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

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