A Toast to Cheers! (or: why do we toast, anyway?)

If you’ve ever taken our Historic Brewery Tour, you know that before every drink, we toast, “To Queen and country!” Since my brewery compatriots and I end up saying this toast almost every day, I eventually got to thinking: what’s the origin behind toasts, anyway?

The Oxford English Dictionary is usually a good place to start investigations. According to the OED, a “toast” is a…call to a gathering of people to raise their glasses and drink together in honour of a person or thing, or an instance of drinking in this way, while “cheers” is defined as expressing good wishes.

Lovely, but less etymology than I usually like. Continuing my digging, I found a myriad of explanations for the origins of toasting. One such theory, claims that the Ancient Greeks believed beautiful, spiritual things should appeal to all five senses. Thus, the colour of wine pleases the eye; the bouquet pleases the nose; and the body, both taste and touch. Clinking goblets together is therefore a way to include the ear. Indeed, if we look at the word aesthetics (in the sense of it being a philosophy dealing with the appreciation of art and beauty), we find it is ultimately derived from the Greek word aisthanomai: “I perceive, feel, sense.” But, while there is a possibility this is true, and while I personally really like the concept, I remain unconvinced—a few more primary sources would be nice.

It certainly has an aesthetic of its own, though...
It certainly has an aesthetic of its own, though…

Other theories include: banging mugs together to slosh part of your drink into your partner’s mug, and vice versa. Thus, if you had poisoned your partner’s drink, you’d end up contaminating your drink, too. Alternatively, toasting might have originated through the desire to frighten away spirits by banging mugs. Or, from offering the first drink to the gods: a remnant of sacrificial libation-pouring.

So the origins of toasting are likely multifaceted, and certainly nebulous. Luckily, the Victorians were a little clearer on their stance towards toasts. Surprisingly, they were not overly fond of them:

“The custom of drinking toasts, and of forcing people to drink bumper and bumper of wine, until drunkenness results, is quite banished from gentlemanly society to its proper place—the tavern. It arises from a mistaken idea of making visitors welcome… (Charles William Day, Hints on Etiquette and the Usages of Society, with a Glance at Bad Habits: 1844, p. 47)

Nor was this an isolated opinion:

“And you must drink whether it pleased you to do so or not; and the glasses were often refilled while you drank to the health of this person or that, while to refuse to do so was considered an insult. Such feasts are within the memory of many men now living, but let hope that our children may never return to them.” (Sophia Orne Johnson, A Manual of Etiquette with Hints on Politeness and Good Breeding: 1868, p. 58)

Of course, toasting meets temperance with a fabulous collision. They’re absolutely right: it is still considered impolite to refuse a toast (actually, the semantics of toasting etiquette caused quite a scandal between Canada and Ireland in the 1940s). It is easy to see why pro-temperance writers would worry about toasting leading people to drink an excessive amount (advice-manual writers and pro-temperance writers seem to overlap quite a bit). As well, temperance claimed that alcohol threatened health, society, and morality. Their aversion to it being used to celebrate to express well wishes therefore makes sense.

As one “gentleman” said,

Gentleman,—You have been pleased to drink my health with wine… Your drinking me will do me no harm; drinking it will do you no good. I do not take wine, because I am determined wine shall not take me. You are most daring, but I am most secure. You have courage to tamper with and flatter a dangerous enemy; I have courage to let him alone…I would rather drink your diseases; would rather root out from you whatever is wrong and prejudicial to your happiness… (A Manual of Etiquette with Hints on Politeness and Good Breeding, p. 69).

Sounds like this gentleman was great fun at parties. Sounds like he was also invented to make a point.

In any case, in temperance schools of thought, this anti-toasting attitude continued into the twentieth century. The Sacred Heart Review, a Catholic newspaper published in Cambridge/Boston, said:

“Toasting is a foolish old custom which ought to have died a natural death, years ago. Among temperance people, or at a celebration run on total abstinence lines, it is an anomaly. If there must be toasts, however, there are lots of temperance beverages, beginning with water (the best of all) in which to drink them.” (The Sacred Heart Review, February 16, 1901).

I find it interesting that so much emphasis is put on the vehicle of expressing those good wishes, rather than on the good wishes themselves. As we’ve seen, temperance becomes far more intolerant as the century progressed; this staunch stand makes sense in context, I suppose I’m just always surprised by how fervent temperance rhetoric can be.


(courtesy www.warof1812.ca)
Cheers! (courtesy http://www.warof1812.ca)

In any case, we are quite pleased to toast you, the Queen, Black Creek, and various and sundry people down here. And we’re pleased to do so across languages, too! How do you toast?

Afrikaans: Gesondheid!

Breton: Yec’hed mat!

Chinese (Cantonese):  飲勝 (yám sing) 飲杯 (yám bùi)

Chinese (Mandarin): 乾杯! [干杯!] (gān bēi)

Czech: Na zdraví!

Danish: Skål!

Dutch: Proost!

English: Cheers!

Fijian: Bula!

French: À votre santé!

German: Prost!

Greenlandic : Kasuutta!

Igbo : Mma manu!

Irish Gaelic : Sláinte!

Italian: Salute!

Klingon: Iwllj jachjaj!

Korean: 건배 [乾杯] (geonbae)

Latin: Bonam sanitatem!

Māori: Mauri ora!

Old English: Wes þū hal!

Polish: Na zdrowie!

Portuguese: Viva!

Russian : За здоровье! (Za zdarov’e!)

Scottish Gaelic: Slàinte!

Sindarin : Almiën!

Spanish : ¡Salud!

Swahili : Miasha mareful!

Vietnamese : Chúc sức khoẻ!

Welsh: Iechyd da!

Xhosa: Impilo!

(Please note: this is just a small smattering of languages!)

To Queen and country!


For more information…

Day, Charles William. Hints on Etiquette and the Usages of Society, with a Glance at Bad Habits. Bostin: Otis, Broaders, & Co., 1844.

Johnson, Sophia Orne. A Manual of Etiquette with Hints on Politeness and Good Breeding. Philadelphia: D. McKay, 1868.

n.d.  “As to Toasts and Other Things.” The Sacred Heart Review (Boston), February 16, 1901.

Good For What “Ales” You: Medicinal Beers

It is that time of year when coughs and colds run rampant. Autumn sniffles affected the Victorians just as much as they do us. However, unlike us, Victorians often sought relief in the form of (what else?) beer!

While we primarily drink beer for taste/social reasons, beer has a long history of use in medicine. In fact, there is evidence that ancient Nubian brewers were using beer as an antibiotic. In 1980, scientists noticed that a 1600-year-old Nubian mummy contained traces of tetracycline: an antibiotic that binds with calcium and gets deposited into the bones. One small thing:

Tetracycline wasn’t officially discovered until 1945.

Although for the ancient Nubians, beer would’ve been more like an alcoholic barley smoothie, sipped through a straw…

After ruling out the possibility that the bones has become contaminated, researchers hypothesized that the Nubians were lacing their beer with grain contaminated with Streptomyces bacteria: the bacteria that produce tetracycline. For the ancient Nubians, beer was thus not only beverage and foodstuff, but medicine as well.

A little closer to our time at Black Creek, beer has long been used as a preventative/treatment for scurvy. This is particularly true of spruce beer: a beer brewed with the young green shoots of the spruce tree. You may remember tasting this at Black Creek! Spruce beer shows up in the 1590s around the Baltic, but it probably existed prior to that too. The antiscorbutic properties (antiscorbutic—what a wonderful word; possibly my new favourite) of spruce beer were invaluable to sailors on long voyages deprived of fresh fruits and vegetables. On making landfall, voyagers would set about making spruce beer—looking southwards to our antipodean cousins, Captain James Cook brewed New Zealand’s first beer for precisely this reason in 1770.

James Cook arrives at Queen Charlotte's Sound, New Zealand (courtesy www.britannica.com)
James Cook arrives at Queen Charlotte’s Sound, New Zealand (courtesy http://www.britannica.com)

For nineteenth century Canadians, beer supplemented the diet. Beer contains several of the B-complex vitamins (not thiamine, alas), and depending on style, can be a source of iron, too. In her Female Emigrant’s Guide (1854), writer Catherine Parr Traill laments the comparative lack of private brewing among families, explaining: “During the very hot weather, some cooling and strengthening beverage is much required by men who have to work out in the heat of the sun; and the want of it is often supplied by whisky diluted with water, or by cold water, which, when drunk in large quantities, is dangerous to the health, and should, if possible, be avoided” (Parr Trail, The Female Emigrant’s Guide, 137). Beer was not only thirst-quencher, but fortifier.

It was also, depending on style, a cure. Several types of medicinal beers were brewed through the 1800s. Just for starters, we have…

  • Ginger beer: believed to prevent/relieve nausea, indigestion, pain, and inflammation
  • Dandelion beer: used to stimulate the liver, and also for its narcotic/calming effects
  • Root beer: one of the main components, sassafras, is used as a general tonic and purifier. Unfortunately, it’s also carcinogenic, and has been banned in commercially mass-produced foods and drugs since 1960. Wintergreen, another main component, contains an analgesic, very similar to aspirin.
  • Maple beer: an expectorant/cough syrup, and also high in iron
We meet again, Mr. Dow (courtesy www.fineartamerica.com)
We meet again, Mr. Dow (courtesy http://www.fineartamerica.com)

Remember our old friend Neil Dow? The mayor of Portland who pushed for prohibition in Maine, eventually establishing the “Maine Law” that so intrigued our own Rowland Burr? Well, even he distinguished between “beverage” alcohol and alcohol used medicinally. Indeed, when prohibition re-emerged through the 1920s, alcohol supporters made the same arguments for beer’s medicinal value.

Of course, this entire post is said with the caveat that you cannot go to the Beer Store today, grab a can, and claim you’re getting your vitamins. Although beer was incredibly important to the Victorians as a foodstuff, beverage, and remedy…modern medicine is one of the many reasons I’m glad we live in 2014!




Traill, Catherine Parr. The Female Emigrant’s Guide and Hints on Canadian Housekeeping. Toronto: Maclear and Company, 1854.


Oktoberfest: Beer and Royalty

First of all:

The Pumpkin Ale has officially hit the fridges. Ed’s also doing a few more batches. Thought you might like to know. 😉

Now that we have that out of the way, tonight is our first “Say Cheese, Say Cheers!” event of the year (don’t worry, if you’ve missed this one, there is another on November 13th). In honour of our Oktoberfest theme, I decided to do a little digging into this famous festival. Now, when I think of Oktoberfest, I immediately think of beer:

Lots and lots of beer... (image via www.wikimedia.org)
Lots and lots of beer… (image via http://www.wikimedia.org)

However, there is much more to this Volksfest (People’s Fair). It is a sixteen-day funfair in Munich, the largest of its kind in the world. And it’s been running a long time; the first true Oktoberfest was held on October 12th, 1810, to celebrate the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. That first year, beer did not play a prominent role: the main attractions were horse races. In fact, the races were so well-received that they were repeated the next year, and a tradition was born.

By 1814, there are references to numerous Oktoberfest beer shacks. Gradually, the focus shifted from horses to beer. Officially, the only beer that can be served at the Munich Oktoberfest is beer that was brewed within Munich’s city limits and also conforms to the Reinheitsgebot (a German/Bavarian purity law dating from 1487—it states that only malted barley, water, and hops may be used in making beer). Thus, six breweries can produce official Oktoberfestbier:

  • Augustiner-Bräu
  • Hacker-Pschorr-Bräu
  • Löwenbräu
  • Paulaner
  • Spatenbräu
  • Staatliches Hofbräu-München

The Oktoberfestbier has its roots in another, similar beer style: the Märzen beer. Medieval brewers had difficulty brewing in the summer months. Without refrigeration, it was difficult to keep the beer at temperatures at which the yeast could properly ferment, and the beer itself was vulnerable to bacterial infection during warmer weather. As such, a 1553 Bavarian brewing ordinance restricted the brewing season from September 29th to April 23rd.

Thus, to ensure a supply of beer during the summer months, brewers produced extra beer in March. This Märzen beer (Märzen is the German word for March) was usually brewed to have a higher alcohol content and more hops—similar to the reasoning behind brewing India Pale Ales. By the time the brewing season started in the fall, the casks of leftover beer needed to be emptied to make room for new brews. This need to drink all the beer led to small, informal festivals through September and October, which were eventually absorbed in the 19th-century Oktoberfest.

Märzen-Oktoberfestbiers are usually well-aged, deep amber to dark copper in colour. Medium-to-full-bodied, the long aging time mellows out the hops and highlights their malty character. Early Märzen-Oktoberfestbiers tended to be darker than we’re used to. But then, in 1841, two brewmaster friends, Gabriel Sedlmayr and Anton Dreher, experimented with lighter malts. They added a new malt to their mix: one which was quite pale and slightly caramelized.

This was the Vienna malt. Thirty years later, the Spaten brewery released a Märzen with a slightly darker version of the Vienna: the Munich malt. This beer was also explicitly released under the Oktoberfestbier brand name.

Vienna malt on the right; Munich malt on the left.
Vienna malt on the left; Munich malt on the right.

So really, Oktoberfest has arisen from two wonderful things: a royal wedding and celebration of the new brewing season. I think we can all raise a glass to that!



New Brew: Sweet (Milk) Stout

It’s time for a new brew! For Thanksgiving, we’re bringing back our milk stout. For those who missed it last time, the milk stout is an older style of stout, flavoured with lactose (there isn’t actually any milk in it, despite the plethora of amusing dairy-related advertisements – here is last year’s breakdown of the milk stout’s history, for those interested in a refresher course). Lactose is the sugar that naturally occurs in milk; it’s very complex, which means that the yeast can’t break it down during the fermentation process.


There are many great ads, like this one ca. 1900.
There are many great ads, like this one ca. 1900.

Instead, the lactose remains in the beer, lending it a subtle sweetness and silky mouthfeel. This beer is a brown-black in colour; holding it up to the light, I just glimpsed some lighter brown. Dark chocolate and coffee aromas were evident on the nose, and it starts off feeling like our usual stout: rich, coffee-chocolate tastes and a fully body. But then, that lactose sweetness emerged (maybe a hint of vanilla, hard to articulate just what it is), just enough to lighten things up. It is a very rounded beer, smooth and heavy on the tongue. Expect a long finish on this one – I can still taste the sweetness! 

We have some milk stout in the fridges now, and we’ll bring down more for this Thanksgiving Day weekend. It’s a complex, satisfying beer, perfect for rounding off that Thanksgiving dinner! 



PS. For those amongst us who, like me, are sadly lacking in the lactase enzyme (i.e., you lactose intolerant types)…there is lactose in this beer. There isn’t very much, but it is there. I have not noticed any discomfort after tasting it, but everyone’s tolerance level is different – we’ll always remind you about the lactose, but you know yourselves better than we do!



Mixed Company: Women and Taverns

While interpreting our Half Way House, we’re often asked about women and taverns. Specifically, did women ever go into taverns? Were they even allowed to?

These questions are easy enough to answer, but they’re not actually the right questions. You see, when most people ask about “taverns,” they usually mean “the taproom.” Today, hotels often have a self-contained restaurant or bar, discrete from the rest of the hotel. It is easy to see the taproom in similar terms – an autonomous tavern set within the space of the inn – but in fact, it is the Half Way House in its entirety that comprises the tavern. The taproom is not the tavern itself, but rather, a component of it.

Not a tavern. But part of one! :)
Not a (whole) tavern.
Due to the requirements for a tavern license, there isn't much difference between inns and taverns in 19th century Ontario.
Due to the requirements for a tavern license, there isn’t much difference between inns and taverns in 19th century Ontario.

So, were women allowed in taverns? Absolutely. Undertaking the proper protocols of dress and behaviour, women could in fact travel alone, though etiquette guides strongly recommended taking a companion (of either gender). Regardless, they would be staying in taverns. Taverns were public spaces, social spaces, and there was no reason or evidence for women’s exclusion from them.

The question that is meant is thus: were women allowed in taprooms?

This is where things get more complicated. And you thought they were complicated already, didn’t you? Well, just hold on!

Looking at scholarship of the Victorian era, there is a strong tendency to favour the “separate spheres” model of gendered activities. Men were out in the public sphere, whereas women withdrew to the privacy of the home. However, a model of wholly separate spheres is perhaps too rigid to be useful. When analyzing daily life (not the ideal life prescribed in the manuals and guides of the time), it may be more helpful to think of intertwined, overlapping realms, through which men and women moved with varying degrees of freedom.

Certainly, in the early decades of the nineteenth century there is ample evidence to suggest that women did enter taprooms, albeit generally with a male escort. We’ve looked at paintings of taproom scenes before – it’s not uncommon to spy women (and even kids!) in these scenes, suggesting that they were in fact an acknowledged presence within the taproom. Similarly, in the 1830s, a patron of Dow’s tavern remarked that Mr. Dow conversed with the men, while his wife primarily attended to the women; it seems he refers to the taproom as a site of mixed company.

Julius Caesar Ibbetson's  "Sailors Carousing" (1802). Note women.
Julius Caesar Ibbetson’s “Sailors Carousing” (1802). Note women.
John Lewis Krimmel 's "Village Tavern" (1814-1815). Note woman and child!
John Lewis Krimmel ‘s “Village Tavern” (1814-1815). Note woman and child!
George and I.R. Cruikshank, "Tom & Jerry taking Blue Ruin after the Spell is broke up" (1820). Many drinking women!
George and I.R. Cruikshank, “Tom & Jerry taking Blue Ruin after the Spell is broke up” (1820). Many drinking women!
John Lewis Krimmel's "Dance in a Country Tavern" (1820s, lithographed George Lehman 1833-34). Gasp!
John Lewis Krimmel’s “Dance in a Country Tavern” (1820s, lithographed George Lehman 1833-34). Gasp!

However, from the 1830s onwards, there is a tendency to regard the taproom as more of a male social space. For instance, some taverns emphasize their introduction of separate dining and sitting rooms, disconnected from the barroom. It seems that the kitchens, parlours, and balconies of taverns became spaces of female sociability, whereas the taproom solidified its purpose as a site of male comradeship.

Yet even this doesn’t tell the whole story. Women were certainly still drinking in taverns; accounts show women purchasing alcohol in amounts too small to carry home – a glass, or a pint. While they weren’t necessarily drinking in the taproom (though in some taverns, it seems, a few women were tolerated), they would have still needed to place their order. There are references to women being served from side doors and drinking on back steps, but one wonders if they interacted with male bar staff each and every time.

This is a particularly poignant question considering that there were female tavern-keepers. In 1868, 201 tavern licenses were issued in Toronto (I counted – no, seriously). Of those 201, 156 licenses went to men, and 16 went to women. 29 were assigned under initials only, meaning that gender cannot be stated for certain. This means, however, that approximately 8% of Toronto tavern-keepers were female: a minority, most definitely, but not unheard of, either. Were 8% of Toronto’s tavern-keepers never setting foot in their own taprooms?

My suspicion is that women’s relation to taproom was similar to this analogy. Imagine, if you would, certain twenty-first century bars characterized by a predominantly male clientele, grittier furnishings, and a distinct social code. As a young woman, it’s not that I am forbidden from drinking there – I simply don’t want to.

As much as I liked "True Detective," I'll stick with a cosier pub.
As much as I liked “True Detective,” I’ll stick with a cosier pub.

As Julia Rogers says in her fine book In Mixed Company: Taverns and Public Life in Upper Canada: “…[women’s] aim was sociability, not social equality; and their stepping out did not include stepping into bar areas where they were not welcome” (p. 149). It is perhaps telling that while Miss Leslie’s Behaviour Book (1864) devotes a chapter to proper deportment whilst traveling, she never once mentions the taproom. Apparently, it never crossed her mind that her middle-class female audience might be socializing in there.

Perhaps this is really all an issue of semantics. Were women allowed in/did they frequent taverns? Unequivocally, yes. Were they allowed in taprooms? Yes.

Did they frequent taprooms and use them for social purposes in the same way as men?

That depends on time period. Prior to the late 1830s, perhaps. Afterwards…women drank for social purposes, but in different ways than men. While potentially imbibing the same products as the men in the taproom (working class women were much more likely to do so), they found their own social spaces within the tavern. Again, it is perhaps unhelpful to regard these behaviours as strictly “separate spheres,” but rather, as intertwining realms of sociability, and overlapping public performances.


PS. Don’t forget, our “Say Cheese! And Cheers!” nights are approaching! Book early to avoid disappointment!