Monthly Archives: June 2017

The Many Vices of Sir John A. Macdonald

Quick—what’s an interesting fact about Sir John A. Macdonald?

Well—he was Canada’s first Prime Minister.

And he really, really liked his drink.

He’s probably one of Canada’s most famous drunkards, which is a fact that seems to get bandied about a lot. Of course, it’s worth pointing out that Sir John A. wasn’t perpetually drunk. No, he went on binges. Sometimes, he was quick, calculating, and stone-cold sober—and sometimes, the Governor-General was writing letters explaining that they weren’t entirely sure where the erstwhile politician was.

There are a few anecdotes that always get retold. In one, Macdonald is notably…ah, “unwell” on the campaign trail (likely a by-election). During the debate, he vomits. When his opponent points this out, he responds, ““I get sick…not because of drink [but because] I am forced to listen to the ranting of my honourable opponent.”

In June 1866, the Fenian Brotherhood launched an invasion into Canada from Buffalo. The Battle of Ridgeway was the first battle fought on Canadian soil, led by Canadian officers, and also marks the last foreign invasion in Ontario. At the time, Sir John A. was the Minister of Militia and Defence. So of course, news of the attack went straight to him.

And…he was passed out drunk.

Bills failed and languished. Telegrams went unanswered. International relations could be embarrassing at best and dangerous at worst—during the London Conference that sought final British approval before Confederation, Sir John A. nearly set himself and his hotel room on fire when a candle tipped over while he slept.

(In fairness, he might not have been drunk that time—but his fondness for the Athenaeum Club and its libations is well-known.)

The Globe attacked his habit viciously. In fact, one article was so eloquent, I wanted to show a larger extract:

“The truth is that the prime minister has again yielded to the temptation of drink, and has again rendered himself incapable of attending to his duties at a most critical period of affairs. It would almost seem that Sir John A. Macdonald choose those seasons when his vice is calculated to bring the greatest disgrace upon himself and upon the country.

His pitiable condition during the Fenian raid when telegram after telegram was left unanswered because he was in such a state of intoxication that he could not comprehend them, was a matter which would have brought severe retribution upon a Minister in England; his disgraceful condition during the visit of Prince Arthur will long be remembered to the discredit of Canada; and now when every energy should be devoted to the affairs of the North-West…Sir John A. Macdonald again flies to the bottle.

It is really an outrage to the country. The spectacle of the Prime Minister staggering into the refreshment room of the House, and being taken out thence first by one colleague and then by another, or babbling in maudlin intoxication in a hotel bar-room, is a thing to which no other country would submit for an hour. We are not a nation of drunkards, and we have a right to expect that men occupying the most exalted position their country can bestow upon them shall, at least, behave with decorum.”

The Globe: April 30, 1870.

 

The Globe’s editor George Brown was one of Macdonald’s bitterest rivals, which may explain some of the acerbity, but clearly, there was genuine upset at his functional alcoholism. Macdonald himself shrugged off such criticisms: “…the people would prefer John A. drunk to George Brown sober.”

1873 political cartoon. Note the bottle in his back pocket.

Would they, though? The fact that Macdonald managed to accomplish as much as he did in spite of his alcoholism makes one wonder—what if he hadn’t had it? How might Canada look today? Would he have proven a more able leader, or would there simply have been more Pacific Scandals and exclusionary policies towards Asian and Indigenous peoples?

It’s impossible to say, of course. “Coulda, woulda, shoulda” history is probably best left to thought experiments. I’ll end by saying that Macdonald’s second wife Susan Agnes Bernard is largely credited with fighting Macdonald’s demons—biographer Richard J Gwyn claims she literally kept him alive long enough to see the new nation through its formative years.

So—I think John A. has had plenty of glasses raised to him over the years. If you must toast, perhaps consider toasting Susan Bernard.

To Queen, country, and Mrs. Macdonald!

Katie  

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Brewing History

New Brew: Ginger Beer

Father’s Day weekend is almost here! On June 17th and 18th, you can enjoy a fun-filled weekend of muskets, soldiers, and spies! That’s right: once again, the village will be hosting a Revolutionary War re-enactment!

And as per tradition, Ed has made an alcoholic ginger beer in honour of the event.

Ginger beer originally descends from drinks such as mead and metheglin (flavoured mead). These were sweet, honey-based beverages, fermented with yeast and flavoured with a variety of spices, including ginger, cloves, and mace. Early ginger beers were made from water, sugar, and ginger, and fermented with the ginger beer plant. Interestingly, the ginger beer plant wasn’t really a plant at all, but a gelatinous composite of yeast and bacteria! From the eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century, ginger beers were impressively alcoholic, sometimes reaching 11%.

ginger-300x262

By the 1850s, however, new laws forced English ginger beer brewers to water their product down to 2% alcohol. It still remained incredibly popular. In 1877, writers John Thomson and Adolphe Smith estimated that some 300,000 gallons of ginger beer were being sold in and around London.

With the rise of imperialism, ginger beer also went global. Soldiers stationed in the Caribbean and Africa were particularly fond of this spicy brew, drinking it to combat homesickness. The ginger was also useful in treating upset stomachs and inflammation – I guess soldiers are more likely to take their medicine if it comes in the form of beer!

Ed’s ginger beer is a really nice amber-coloured ale. It is a malt-oriented beer, so the flavour comes predominately from the grains, rather than the hops. Because this is a fairly light malt, that translates into a subtle sweetness – this isn’t an overly bitter beer. The ginger is definitely noticeable, but mild. The spice grows more pronounced after the first sip; it gives some warmth in the chest! I like it! There’s a moderate finish, too; the light maltiness comes back through the nose at the very end. I think curries and stir-fries would go really well with this beer: foods that are themselves a bit spicy and complex (actually, a ginger-soy pork stir fry, plus this beer…now I’m getting hungry).

Please note: this ginger beer is NOT for children. It’s still about 5% alcohol, so save it for the adults!

Our ginger beer will be only available in the Black Creek Historic Brewery. It hits our fridges this weekend, and will last until…well, until we run out.

To Queen and Country!

Katie

Leave a comment

Filed under New Brew

A Champagne Conference: The Charlottetown Conference, 1864

I was once explaining to some visitors from overseas how Canada became a country. “There was no war, or revolution, or anything like that,” quoth I. “It was more…like when an adult child moves out of the basement, and into their own place.”

I still stand by the gist of that analogy, though of course, it was rather more complicated than that. With the 150th anniversary of Confederation nigh, let’s look at the first step on the road—and of course, it does involve alcohol.

Yay!

So it’s 1864. Organizers are planning the Charlottetown Conference: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island are all sending delegates to discuss the possibility of uniting these three Atlantic colonies into one.

Not so fast!

Depending on which source you read, a delegation from the Province of Canada more-or-less invited itself…or Governor General Monck did “ask” if they might also attend. In any case, in September 1864, the Canadians duly turned up in PEI—a formidable crew including John A. MacDonald and George Brown from Upper Canada, and George-Étienne Cartier, Alexander Galt, and Thomas D’Arcy McGee representing Lower Canada. Hilariously, the first circus to pass through Charlottetown in twenty years meant that all the hotels were booked and no one was actually working at the wharf. Nevertheless, the Canadians made themselves very cozy aboard their ship.

Province House in Charlottetown, wherein the proceedings proceeded.

Ostensibly, they were there only to observe. However, as the Conference unfolded, they inserted themselves into the discussion more and more, wooing the other delegates and turning the proceedings towards the unification of all the British North American provinces.

So what does this have to do with beer?

Well—politics and alcohol in the 1800s rarely lay far apart. As we saw in the case of the Red Lion Inn and the Upper Canada Rebellion, taverns functioned as political meetings. Groups met, debated, and voted in taverns. Deals were ironed out over drinks; alliances announced and cemented through toasting. Even at modern conferences, business goes down at the bar.

https://tce-live2.s3.amazonaws.com/media/media/407f0fe6-9a89-4187-b3af-b6293f8c1155.jpg

George Brown: politician, newspaper editor, not a beer fan.

What’s more, the 1860s delegates used this socializing as a means of building relationships—and thus furthering their goal. A general session welcomed the Canadian crew on Friday, September 2nd. On the 3rd, the Canadians reciprocated with a champagne lunch. According to one source I found, they’d brought nearly $13,o00 worth (in today’s money, obviously). As George Brown wrote to his wife:

“Cartier and I made eloquent speeches — of course — and whether as the result of our eloquence or of the goodness of our champagne, the ice became completely broken, [and] the tongues of the delegates wagged merrily…”

(Two things. One: George Brown was a temperance advocate, but one assumes he saw the practicalities of not lecturing about alcohol in that moment. Two: I love the “of course” he inserts in there: so, so very much.)

An article in Brown’s newspaper shows that one conference member took the notion of relation-building to another level:

[He said,] “If any one can show just cause or impediment why these colonies should not be united in matrimonial alliance, let him no express it, or forever after hold his peace.” There was no response. “Then,” said he, “ere my days on earth, which are comparatively few, shall close, I may yet witness the conclusion of the ceremony and hear them pronounced man and wife.” (The Globe, September 16, 1864)

The Conference wrapped up on the 7th, at which point the original plan for a Maritime union had been scrapped in favour of joining with the Province of Canada. The delegates agreed to meet in Québec City the following month, one more ball was held, and then everyone went home.

Group photo taken on the portico. John A is sitting down, near the centre (by his pals Thomas D’Arcy McGee and George-Étienne Cartier. John A looks a little tired.

Historian J.M.S. Careless sums it up perfectly in his biography, Brown of the Globe: “There, in the chief stateroom of the Queen Victoria, amid the wineglasses and cigar smoke, 23 men had warmly agreed to found a new nation. Other states might have a more dramatic start — but few, surely, a more enjoyable one.”

We’ll toast to that!

To Queen and Country!

Katie

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Brewing History

New in the LCBO: Canada 150 Ale!

Hello, beer-lovers!

We’ve brewed up a surprise for you! To celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, we are releasing a new beer for the LCBO! The Canada 150 Ale is a special edition of our beloved Best Bitter—a refreshing way to enjoy the sesquicentennial.

If you enjoyed the historic version of this beer down in the Black Creek brewery, you’ll probably be a fan of this ale, too. It pours deep, coppery amber; almost like an autumnal maple leaf. As with all our commercial beers, you can expect some moderate head, too.

The nose is fairly mild with sweet, biscuit-like and malty aromas. Those flavours continue through the first sip and mid-tastes as well. You’ll notice some caramel/toffee notes too, and an earthy hop presence on the finish. It’s a light-bodied, easy-drinking beer: perfect for a summer barbeque, patio session, or as a refresher after time in the sun.

Another cool thing! You’ll notice that we’ve got snazzy new cans. We’re kicking things off with a fantastic Canada 150-themed design—it may have caused some swooning down in the brewery. 😉

Our Canada 150 Best Bitter will be available in the LCBO starting in June. As always, I strongly recommend checking availability on the LCBO website before you head out! Here’s to another 150 years!

To Queen and Country!

Katie

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Brews