Black Creek Historic Brewery: 2015 Edition!

Aaaand, we’re back!

Well, almost. We’re back on Friday, May 1st. And we’re launching straight into things! Ed’s already been in to brew, and he’ll be bottling Friday morning to make sure our fridges are filled. My lovely and talented colleague Blythe will be ready to kick off the first Historic Brewery Tour of the season, followed by yours truly this weekend.

What have we got in store for 2015?

Lots, as always! Here’s a sneak peek at some selected brewery events.



Behind Closed Doors

Our Behind Closed Doors tour meets on the porch of the Half Way House every weekday at 12:30 pm. Led by one of our friendly beer experts, it’s a chance to stretch your legs and explore other parts of the village. No, we don’t explore beer on this tour ­– rather, we take you into closed and/or un-interpreted buildings to chat about parts of history we might not otherwise touch on.

Historic Brewery Tour

The Historic Brewery Tour also meets on the porch of the Half Way House: you can take the tour daily at 2:00 pm. We explore the social history of drinking in nineteenth century Canada, the ingredients used in beer-making, as well as the process of brewing in a historic brewery like ours. And of course, no tour is complete without sampling the finished product.

An additional cost does apply – you can purchase your ticket at Admissions!


Beer Sampler

So, you have a taste for history, do you? Come join us in the historic brewery daily from 3:00-4:00 pm to try some samples of our historic beer. We’ll give you a 4 oz glass, which we will fill not once, not twice, but thrice – each time with a different style of beer. On weekends, we have an additional sampler from 12:30-1:30.

Same as the tour: additional charges do apply. (You don’t have to go  to Admissions, though: the Beer Sampler is available for purchase right in the brewery!)

Brewery Apprenticeship

Try your hand at brewing: the old-fashioned way! Spend the day working alongside Ed, wearing traditional nineteenth century garments and learning to brew with historic methods. Join the beer tour to learn more about your creation, and then take a growler home as a souvenir. Spots are filling quickly, though – learn more here!

 Event Apprentice 01



Specialty Ales

Our list of specialty offerings for 2015 can be found here. With a new brew (or two!) every month, it’s always a good time to visit the brewery!


Hop Harvest

 The hop garden looks a little bare and forlorn right now, but in a few short months, our hops will have attained some impressive height. Spend the day harvesting our hops with Head Gardener Sandra Spudic, sample some special goodies and beer after working up that appetite, and come back in a few weeks to taste the Wet Hop Ale you helped us make!

The hops are usually ready for harvesting around late August/early September. You’ll want to book your spot early to avoid disappointment, so watch this space for details!

A Spirited Affair 

Our perennial favourite returns! It’s always an affair – and this year, the boys come home! Start with 1860s ballroom dancing and traditional ales, and then be whisked away to celebrate the food, drink, and fashion of the post-War years. Dance the night away to boogie-woogie swing music, sample an array of fine refreshments, and join the fun!

Costumes are highly encouraged. You were certainly a dapper bunch last year!

Saturday, October 3rd, 2015 – save the date!


Tavern Tales

This one is for the members! Gold and Village Members can join me in the brewery on December 17th for an old-fashioned pub night! With tavern games, traditional Canadian folktales, rousing pub songs, beer from the historic brewery and treats from the Half Way House kitchen, it’ll be a night of fun and frolic in equal measure. There may also be revelry. I’ve yet to decide on that one.

(Psst…you can become a Member at any time. Just saying. 😉 )

And for now…

The beginning of the season is always an exciting time for us. It’s been a long, cold winter – we’re so glad to get back to sunny days and our cosy brewery. Can’t wait to see you all for another adventure-filled season. We’ve missed you, beer lovers!

See you soon!


Queen Victoria Walks into a Bar: Matching Beers and Historic Figures

A few weeks ago, we had award-winning author Tee Morris join us here on the Growler to pair beers with the characters in his novel. That got me thinking—Tee has a pretty good idea of what his characters might drink, but what about the historical figures that surround us here at Black Creek Pioneer Village? Plus, I enjoy matching people to beers they might like.

So, if one of our “people of the past” could choose any one of the beers we brew down in the Black Creek Historic Brewery, which would it be?

After some research, some pondering, and a few cackles, I think I’ve got some answers:

John A. MacDonald


Here at Black Creek, we focus quite a bit on the 1860s, and you can’t get into 1860s Canadian history without talking about John A. MacDonald. Our first prime minister was also a notorious tippler—not perpetually drunk, but capable of astonishing binges. Apparently the governor-general sent more than one letter lamenting MacDonald’s tendency to periodically vanish on drinking sprees.

Since whisky seems to have been his beverage of choice, I’d pair Johnny with our Whisky Barrel-Aged Brown Ale. At 6% ABV, it’s slightly higher than most of our offerings, which I’m sure he’d appreciate (even if his liver wouldn’t). As well, the vanilla and oak flavours imparted by the aging process would probably hold great appeal!

Queen Victoria


She lent her name to the time period. Her portrait hangs all through the village—including on the brewery wall. She helmed the era’s dominant power. We certainly need to think about Queen Victoria!

She was a hearty eater, a quick eater, and she had a sweet tooth. Though the upper classes were used to rich food, it seems her tastes were relatively plain. That being said, she was fond of fruits and tea-time treats. And so, I’d probably recommend our Raspberry Porter for our good Queen. Sweet and fruity, it’s a lovely dessert beer: not too heavy, and a good choice for those who don’t often drink beer (Victoria liked claret and whisky—combined).

The real question of course, is thus: would she be amused?

One hopes so.

Daniel Stong


The Stongs were Pennsylvania German—go far enough back, and you’d probably find a few lager-lovers in the family. However, we only brew ales here at the Black Creek Historic Brewery.

As the owner of a fairly sizeable farm, Daniel Stong would have been accustomed to long hours of physical work. After a day in the fields, I think he would have appreciated a beer with some body to it, something rich and complex. At the same time, when you’re tired, you don’t necessarily want something too heavy—and I think he’d have liked something to quench his thirst, too.

Hence, the Rifleman’s Ration. It’s about the right time period, too: this beer commemorates the War of 1812, and Daniel and Elizabeth Stong built First House in 1816: the year after the war ended.

Rowland Burr

Rowland Burr lends his name to the village of Burwick, from whence our Burwick House hails. He was also a temperance advocate. He can have some mulled cider from the Half Way House kitchen.

Mary Thompson

Alexander and Mary Thompson were the husband-and-wife team that built and ran the Half Way House. Alexander died in 1867, whereupon Mary continued running things until her own death five years later. From medieval times, women have often been involved in brewing and tavernkeeping—after all, it’s largely domestic work. (I’ve said it before, and I shall say it again: bread and beer are both made from grains, water, and yeast—hops and process make up the difference.)

I think Mrs. Thompson would enjoy our Lemon Balm and Mint Pale Ale. It’s definitely a thirst-quencher (and you think Daniel Stong had it rough: domestic work is no less physical!), and in a strange way, the lemon balm and mint have always reminded me a bit of tea. The perfect pick-me-up!

Daniel Flynn

Step Behind Closed Doors: Weekdays at 12:30!
Step Behind Closed Doors: Weekdays at 12:30!

If you’ve been on our Behind Closed Doors tour, you’ve almost certainly seen Flynn House. The Flynns were an Irish family, boot and shoemakers by trade, who settled north of Yonge and Finch in the 1850s—a few years after the influx of Irish immigrants that resulted from the Great Famine.

Of course, the easy thing to do here is to recommend our Irish Potato Stout. Stout and potatoes, what could be more fitting?

I don’t like taking the easy way.

So, for Mr. Flynn, I’m recommending the Rye Pale Ale that we did two years back. Roggenbiers are specialty German beers, but rye beers have taken off amongst North American craft breweries, too. Adding rye malt to the grain bill introduces spicy flavours—reminiscent of rye breads, funnily enough. Some brewers push the hops, too, resulting in a really flavourful beer that keeps you on your toes: something I think Mr. Flynn would appreciate!

What do you think? What historical person would you most like to have a drink with, and what would you order for the two of you?

(I do think that Emily Brontë and I could get through a few of Sigtuna’s Midvinterblots…)





DegL, SRM, and EBC: A Brief Look at Beer Colour Scales

The long, dark days of winter are past…which means that the heavy, dark beers of winter are slipping away too! This winter, I fell in love with rich, complex stouts and porters—especially coffee ones. Highlights include the Mocha Macchiato Stout from Old Bust Head, the Midvinterblot (an imperial porter) from Sigtuna Brygghus, and the Old North Mocha Porter from the Lake of Bays Brewing Company.

At Old Bust Head, trying the Mocha Macchiato Stout. I adored this beer.
At Old Bust Head, trying the Mocha Macchiato Stout. I adored this beer.

Now, scanning the shelves of the LCBO, we’re moving back towards pale and amber ales. Which makes sense: a heavy, oatmeal stout does seem kind of out of place in warmer weather. But considering all this also got me thinking about another aspect of beer:


Black Creek's Ginger Beer (returning this June!). A VERY different look than the stout, eh?
Black Creek’s Ginger Beer (returning this June!). A VERY different look than the stout, eh?

Beer really appeals to all the senses: we all know about appreciating taste, mouthfeel, and aroma, but what about the way your beer looks in the glass? On the one hand, some beer judging competitions see focusing on appearance as an unacceptable bias. On the other—well, I think aesthetics are just another thing to appreciate.

In the 1860s, Victorians likely weren’t terribly fussed about the appearance of their beer. But in the 1880s, an English brewer named Joseph Williams Lovibond found himself growing increasingly preoccupied by the hue of his beers.

Different colours in beers largely come about as a result of the different propo rtions of malt roasts used. The longer you kiln your malt, the darker it will be. So, very dark beers have a higher proportion of these more darkly-roasted malts. Other factors can play a part too: more alkaline water or a higher-pH mash can extract more pigment from the grains, resulting in a darker wort, and filtered beer tends to look a little lighter, since the cloudiness has been removed.

So, colour can hint at what the beer might taste like. Lovibond began experimenting with different colour scales. At first, he tried paint chips, but that didn’t work terribly well. Eventually, he came up with a set of coloured glass slides. Using this “Tintometer,” he visually matched beer samples to the slides. Determining the closest match gave the beer’s colour value in degrees Lovibond. In 1895, Lovibond retired from brewing to focus exclusively on “colorimetry,” as he called it, and he established the Tintometer Ltd. Company the next year.

An advertisement for Lovibond's Tintometer.
An advertisement for Lovibond’s Tintometer.
Another view.
Another view.

You have to give the man credit: he definitely followed his passions.

Measuring beer by degrees Lovibond held sway for decades. Honestly, it’s still pretty useful today. But it is a qualitative measurement, fairly subjective. In the 1950, the American Society of Brewing Chemists came up with a more quantitative approach. They passed light at a wavelength of 430 nanometres through beer samples, and used spectrophotometers to measure how much light was absorbed/lost along the way. To make the numbers match more-or-less with the old Lovibond scale, the absorption was multiplied by 12.7. This is the Standard Reference Method, or SRM, and it’s still used today.

Simultaneously, European brewers came up with essentially the same idea, except that the level of light loss was multiplied by 25. Thus, values on the European Brewing Convention scale—EBC—are roughly double those of SRM.

(courtesy Wikipedia)
(courtesy Wikipedia)

If you’re just kicking back on the patio, do EBC or SRM units really matter all that much? Probably not, but I know that when I’m describing beers, I like to use a somewhat-consistent colour scale. When does straw change over into gold? At what point do we go from deep copper to light ruby? For general purposes, I’m still pretty indebted to Mr. Lovibond.

Clearly, there’s more to beer than meets the eye!


We’re Not Alone! Historic Brewing at Colonial Williamsburg

Hello, beer lovers!

We hope that you are enjoying the signs of spring: warmer weather, more daylight, and pale ales and maibocks starting to edge out the porters and stouts on the shelves of the LCBO. (Our Irish Potato Stout is still kicking around though, and we recently saw the Empirical Ale downtown.)

A short-ish note this week, as fate (and ill-positioned tea) have temporarily deprived me of my computer.

There’s only about a month until the Black Creek Historic Brewery begins its 2015 season. While we wait, I grew curious—are there other historic breweries out there?

Sort of. I was fascinated to find that Colonial Williamsburg has been doing work on eighteenth-century brewing. Much as it was for nineteenth century Canadians, beer was a part of everyday life for the Virginians of the 1700s. Frank Clark, historic foodways supervisor at Colonial Williamsburg, notes that beer was the preferred choice of beverage, as the water was often contaminated. If you’ve visited us at Black Creek, you know we usually bookend this statement with many qualifiers and caveats. However, Clark observes that in the case of eighteenth-century Williamsburg, the wells were demonstrably contaminated by sewage, and the water table was only about twenty-five feet deep, meaning that salt water sometimes mixed with the fresh (remember, Williamsburg is pretty close to the coast).

(Check out the video here!)

Much like us here at Black Creek, Colonial Williamsburg has a small brewery onsite, mostly for demonstration purposes. I haven’t been able to find many pictures of it, but based on the clip in the video below, it looks like a fairly similar set-up: small batches, no electricity, everything done by hand. Unlike Black Creek, however, the beer produced onsite is not consumed:

“The beer we make is in such small quantity, and such dangerous conditions, that we could never sell it to the public.”

Well, sure, eighteenth and nineteenth century beers were more likely to go off due to infection. But I think that we’re living proof that you can safely and effectively brew historic beer for general consumption! I’ve watched Ed clean and sanitize before/after brewing: it takes a lot of attention to detail, and a low of elbow grease, but it can certainly be done, if you wish.

Brewing at Williamsburg. Looks familiar. :)
Brewing at Williamsburg. Looks familiar. 🙂

But scale of brewing is certainly another consideration. We make about 70-ish litres per brew (it varies), which equates to about 18 gallons. Colonial Williamsburg’s onsite capacity is about half that, and they are a much bigger site with a much higher number of visitors. I can see why that wouldn’t end well.

And so, like us, they are partnered with a modern brewery. In their case, recreations of eighteenth century brews are produced by AleWerks: a craft brewery in the town of Williamsburg itself. Currently, they’ve got two historic brews sold at Colonial Williamsburg: the Old Stitch (an English brown ale) and Dear Old Mum (a spiced wheat ale). Personally, I love the names—and the beers themselves sound pretty good too!


Making the pilgrimage to Colonial Williamsburg has been a goal of mine for a few years now. With brewing dotting their demonstration calendar, and the lure of this Old Stitch (I love brown ales), it looks like I may need to start making more concrete steps to achieve it.

I just need to figure out how to transport a growler over the border…