The Not-So-Humble Hop

It’s mid-September, which means our hops have just passed their peak season. The ripening of our hop flowers is an annual sign that summer is ending, and Ed’s Wet-Hop Ale is just around the corner. Of course, we mostly know hops for their role in flavouring and preserving beer, but Victorians had many other uses for this feisty little plant!

Ed picking hops!

To start, Victorians often wrote about hops’ soporific qualities; many remedy compilations suggest stuffing one’s pillow with hops as a sleep aid. According to The Family Physician (1865), hops are especially useful when “…for any reason the use of opium is considered objectionable.” (The Family Physician, p. 829). All of the calming benefits, none of the narcotic drawbacks! (I bet it smelled pretty strong, though.)

The New Family Herbal goes a step further. If you really want a good night’s sleep, it suggests a teaspoonful of a tincture of hops…made from “six or seven ounces of Hops in two pints of proof spirits” (The New Family Herbal, p. 139). I’m not sure the hops were entirely responsible for any drowsiness!

But this particular manual lists many more uses for hops: in addition to helping you sleep and making beer taste great, apparently taking powdered hop seed could destroy worms. Hops heated in a flannel bag were touted as a cure for toothache. They also claimed that decoctions of hops cured ulcers, cleansed the blood (thus healing scabs, ringworms, and other ailments), eased jaundice, and even “…destroy[ed] the heat of the liver and stomach” (ibid).

Not to be outdone, The Hop Farmer: or, a Complete Account of Hop Culture (1838) adds animals to the species reaping hops’ benefits. In addition to using hops to cure rheumatism, this book suggests using decoctions of hops to strengthen cattle against severe weather!

From “The Hop Farmer: or, a Complete Account of Hop Culture,” by E.J. Lance (1838).

This all sounds great, but what does 21st-century science say on the matter?

No clinical studies have been done to evaluate hops’ medical benefits. That said, it looks like hops do help with insomnia, anxiety, tension, and irritability. There is also some evidence that they can help with indigestion and poor appetite. And of course, hops’ bitter acids have some antimicrobial qualities – that’s why they preserve beer!

So the next time you drink a hoppy IPA – or try one of the many fine Wet Hop Ales coming out from Ontario craft breweries – you know hops aren’t all bitterness and acid. Well – biologically, they are. But metaphorically, they’re a little sweet as well.



Recap: Hop Harvest 2013

EDIT: The Wet Hop Ale could use a little more ageing. It’ll officially be out September 5th. If you were planning a special Labour Day Weekend visit to BCPV we can fetch you some – but try to hold off on drinking it right away!

On Saturday, August 24, we had our annual Hop Harvest! It was a great success!

When Black Creek opened for the season on May 1, the hops barely poked above the ground. But now, they’ve reached the tops of their supporting poles. Despite a cool spring and summer, they definitely achieved some impressive height—we’re very glad that Doug (one of our interpreters) was around to help us cut the vines down!

Our Head Gardener Sandra Spudic and I met our intrepid hop harvesters at the Visitors’ Centre. After introductions, we headed over to see the barley fields. There, Sandra discussed some of the challenges of historical horticulture. Three years ago, we made an Estate Ale from hops and barley grown onsite. Last year, wild geese ate most of our barley. This year, we’re sparring with sparrows. Keep your fingers crossed for us!

Next stop: the hop garden. As the late morning sun slanted through the vines, we clustered around a long table where Sandra showed us the yellowish lupulin inside the hops. Lupulin is the powder secreted by the hops’ lupulin glands (but of course) and it lends beer its distinctive bitter aromas and flavours. Various oils and resins in the hops also help preserve the beer. As I explained during the harvest, and as I noted here, the introduction of hops was essential in transforming brewing from domestic chore to large-scale industry.

Our hops, as seen on an early summer morning.
Our hops, as seen on an early summer morning.

To make his Wet Hop Pale Ale, Ed needed a full bushel basket of hops. Our hop-pickers did not disappoint, stripping the pale, pinecone-like flowers with gusto and efficiency. We quickly learned that if you pick enough hops, your hands start to acquire that lovely hoppy smell.

Just before noon, we carted our bounty down to the brewery. Generally, hops are dried before they’re added to the boil, but as this is a “Wet Hop” ale, Ed just put them straight in. Hops are added during the boil for flavouring purposes, and also to force those preserving oils to integrate into the wort—a process called “isomerization.”

Our harvest.
Our harvest.

By now, our crew had earned a break. We grabbed a few growlers and went to the taproom, where our hard-working hop-pickers sampled bread made with hop-risen yeast and cookies made with spent rye and barley mash. Both bread and cookies were prepared in the Half Way House bake oven by our baker, the lovely and talented Amy. Yours truly also led a guided tasting of our beers.

The Wet Hop Pale Ale is fermenting in the barrels as I type this. Our band of hop harvesters will get the first chance to purchase some starting officially on September 5 (it just needs a touch more ageing). Thanks to all who participated (and a huge thanks to Sandra); it was a great event!

– Katie

New Brew – Spruce Beer

battleBCThis weekend, to celebrate our Battle of Black Creek Revolutionary War Re-enactment, Ed has brewed up a batch of Spruce Beer.  Colonial soldiers learned from the First Nations peoples that spruce could prevent and cure scurvy: a scourge of mariners and soldiers alike prior to the 19th century.  Scurvy was recognized as a disease caused by a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, but it wasn’t understood to be caused by a deficiency of Vitamin C until 1932!  Thus, while soldiers and sailors didn’t know that spruce was an excellent source of Vitamin C or why Spruce Beer kept scurvy at bay, they did know it was good for what ailed them!  In North America, Spruce Beer was brewed in the home and on the march.  Molasses, a source of both fermentable and unfermentable sugars, with a burnt sugar flavour similar to malt, could replace barley when soldiers were far from farmlands or when grain supplies were low. Spruce Beer was on order for the “Health and Conveniency of the Troops” under the command of British General Amherst in North America in 1759.  He also authorized sutlers (merchants who travelled alongside the military) to brew as much as they desired to add to the supply (for more information about General Amherst’s forays in North America; check out his general orders to the troops, published in Commissary Wilson’s orderly book, available online here).  His personal recipe is preserved in his journal, published by his descendents in the 1930s.

General Amherst’s Spruce Beer Recipe

Take 7 pounds of good spruce & boil it well till the bark peels off, then take the spruce out & put three Gallons of Molasses to the Liquor & boil it again, scum it well as it boils, then take it out the kettle & put it into a cooler, boil the remained of the water sufficient for a Barrel of thirty Gallons, if the kettle is not large enough to boil it together, when milkwarm in the Cooler put a pint of Yeast into it and mix well.  Then put it into a Barrel and let it work for two or three days, keep filling it up as it works out.  When done working, bung it up with a Tent Peg in the Barrel to give it vent every now and then.  It may be used in up to two or three days after.  If wanted to be bottled it should stand a fortnight in the Cask.  It will keep a great while. – Journal of General Jeffrey Amherst

Ed’s brew uses barley and molasses from a later recipe, that was designed to produce a more palatable beer.  Ed describes the beer produced by the above recipe as tasting like “drinking turpentine mixed with Vicks”.  For those of you unfamiliar with Vicks, it’s an ointment with a powerful smell caused by two main ingredients – camphor and menthol.  By our time period – the 1860s – Spruce Beer was still being made, but often with additional ingredients such as oils of sassafras, wintergreen, ginger and substantially less spruce.  Recipes usually called for spruce oil, or essence of spruce – that is previously boiled and distilled spruce oil that could be purchased from the store – and less spruce oil than any other ingredient.  Ed has tried to recreate the ‘hint of spruce’ style that was popular in the 1860s in this brew.  Ed describes the brew as a complex Brown Ale with hints of pine, smoke, treacle (molasses) and oak. This year, he’s using an organic blackstrap molasses – very exciting! Ed’s Spruce Beer will only be available at BlackCreekPioneerVillage (not in the LCBO), and will be ready for sale beginning this Friday, June 15th, 2013.  Why not celebrate Father’s Day by dropping by the Village and checking out the Battle of Black Creek and picking up a growler of Spruce Beer to take home!

Hoppy Drinking! – Guest Post by Black Creek Beer Expert, Katie Bryski

Over the next little while our own Katie Bryski, Beer Expert at Black Creek Pioneer Village, will be supplying us with guest blogs on a variety of beer related topics.  Katie has been working at the Village in a variety of roles over the past few years and is a published author to boot!  Enjoy!

Can you imagine beer without hops?

Today, hops – the flowers of the Humulus lupus plant – are inextricably linked to beer and the brewing process. The small, pine cone-like flowers act as both a flavouring and preserving agent. Not only do they give beer its distinctively bitter taste, they help keep beer from spoiling: highly important in periods before artificial refrigeration!

 While Victorians (like us) expected hopped beer, the earliest brewers didn’t use them at all. The first record of hops as a flavouring agent doesn’t appear until the 9th century. Given that beer has been brewed for almost seven thousand years, hops are a relatively late addition! Early medieval brewers flavoured their beer with gruit: a mixture of yarrow, bog myrtle (also known as sweet gale) and marsh rosemary. While gruit helped flavour beer, it lacked hops’ preserving qualities, which meant that beer’s “shelf life” was quite short – brewers tended to brew for personal or immediate consumption, rather than for export.

Bohemian towns experimented with and eventually perfected hopped beer by the 13th century, but the issue of hopped versus unhopped beer was more than a matter of taste. It was a political issue as well! Production of gruit was a privilege bestowed by the local lord or archbishop; granting permission to make gruit was thus an important source of income for them. Brewing with hops meant that brewers no longer needed to seek this permission, which meant a loss of revenue for the lords!

The English distinguished between unhopped “ale” and hopped “beer.” Similar to their Victorian descendents, they were fiercely protective of their national drink; hops were banned in England until about 1600. As Englishman Andrew Boorde wrote in 1542:

Ale for an Englysshe man is a naturall drinke… Beere is made of malte, of hoppes, and water; it is a naturall drynke for a doche [Dutch] man, and nowe of late dayes it is moche vsed in Englande to the detryment of many Englysshe men … (from Ale Brewing in Late Medieval and Early Tudor Times)

 But palates adapted, and the benefits of hopped beer quickly became clear. Thanks to the preservation afforded by hops, beer lasted longer, and so could be brewed in larger quantities and exported further away. Without hops, brewing might never have developed beyond its roots as a small, home-based industry.

 While wild hops spread like wildfire, by the nineteenth century hop farming had become a thriving industry, with specific hops strains cultivated for certain flavours. In Canada, hop-pickers could be paid 30 cents per box of hops. Boxes held about thirteen pounds, and an expert picker could fill two per day.

 The use of compacted hop pellets was developed by New Zealand’s University of Otago in the late twentieth century, but in Black Creek’s Historic Brewery, Ed uses hops just as the Victorians did, adding whole dried flowers to the sweet wort during the boil. If you’d like to taste our hops at their best, try some of our India Pale Ale. The distinctively bitter, grapefruit-like taste comes from the hops. More specifically, Ed uses a combination of Chinook, Nugget, and Citra hops, all of which are noted for their fresh floral and/or citrus-y characters. And after you’ve sipped some IPA, take a wander behind Laskay’s Emporium to see our very own hops. This feisty climbing vine is small now, but will have achieved some impressive height by the time of our Hop Harvest in the fall.

Hoppy drinking!


To Brew Five Gallons Strong Beer

Recipe from the diary of Thomas Benson, part of the Benson family fonds at the Archives of Ontario
Recipe from the diary of Thomas Benson, part of the Benson family fonds at the Archives of Ontario.  You can see the rest of the recipe here.

Andrew Morrison, an Archivist at the Archives of Ontario, sent along this incredible recipe he found in a notebook that belonged to Thomas Benson.  Andrew notes that Thomas was a prominent Upper Canada businessman and also the first mayor of Peterborough.  The notebook was used between 1827 and 1837 but the exact date he entered the recipe is unknown.

To Brew Five Gallons Strong Beer

Take Three ounces Hops, and rub them well into a close vessel sprinkling on them, when rubbed, about a teaspoon-full of salt – then pour on boiling water sufficient to saturate them and cover close. 

Boil two and a half gallons water, dash the boil with cold water and suffer it to cool down to 180° Faht.  Pour it into your Mash-tub.  Mash it well till the malt is thoroughly wetted, and allow it to stand close covered about two hours, then run the liquor off into a vessel prepared to receive it – having first of all placed a whisk of clean hay or straw over the hole in your mash-tub to preven the malt running off with the liquor.  If at first the liquor should run off thick or discoloured pour back until it runs clear.  Mash the second time with the same quantity of water at 190°, and let it stand covered two hours.  Get up your first wort into the boiler and add the Hops, a quarter of a pound of liquorice root (previously bruised) 1/4 [illegible] 1/4 ounce Capsicum, a bit of Cinnamon, and three ounces Treacle.  Boil smartly for an hour, then run off into a cooler, carefully straining out the hops to be boiled in the second wort, which must also be boiled an hour.  Observe that your malt must not stand dry between the mashings but must be Kept constantly moist by ladling the liquor over it.  Run off the second liquor into the Cooler, and cool down as quickly as possible to 65°. then run it into the tun as quick as you can so that it shall suffer no diminuation of heat, and add sufficient yeast to cause fermentation.  Let it work till it comes to a good deep head and has attenuated about 8°, then cleanse it by adding about a quarter ounce of ginger and rousing it well.  The liquor is now fit for putting into the Keg, which must be done carefully.  The Keg must be quite full to let the yeast work over, adding fresh liquor too Keep it full till it has done working.  then bung it up close but take care to watch it well lest it should begin to work again and burst the Keg, which may be prevented by easing the keg.  The only thing that now remains is to fine the beer.  Finings are made by dissolving Isingladd in Stale Beer till it acquire a thin gluey consistence like size.  the beer in which the ising-glass is dissolved must be quite stale and very clear.  Add a sufficient quantity of this to clear your beer a gill will sometimes be sufficient but it may require more.

Benson was born on the 11th of January,1804 in Fintona, Ireland and immigrated to Lansingburgh, New York with his parents in 1816.  In 1819 he moved his family to Kingston, Upper Canada and started business as a general merchant.  He moved to Port Hope in 1832 and served with the militia during the Rebellion of 1837.  In 1845 he packed up and moved to Peterborough, leased a flour mill and became the town’s first Mayor in 1850.  Tragically he died in the Desjardins Canal railway disaster in  1857, leaving a host of children who also played prominent roles in early Ontario as lawyers, judges, professors and soldiers.  If you’d like to read more about Thomas Benson, check out A Cyclopedia of Canadian Biography or head over to the Archives of Ontario to read his papers in person.

Brewing up Wins!

GOHCBClogoNo_DateBrewmaster Ed has picked up a second place finish at the first Great Ontario-Hopped Craft Beer Competition with his American IPA style beer!  He partnered with South Coast Hops and Ginseng of Straffordville, Ontario to create his award winning brew.  The Great Ontario Hopped Craft Beer Competition was held during the Ontario Fruit & Vegetable Convention in Niagara Falls on February 20th, 2013.  He was up against a strong field of competitors including Cheshire Valley Brewing, Church KeyCreemore SpringsDuggan’s Brewery, Get Well Nano-Brewery, Granite Brewery, Muskoka Brewery, Niagara College students, Olde Stone Brewing, Sawdust City Brewing, Steam Whistle and The Blue Elephant Craft Brew House

The Great Ontario Hopped Craft Beer Competition was started to celebrate the formation of the Ontario Hop Grower’s Association in 2012.  As stated on their website the OHGA is “a not-for-profit association of hop growers, families and enthusiasts who are interested in supporting the growth of the hop industry in Ontario,” and we’re thrilled to support them in their mandate.

Congratulations to Duggan’s Brewery and Heritage Hill Organics for their first place win and their trophy – The Bottomless CupSteam Whistle Brewing and Meadow Sweet Farm rounded out the top three.  Cheers!

New Brew – Wet Hop Pale Ale

Moments before picking, an hour before brewing!

Our ever popular Wet Hop Pale Ale is ready!  Using hops grown at Black Creek and picked during our Hop event a few weeks back, Ed brewed the beer the same day the hops were picked.  Traditionally, beer is brewed with hops that have been dried.  Some of the volatile flavours apparent in fresh hops are lost during the drying, packaging and storing process that hops undergo before being sold to breweries.  The beer has had a few weeks to mature and it features floral notes with a hint of citrus.  The Wet Hop Pale Ale is only available at our historic brewery at Black Creek Pioneer Village.  Come down to Village beginning Saturday, September 15th to sample our beer or pick up a growler!

As an added bonus, this Saturday is our 56th Annual Pioneer Harvest Festival which features an auction of handmade quilts, multicultural foods, music, a cider making demonstration, freshly made sausages and sauerkraut, stone ground flour and many other demonstrations and activities.  Check out the event listing here.

Special Event – Hop Harvest

Brewmaster Ed Koren harvesting hops

Join us on Saturday, August 25th, 2012 from 11:30am to 2:00pm for our first Hop Harvest event and take part in this one-of-a-kind experience!  Our hops are nearly ready for harvest and that means it’s Wet Hop Ale time! Participants will help harvest the hops with Sandra Spudic, Head Gardener while learning everything she knows on growing and harvesting hops and barley. Once the hops are picked, each person will get to help Brewmaster Ed Koren add them to the brew, while Ed talks about the nuances of brewing with wet hops. The program will end with a guided sampling of three historic ales with our Beer Expert Andrew Gaboury and a tasting of flavourful breads and cookies made with our spent grains and brewer’s yeast. All participants get priority purchasing on the limited edition Wet Hop Ale once it is ready (approximately 2 weeks after brewing). The Hop Harvest event costs $30/person (+ HST) and includes admission to the Village.  Call Customer Service at 416-667-6295 to purchase tickets for this great event (limited tickets available)!  Participants must be 19 years of age or older.

Black Creek Pale Ale included in the 11th Edition of OCB Discovery Pack!

The Spring 2012 edition of the Ontario Craft Brewers Discovery Pack celebrates the tradition, warmth and beauty of Hops!  This pack features our very own Pale Ale, Railway City’s Dead Elephant Ale, Cameron’s Dark 266, F&M Stonehammer Pilsner, Nickel Brook Premium Organic Lager and  Trafalgar’s Paddy’s Irish Red. 

Each Discovery Pack box comes with an OCB Style Guide with a built in ‘got it/need it’ check box for beer lovers to track OCB member brews they’ve tried… or still need to try!  Alternately, you can download the Style Guide from their website.

Available for a limited time and in limited quantities, the pack is available through the LCBO.  If you don’t see the Discovery Pack at your local LCBO, simply ask for it or use the OCB’s first App – a beer locator – available here.  The app lets you browse a list of OCB beers and breweries sold in the LCBO and The Beer Store, displays tasting notes about the beers and shows you the closest locations carrying your desired beer or brand! 

Support your local brewers and pick up a Discovery Pack before they’re gone!

Spring has Sprung – or at least the Hops have!

Hops at the Creek, April 2nd, 2012
Hops at the Creek, April 2nd, 2012

Opening day is rapidly approaching and with it comes all those wonderful harbingers of spring – baby animals, warmer weather and little hop vines poking their heads out of the soil.  This is the fourth year that our hops rhizomes have been in the ground and after a winter blanket of mulch and manure they are raring to go!

In 1874, Charles Whitcombe gave Canadian farmers the following advice in The Canadian farmer’s manual of agriculture:

The quality of the hops depends greatly upon the soil in which it is raised.  As a rule, the stronger the land, the more bitter and strong the flavour and quality of the hop.  From such land they are in great demand amongst brewers of porter.  On lighter lands, although the hop may grow luxuriantly (when land is well enriched) and produce abundantly, they usually contain a less amount of farina and are what is technically called a lesser “condition,” and this quality of hop is also in demand by the brewers of the lighter kind of table-beer.

As our hops become more and more established the flavours will change as the plants grow stronger.  Our first year of harvest produced rather small cones which imparted a very delicate flavour in our Wet Hop Ale.  The harvest from 2011 produced many large cones with a distinctive odour and greater quantities of lupulin (what Whitcombe and many period texts refer to as “farina”), which in turn produced stronger flavours in the Wet Hop and 1 Mile beers we produced.  According to most farm manuals from the 19th century, this year should be our defining harvest as the plants are well established and have acclimated to their new home.  I guess we’ll just have to wait until September to see!