The Red Lion Inn: An Early Local Pub

Welcome, beer-lovers! This week at the Black Creek Growler, we’re delving into another chapter of Toronto’s beer history: the Red Lion Inn!

You can’t get very far into researching Toronto taverns without running across the Red Lion. It was built somewhere between 1808-1810 by Daniel Thiers. Like Black Creek Pioneer Village’s Stong family, Thiers was of Pennsylvania German origin, settling in Upper Canada in the late 1700s.

The Red Lion, ca. 1888. (courtesy Toronto Public Library)

The Red Lion sat on Yonge St, just north of modern-day Bloor (near the Toronto Reference Library today). When Thiers built the Red Lion, the area was still quite undeveloped—Toronto grew largely northward and westward from the lake. However, it was already an important crossroads: Davenport, Yonge, and Bloor were all established travel routes, and seemed likely to become even more heavily-travelled as the young city grew.

The inn itself was always large: its façade was about 100 feet along Yonge St. As wings and extensions were added, it eventually encompassed a two-acre site—including its outbuildings and yards. And of course, it had a sign emblazoned with a red lion rampant.

The bar area: 1912 painting based on an 1888 sketch. (Courtesy Toronto Public Library)

In the early days, the Red Lion served as a stopping point for travellers, particularly for farmers taking their goods from Holland Landing to York. An 1808 advertisement states Thier’s intention to open a public house, selling, “…[the] best strong beer at 8d, New York currency, per gallon, if drank in his house, and 2s 6d New York currency if taken out.”

(A few things to note about this: first, we can see the absolute mishmash of currency that pervaded the colony during this period. Second, takeaway beer is more expensive than beer drunk in-house—perhaps a tactic to get patrons to settle in, order more pints, and eventually take a room for the night?)

In his Landmarks of Toronto (1894), publisher-politician John Ross Robertson imagines what the Red Lion Inn might have been like: “…bronzed farmers, patriotic reformers, intriguing politicians, bright eyed girls, and spruce young men—all classes that made up the society of York and its environs.” Contemplating the ballroom, he writes, “Perhaps here many a maiden breathed that wonderful ‘Yes.’”

The ballroom, ca. 1888. (Courtesy Toronto Public Library)

While his tone is a touch sentimental—even by Victorian standards—it’s clear that he considered the Red Lion Inn a focal point for the community. Indeed, it proved to be the nucleus around which Yorkville developed (ably assisted by Joseph Bloor, as we learned here).

In addition to facilitating socialization, the Red Lion also played an important role in civic life. It was used for polling and political debates, and Reformers met there frequently through the 1830s—including William Lyon Mackenzie itself. After his expulsion from the legislature in 1831, a by-election was held at the Red Lion Inn. Following the vote, a triumphant Mackenzie greeted his supporters in the ballroom, receiving a medal and making a speech before leading a procession into town.

But alas, the good times could not last forever. The Temperance movement did not treat the Red Lion Inn kindly. After a series of struggles, it closed in 1892. Two years later, Robertson wrote, “Most of the characters who figured in the Red Lion’s history have gone over to the great majority, and soon the old inn will follow the course of all mundane things.”

The Red Lion Inn, ca. 1885. (Courtesy Toronto Public Library)

Sadly, he was right, for no trace of the Red Lion remains today. Yet it remains in memory, “The Most Famous Hostelry in the Annals of York.”

To Queen and Country!

Katie

PS. Keen for more? You can read a digitized version of John Ross Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto here!

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Recipe: Boston Beer-Baked Beans

Greetings, beer-lovers!

As we discussed not long ago, one of beer’s many wonderful qualities is its versatility! Here at the Black Creek Growler, we do enjoy cooking with our beer. Although this didn’t happen that frequently in the 1800s, beer adds some pep to modern-day recipes!

And so, I embarked on a quest for Boston Beer-Baked Beans.  As usual for me, I combined several recipes based on availability of ingredients and my preferences. Now, without further ado:

Boston Beer-Baked Beans (Vegetarian)

  • 1 can beans (they’re meant to be navy beans, but I only had mixed beans)
  • ½ cup beer (not dark)
  • 1 medium chopped onion (I had two teeny onions)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 3 Tbsp molasses
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Drizzle olive oil
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • ¼ tsp black pepper.
Ingredients assembled!
Ingredients assembled!

Let’s talk about the beer. According to most recipes I found, most light beers will work. Personally, I’d go for something a little hoppier and more bitter, to cut through the molasses’ thickness and sweetness. So probably a pale ale, as opposed to a light lager. Being lighter in flavour generally, pale ales also balance nicely with most recipes.

Ideally, of course, I’d be using Ed’s Pale Ale, brewed at the Black Creek Brewery. Alas, it is March, not July, and so I had none to hand. I compromised by using Molson’s 1908 Historic Pale Ale. It’s an unfiltered beer based on a recipe from 1908. I mean, it’s not an 1830s recipe, but it’s a perfectly serviceable pale ale. Which, in this context, I count as high praise.

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Anyway, once the ingredients are assembled, the recipe is simple:

  • Drain and rinse beans
  • Combine other ingredients in a large bowl
  • Mix beans in
  • Bake uncovered at 350°F until most liquid is absorbed: about 40 minutes.
All mixed and ready for baking.
All mixed and ready for baking!

It smelled really, really good while baking. Like, the molasses aroma definitely filled my apartment, but I could get hints of beer underneath. It reminded me of being in the brewery while Ed’s boiling the wort.

I wasn’t sure if I’d overdone the baking, but the result tasted good! Sweet and savoury, with the beer’s sharpness cutting through and adding a lovely counterweight. Paired with some corn bread, it’s definitely something I’d make again…ideally, with Ed’s Pale Ale (or maybe his IPA—I bet the citrus flavours would give it a nice zing!).

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Until next time, beer-lovers!

Katie

March Break Mystery Fun!

It’s that time of year again! Black Creek Pioneer Village has been hopping this March Break as our Junior Detectives (of all ages) help Sherlock Holmes solve the Maple Mystery. It is truly a sticky situation—sap-otage of the worst kind!

The Black Creek Brewery, alas, opens on April 29th. But there’s no reason we can’t join the March Break fun! I’ve paired some of our March Break characters with our Black Creek brews.

Sherlock Holmes: Best Bitter

Our super sleuth! At Black Creek Pioneer Village, Holmes is always affable and keen to see his favourite Junior Detectives. Our smooth, easy-drinking Best Bitter is a perfect match: like Holmes himself, it’s a sure-fire crowd-pleaser. Add its classic English hops, and it’s a pairing too good to pass up!

 

Our dynamic duo needs your help!

 

Dr. Watson: Pale Ale

Of course, Watson is Holmes’ partner-in-detection, so I wanted a beer somewhat similar. Watson has a bit more dryness to him, though—which is why I’ve chosen our Pale Ale for him. It’s another easy-drinking summer beer, but with more hop character and fruit aromas: the perfect brew for this dapper gent!

Miss Moriarty: Russian Imperial Stout

For Miss Moriarty (Professor Moriarty’s sister, you know!), I had to go outside our brews at Black Creek, but she fits a Russian Imperial Stout perfectly. Acerbic and elegant by turns, she has a mysterious past and…um, a way with words. This pitch-black beer matches her heart, it can land you in trouble quite quickly, and has endless depth and subtlety.

 

Professor Moriarty: Milk Stout

As siblings, Professor and Miss Moriarty have a lot of similarities, which is why I wanted to stay in the stout family. But Professor Moriarty is more charming upfront: much like the milk stout gives you a rush of sweetness and smoothness. For both the Professor and the Milk Stout, bitter dark notes come later. 😉

Mrs. Stong: Maple Brown

The matriarch of the Stong family and a pillar of Black Creek’s community: Mrs. Stong is the victim of this year’s crime. Her prized maple syrup was dumped out the night before an important maple syrup competition! And so, in honour of her struggle, I’ve chosen our Maple Brown Ale. Like Mrs. Stong, it’s solid and down-to-earth, with a decidedly sweet character.

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So what do you think? There is still plenty of time to visit Black Creek, solve the mystery, and see what you think of these pairings. Our March Break Mystery Fun goes until March 19th, and kids get in free!

See you there!

Katie

 

Interview: Beer Reviewer Robert Arsenault

Hello beer-lovers!

We are back with another special interview edition of the Growler. This week, I’m thrilled to welcome beer reviewer Robert Arsenault. Under the guise of the “Drunk Polkaroo,” he’s been brightening up my Instagram feed for a while! I’m stoked to have had the chance to catch up with him. 🙂

Photo de Drunk Polkaroo.

KT: It’s clear that you’re very passionate about craft beer—how did you get into it?

DP: To be honest, a few years ago I was a dedicated macro beer pounder. I was in a really bad place and drinking a lot when a friend introduced me to an app for my phone called Untappd. It tracked your beers and gave you badges for trying different ones. We started to compete on finding new beers and I started to drift into craft beer as a result. It didn’t happen overnight, but when I started doing short reviews on Instagram, it became a bigger part of my life.

KT: We love your vibrant Instagram with its daily beer reviews. Do you feel that social media has helped boost the craft beer movement?

DP: I think Social Media and the people who do it well at the breweries help to boost not only the profile of that brewery but the industry as  a whole. Interacting, commenting and sharing their fans’ photos has given rise to a whole host of people who are trying to catch the eyes of the managers, and it makes the beer drinking even more fun. Feeling connected to the brewers, even online, encourages people to take their time, appreciate the beer and share it with others.

KT: Your pictures are beautiful, and we love how they show each brew to its best. What goes into setting up your shots?

DP: If I have the time, I do try to find a beautiful way to showcase the beer, or the reason I am enjoying it. Sometimes it’s an outdoor shot, which is great for natural colour and light, or I add some props from around my house for a little fun. For every one though, I am taking pictures when I drink the beer and that dictates a lot of the shots. I was not a great student of art in school, but craft beer has inspired me to look for beauty I didn’t know existed.

Photo de Drunk Polkaroo.
Gorgeous – check out Drunk Polkaroo’s Instagram for more!

KT: Lead us through one of your tastings—what do you look for, in a beer?

DP: The first thing I do when I choose a beer is think about what I am doing that day or night. Is it a social gathering, or a quiet night in? Slow sipping Imperial or crushable session beer? Once I pick from the fridge or cellar, I get a clean glass, hopefully the proper style of glassware for the beer to be consumed, as it does matter to a degree. Rinsing it always before I open the beer, to remove any dust or residue. When I pour it, I take my time, watching it build the head, cascading the carbonation down and finally lifting it up to the light to gauge the colour and consistency. Smelling, swirling and smelling again, I want to get the aroma before I try it.

I leave room at the top specifically so I can get a good sniff of what is going on in there. Almost as important as the beer itself. Finally, I take a small sip and let it swirl around, trying to capture the first impression and nuances of the first sip. I try to close my eyes and block out all distractions to be present and mindful inside the texture and flavours of the beer. Another small sip and then I begin to pick out the subtle and not-so-subtle notes. It can change as it warms and depending on the style, a tasting can take anywhere from a half hour to 2 or 3. I like to enjoy every moment as much as I can, especially with beers I may only try once. It is also a way to try and curb my old habits of overindulgence. I appreciate everything that each beer brings to my glass and I try to convey that in my reviews.

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And he certainly does! The Drunk Polkaroo’s thoughtful, passionate reviews always brighten my day – and remind me why we write this blog in the first place…

For the love of beer. 🙂

You can follow the Drunk Polkaroo at the links below:

Instagram!

Facebook!

Twitter!

Until next time!

Katie

 

Colonial Williamsburg and Eighteenth Century Beers

What a ride!

Once again, your trusty beer journalist has gone international! Last week, my colleague Blythe and I spent a wonderful few days exploring Colonial Williamsburg. Depicting the city of Williamsburg just prior to the American Revolution, Colonial Williamsburg is one of the largest and oldest living history sites out there. Our time was not nearly long enough, but it was most entertaining and improving…

…and we got to sample some eighteenth century ales!

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We may have taken some home, too…

We’ve discussed Colonial Williamsburg’s brewing on this blog before. Essentially, Colonial Williamsburg does not brew itself—at least, not for public consumption. Rather, they partner with Alewerks Brewing Co, a microbrewery in Williamsburg, VA.

(Colonial Williamsburg is separate from, yet still part of, the actual city of Williamsburg. Imagine dropping Black Creek Pioneer Village where Toronto’s Distillery District currently sits.)

So, Frank Clark, master of historic foodways at Colonial Williamsburg, adapted three eighteenth century ales. The original three beers were the Old Stich (a brown ale), the Dear Old Mum (a golden ale flavoured with coriander and grains of paradise—almost a Belgian Wit), and Wetherburn’s Bristol Ale (a lighter brown ale, a little hoppier). Since then, they’ve added Toby’s Triple Threads (a very nice porter).

Of course, learning about eighteenth century Virginia’s beer scene made me wonder about Toronto’s. What was happening with 1770s Toronto brewing?

The answer is…not much.

Remember, Colonial Williamsburg is set almost a century earlier than Black Creek. While Jean Talon established the first Canadian brewery in 1668, there weren’t many other large breweries until later. In fact, John Molson didn’t set up shop in Montréal until 1786—a good three years after the American Revolutionary War ended.

Map of the Toronto Purchase.
Map of the Toronto Purchase.

But here’s where the histories intersect. After the war finished, newly landed Loyalists were settling on land recognized as belonging to the Indigenous populations. Since Governor-in-Chief Lord Dorchester needed somewhere to put these Loyalists, he began negotiating the Toronto Purchase.

In 1787, the Mississaugas of the New Credit exchanged 250,808 acres of land (most of current Toronto) for various goods and money. However, they understood the deal as not so much purchase as land rental. Thus, the Toronto Purchase was renegotiated in 1805, though a land claim settlement was not reached until 2010.

In any case, the site wasn’t even surveyed for town planning until 1788…which explains the dearth of breweries. I can’t imagine there was much of a market. 😉

So, if there wasn’t much beer scene in 1770s Toronto, what were Williamsburg’s brews like?

They’re not too dissimilar from Black Creek’s, really. Like our summertime Best Bitter, they are brewed with East Kent Golding hops. That said, the hop character is very muted, as per the style of the time. Though all were flavourful and well-balanced, the Triple Thread porter was my favourite, with hints of molasses and licorice.

And of course, the beers were served in stoneware mugs, which I’ve never actually experienced before. I was entirely too excited!

Photo de Katie Bryski.

Thanks, Colonial Williamsburg! We’re sure to return soon!

-Katie