that flavoured the beer, but did not provide hops’ preservative benefits. While we consider ale a subset of beer today, this was not always the case either. Until the sixteenth century, they were two different beverages, with a distinction was made between hopped beer and un-hopped ale.

But hops encountered resistance. Partly, this was because the English were particularly protective of their national drink, which was un-hopped ale. As well, the right to produce gruit (the gruitrecht) was granted by your lord: if you wanted your gruitrecht, you had to pay for it. Hops had no such right attached; shifting away from gruit therefore meant less money going to the lords.

However, the benefits of hops outweighed these arguments, and they were more-or-less accepted for use in brewing by 1600. By the 1860s, they were an expected component of beer, and ale had come to mean a beer brewed with top-fermenting yeasts (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), in contrast to lagers, which were brewed with bottom-fermenting yeasts (Saccharomyces uvarum).


After filling two bushel baskets, we carried our bounty down to Ed. Usually, hops are dried before brewing, but for this very special Wet Hop Ale, we put them straight in. Our harvesters assisted with adding the hops to the boil and ensuring that everything was well-stirred.

We then said goodbye to Ed and learned about another important component of beer: barley and malt! Sandra showed us the barley fields, and then it was off to the grain barn for some threshing and winnowing. Threshing with a flail takes skill and a nimble wrist. Our harvesters did very well; I did not.

I would blame the crinoline, but we all know that blame is misplaced.

The process of winnowing separates grain from chaff. One method involves tossing threshed barley with a blanket and hoping for a stiff breeze. We used our fanning mill instead. A hand-turned fan creates the necessary wind, whilst weed seeds pass through an inclined screen, leaving our clean barley to fall out the other end.

(courtesy www.thedeliberateagrarian.blogspot.com)
(courtesy http://www.thedeliberateagrarian.blogspot.com)
The fanning mill's inner workings (courtesy www.etc.usf.edu)
The fanning mill’s inner workings (courtesy http://www.etc.usf.edu)

After all that work, our harvesters deserved a break! In our historic restaurant, they sampled cookies and bread made from Ed’s spent grains, while I discussed the social history of beer and brewing in nineteenth century Ontario. Naturally, a beer tasting followed.  🙂

Thank you to all our harvesters for all your hard work! And thank you very much to Sandra Spudic for an amazing event. As I type this, the Wet Hop Ale is fermenting down in the brewery. It should be aged up and ready to hit the fridges by September 4th – watch this space for updates.

Hoppy drinking!

– Katie

PS. Don’t forget, we have another fantastic event coming soon! A Spirited Affair is less than a month away! You can sample craft beer, wine, and spirits while enjoying the best of the 1860s and 1960s – click here for more information.

(Extra-Special) New Brew: Honey Brown Ale

We have a new brew! And it is a very unique beer indeed. During last year’s Spirited Affair fundraiser, one of the silent auction prizes was the chance to design your own beer. Two weeks ago, our lucky winner Joel dropped by Black Creek for a day of brewing alongside Ed.

Joel’s offering is a Honey Brown Ale. For this beer, our brewers have used buckwheat honey. Buckwheat honey is fairly dark, and known for a spicy, malty taste—which is lovely for brewing!

Buckwheat Honey (via www.backtotheland.ca)
Buckwheat Honey (via http://www.backtotheland.ca)

This beer is a rich brown colour, similar in hue to our usual Brown Ale. Smooth and rounded on the tongue, it has a little more weight than the standard brown ale as well. The honey shows up as a subtle sweetness on the aftertaste—in some ways, you feel it more than anything, as an extra bit of depth to the brew. At 5% ABV, this is a mellow beer, perfect for winding down those hot summer days and thinking about the first winds of autumn.

The Honey Brown Ale is available at the Black Creek Historic Brewery until our stocks run out. And then—well, a Spirited Affair is coming up again! Who knows? Maybe next year you’ll be designing one of our brews!




PS. If you missed the Global TV segment on the Black Creek Historic Brewery, you can find it here: they have footage of Joel and Ed making the Honey Brown Ale!



A Spirited Affair meets Rowland Burr: Temperance Advocate

A Spirited Affair is coming quickly! On September 25th, we’ll be having a night of wine, whisky, beer, music, and food to fundraise for the restoration of our Burwick House.


Ironically, the man behind Burwick was a staunch temperance advocate. Rowland Burr (1798-1865) was born in Philadelphia, but moved with his family to Canada as a young boy. He was a contractor, landowner, and Justice of the Peace. While he didn’t live in our Burwick House, he established the village in which it was built (Burrwick: now Woodbridge). From 1851 onwards, he lived in a large house in Toronto—the 1861 census lists him as living in St. Andrew’s ward (between Queen/King and Yonge/Strachan streets) with his wife Hester. That census also lists him as being a Wesleyan Methodist, which may partly explain his attitude towards alcohol.

I first found an outside reference to Burr in an American treatise on temperance: it referenced a “Mr. Burr, Esq.” who had petitioned the Canadian legislature to adopt prohibition. “Say,” I thought, “I wonder if that’s our Mr. Burr.”

Spoiler: it was.

In 1860, Burr published a pamphlet of extracts from temperance-related reports. Some of them from an 1834 British parliamentary inquiry into drunkenness; the majority were from The Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Assembly of Canada on the Prohibitory Liquor Law (1859).

Burr felt that alcohol was dangerous, but more, a twisted use of divine gifts: “…an immense amount of wholesome and nutritious grain given by a bountiful Providence for the food of man, which is now by distillation converted into a poison” (5). The symbolism here is potent. Grain which is given by God (think of the importance of the bread of life in an Evangelical/religious context) is instead transformed into something sinful.

Indeed, according to the Committee, intemperance was the reason behind most of the suffering, sorrow, and poverty in Canada. Burr himself was particularly worried about the role alcohol played in encouraging crime and pauperism. This is in itself very telling of the Victorian mind. In the nineteenth century worldview, poverty was a moral failing and/or defect. Alcohol just made you a worse person.

Won't someone think of the children??? (Courtesy www.victorianweb.org)
Won’t someone think of the children??? (Courtesy http://www.victorianweb.org)

Hence why Burr was pushing not just for increased control of liquor sales, but for outright prohibition:

“I believe the morals of the public are greatly injured by the use of intoxicating liquors. My experience as a Justice of the Peace and Jail Commissioner for nearly 20 years, shews that 9 out of 10 of the male prisoners and 19 out of 20 of the female prisoners, have been brought there by intoxicating liquors. I have visited the Jails from Quebec to Sandwich through the length and breadth of Canada, and I have personally examined nearly 2000 prisoners…they nearly all signed a petition that I presented to them for a Maine Liquor Law, many of them stating that it was their only hope of being saved from utter ruin, unless they could go where intoxicating liquors were not sold.” (20)

Here’s where the story gets particularly interesting: the Maine Liquor Law that Burr references is in fact the prohibition legislation that had been passed in Maine in 1851. You know, the same Maine Law that we learned about last month. Burr was also very keen to get Neal Dow, the temperance-loving/alcohol-hoarding mayor of Portland, up to Toronto. Dow couldn’t make it, but did communicate with the Canadian Committee about the history and operation of his prohibitory system in Maine.

We meet again, Mr. Dow (courtesy www.fineartamerica.com)
We meet again, Mr. Dow (courtesy http://www.fineartamerica.com)

There are a few things to tease out here. First, it’s interesting to see how well-organized and far-reaching the temperance movement had become by the 1850s. These temperance advocates are reaching across national borders, drawing on the experience of other figures in their field. It’s a more consolidated movement.

Second, it’s interesting to see the transition from “tempering” alcohol consumption by avoiding hard liquors, to prohibiting all alcoholic beverages: from controlling alcohol to criminalizing it. Burr states several times throughout his report that measures aimed at simply regulating the sale of alcohol do nothing to curb intemperance; the only way to solve the problem is to ban alcohol outright. This is certainly a strengthening of rhetoric and attitude. Temperance advocates are becoming more rigid, more extreme in their views, and more willing to adopt radical measures.

Finally, Burr also includes several references to former/current alcoholics who support the Maine Law. Essentially, they claim that they are slaves to alcohol, and thus they have more freedom to enjoy their rights without it. I suspect Burr is trying to circumvent the argument that the government is restricting the populace’s rights and freedom through prohibition by reframing ideas of liberty. To his mind, he’s actually giving people more freedom: the freedom from the control of alcohol.

The extracts themselves are fascinating reading and give great insight into the dialogue that was happening at the time. Temperance ties itself up in so many other social and political issues—like many other parts of brewing history, it’s not solely about beer!


PS. Dear Mr. Burr: I hope that you are okay with our using alcohol sales to restore the house you built.

New Brew: Simcoe Hopped Ale

We hope you had an excellent long weekend! The celebrations aren’t over in the brewery, though. We still have plenty of our August specialty beer: the Simcoe Hopped Ale.

As you may have guessed, this beer was brewed in honour of the holiday. Civic Holiday lands on the first Monday in August, and it’s celebrated through most of Canada. Personally, I enjoy the name “Civic Holiday” (it may just be me, but it reads as “Long Weekend For The Sake Of It Day”),  but as it turns out, the holiday has different names in different parts of the country. In Toronto (not the rest of Ontario, just Toronto), it’s been known as “Simcoe Day” since 1969.

Attempts to get the rest of the province to call the holiday “Simcoe Day” haven’t been successful. Luckily, the Black Creek Historic Brewery falls within Toronto’s limits!


John Graves Simcoe (1725-1806)  Courtesy www.archives.gov.on.ca)
John Graves Simcoe (1725-1806)
Courtesy http://www.archives.gov.on.ca)

John Graves Simcoe was the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. Born in England on February 25, 1752, he established himself as a military officer, commanding the Queen’s Rangers in the American Revolutionary War. Following the Constitutional Act of 1791, Simcoe was appointed the first Lieutenant Governor of the newly-created Upper Canada. Though he only remained in Upper Canada until 1796, Simcoe left an indelible mark on the province’s history.

To name just a few: he was the driving force behind the Act Against Slavery (1793), established the town of York (now Toronto), and began construction on a road system that included Yonge and Dundas streets. Simcoe’s impact on the province is made even more remarkable by the brevity of his time here.

And so, it seems fitting to honour Simcoe with a new brew. Our Simcoe Hopped Ale is a North American pale ale. Surprisingly, given the name, Simcoe hops originate from Washington state—they’re known for their aromatic qualities and fruity fragrance.

The Simcoe Hopped Ale is amber-orange in colour, with quite a lot of orange on the nose as well. The taste is more grapefruit and earthy notes, though. The hops are noticeable on the front of the tongue, but overall, this is a smooth beer. If you like the citrus notes of our North American IPA, but find the hops a bit intense, this may be a good beer to try.

The Simcoe Hopped Ale will be available in the historic brewery while supplies last. See you at the brewery!