What exactly is a table beer?

I love seeing people’s reactions in the brewery when they learn something new. Something that surprises people the most is the different way beer was consumed in the 19th century as compared to today. When people hear that beer was consumed by many throughout the entire day and by children no less, they are very surprised. However, this wouldn’t have been a strong, alcoholic beer. It would have most likely been something called a small or table beer – a beer ranging anywhere from 0.5-2.8% ABV.

In comparison, our beers are about 5% ABV

Children, servants, and workers engaging in heavy physical labor are the last people you would want intoxicated on a regular basis. Table beer served the purpose of quenching thirst and providing nutrients, with an ABV as low as 0.5%. For comparison, the Canadian government classifies an alcoholic beverage as any drink containing more than 1.1% ABV. Table beer provided an enjoyable, nutritious, and calorie-dense alternative to water.

Table beer was usually made with the spent grains of a stronger brew.  Not only was re-using the spent grains very economical (Victorians did not like to waste anything!) but created that weaker beer that was ideal for more regular consumption. A farmer drinking multiple pints of beer during a difficult workday is most likely not looking to get intoxicated, so a beer that comes in at 1% would be a perfect choice.

When we think of beer now, we associate it with social drinking, and potential intoxication. It is easy to forget that beer was used for more practical purposes in the 19th century. Table beer is a great example of that. Of course, table beer has lost its practical purpose in a day and age where we can easily access clean water and get a balanced meal at the grocery store. However,  it’s still a great example of the changing attitudes and purpose of beer between the Victorian era and modern times.



A Victorian Halloween!

Happy almost Halloween everybody! Perhaps you’ve been counting down the days, getting ready to enjoy the creepy and fun things the season has to offer. Well, you’re not alone. The Victorians also enjoyed the creepiness of Halloween! Folks in Victorian times seemed to live spooky lives year round – hair lockets, post-mortem photography, and mourning art dedicated to those who had passed away. However, they also celebrated Halloween, but not quite how we celebrate today. In honor of Halloween being just around the corner, let’s take a look at some Victorian traditions –

A Victorian Halloween greeting card

1. Halloween Parties
The Victorians enjoyed a good Halloween party just as much as we do! Jack-O-Lanterns, ghost stories, games and spooky decorations were commonplace at these parties. According to the 1903 edition of the Sunday Herald of Syracuse, New York (originally researched and described by Stephanie Carroll):

Cushions were strewn about the floor for the guests in the library. When the green flames flickered out, someone lit the fireplace, and attendees began telling ghost stories. Each guest had been instructed to bring a ghost story or be “threatened with violent ejection.” The author commented that the stories were so frightening more than one person screamed when an alarm clock went off in the middle of it. He also commented that it was surprising how many guests had brought alarm clocks for this purpose. After the stories had ended, electric lights flickered on to reveal popping corn, games, and refreshments.

2. Halloween Treats
No, the Victorians were not eating mini chocolate bars and stale bags of snack sized chips. Instead, they would indulge in treats such as cakes, fruit, nuts, apples, and of course ale! Victorians also had their version of candy apples, dipped in syrup and butter. Check out this recommendation for food to serve at a Halloween party:

Menu for a Halloween Party, Ingalls Home and Art Magazine, 1891. Courtesy Mimi Matthews

3. Halloween Postcards
This is an interesting one. Victorians were the pioneers of the postcard, which usually featured an interesting piece of art on the front, and a space to write a message on the back. Victorians had an intricate post card for almost every occasion, including Christmas and Valentine’s day. Some of the artwork was a little odd… but that just made it all the more charming!

Happy Halloween! A nice postcard

In case that wasn’t enough Halloween for you, our Howling Hootenanny event will be running this weekend! Don’t miss the creepy creature show, the haunted maze, or the spooky pioneer superstitions!


Howling Hootenanny

Happy fall! The leaves are changing, the air is getting cool, and Halloween is just around the corner! That can only mean one thing, our Howling Hootenanny event is almost here! On October 20th and 21st, and the 27th and the 28th, we will have having a fun Halloween themed event especially for kids!

A vintage Victorian Halloween postcard! Courtesy the Virtual Victorian

So what will be going on during this howling good time?

  • Be amazed at exciting performances on the main stage (11:30 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.)
  • Get up close and personal at the Creepy Creature Meet & Greet (12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.)
  • Dare yourself to enter the Haunted Maze (12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.)
  • Trick-or-Treat around the Village!
  • Try your hand at the Apple Sling Shot (12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.) *Weather Permitting
  • Listen in on spooky pioneer superstitions
  • Explore the mini-maze!

Beer in food

If you have forayed into the world of beer, you know there is a food pairing for any beer. IPAs go well with fried or spicy foods, stouts go well with desserts, and pilsners go well with fish. However, you can also take it to the next level… with choosing a food or condiment made with beer.

You can pre-purchase a lot of these choices, or make them yourself at home with your favorite beer. I have personally cooked with our Black Creek beer, and the results were amazing!

Tracy’s Beer Jelly, available in our gift shop

Beer Jelly

Beer Jelly is exactly what you would expect – a jelly with beer as the main ingredient. It’s great for cheese boards, breads, or a glaze on meat. Beer jelly is great because you get the essence of the beer and its taste without the bitterness of the hops. We have beer jelly available in a range of flavors in our gift shop, including pilsner, IPA, and wheat beer. If you’re feeling adventurous, Men’s Journal outlines a recipe for stout beer jelly that is very achievable for a home cook.

Beer Bread

Our previous beer blogger Katie explored the relationship between beer and bread in a previous post. Beer and bread have very similar ingredients – besides flour and hops, it is almost identical. Adding beer to your bread gives it an extra dimension of flavor, and makes for a very hearty and moist loaf. Katie made a ginger beer bread using our historic ginger beer, and you can find the recipe here.

Beer Stew

You may have heard of using wine in savory cooking, but beer is also a great option. Dark beers such as stouts pair well with red meat and savory ingredients in a hearty stew. It’s a little hot for stew at the moment, but this is a good recipe to save for those cold winter months. Ricardo Cuisine has a great recipe for a beer stew using Guinness, but I think this recipe would be heightened by substituting it with Black Creek historic stout!

Beer Cake

Now this one sounds a bit odd, but it is really delicious. Remember how beer in bread  makes it moist and hearty? Think of what it could do for cake! Plus, the bitterness of beer cuts through the sugary and sometimes overly sweet taste of cake, creating a more complex and interesting flavor. The Food Network has a range of beer cake recipes using beers like pilsner, stout, and even IPA!

If you try any of these recipes be sure to let us know! They all look great, and seem like a great way to finish off that growler!

Spotlight on our commercial beers!

Did you know that you can purchase Black Creek beer in the LCBO? We have two great flavors to choose from – Canadian Frontier best bitter ale, and Rifleman’s Ration brown ale! Both are a uniquely crafted choice, and are a great choice if you are looking for something a little different than the other craft beer flavors out there. Not sure which one to pick? Here are some tasting notes for both beers, but you truly can’t go wrong with either one!

Canadian Frontier Best Bitter Ale – Canadian Frontier is an amber colored, malty ale with subtle hints of caramel and malty sweetness. It’s light enough to be a refreshing choice for warmer weather, but the flavors are strong enough that any craft beer fan will truly be impressed.  Originally brewed to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, Canadian Frontier lives on as a tribute to the English ales that would have been enjoyed by pioneers in small villages in Ontario.

Rifleman’s Ration Brown Ale – Our Rifleman’s Ration is a medium bodied brown ale that pours a chocolate brown color in the glass. This is a rich, malty beer with a slight sweetness and hints of espresso coffee. This beer is inspired by the money earmarked for beer that was given to soldiers stationed in 19th century Canada. Rifleman’s Ration was brewed in honor of the anniversary of the war of 1812, but we have continued to brew it long beyond the bicentennial!

Our beers are available in the LCBO, and in some grocery stores. I’d recommend calling ahead or checking the links above to see store availability near you!

Medicinal Beers

Hello readers! You may remember our previous beer writer Katie’s informative post about medicinal beers used in Victorian times. If there’s one thing i’ve learned about beer in the 19th century, it was not just a social drink. It had many purposes, including health benefits.

BCPV Daily Schedule July 30
One of the many great primary sources on eating and drinking habits in 19th century Canada

In her post, Katie had done some research about how beer was beneficial to 19th century Canadians:

For nineteenth century Canadians, beer supplemented the diet. Beer contains several of the B-complex vitamins (not thiamine, alas), and depending on style, can be a source of iron, too. In her Female Emigrant’s Guide (1854), writer Catherine Parr Traill laments the comparative lack of private brewing among families, explaining: “During the very hot weather, some cooling and strengthening beverage is much required by men who have to work out in the heat of the sun; and the want of it is often supplied by whisky diluted with water, or by cold water, which, when drunk in large quantities, is dangerous to the health, and should, if possible, be avoided” (Parr Trail, The Female Emigrant’s Guide, 137). Beer was not only thirst-quencher, but fortifier.

Katie also mentioned a few different types of medicinal beers: ginger beer, dandelion beer, root beer, and spruce beer. Let’s take a look at each of these types of beer, as well as their intended purpose in the 19th century.

Ginger Beer
Ginger beer was thought to combat nausea and other stomach problems. Ginger is also an anti-inflammatory, which was especially appealing to those with arthritis and chronic pain problems that could not just take pain medication to ease their inflammation. Of course, a real Victorian ginger beer brewed with generous amounts of real fresh ginger is much more likely to live up to these expectations than a store bought ginger ale soda would.

Dandelion Beer
We have actually made our very own dandelion stout at the Black Creek historic brewery in years past. Dandelion was a popular medicinal ingredient in Victorian times, as it was thought to cleanse the kidneys and liver, and prevent kidney stones. Dandelions contain a number of vitamins, and were also extremely easy to find and harvest. Dandelion wine was a more common choice, but dandelion beer did exist as well. Many websites dedicated to making homemade dandelion wine for health purposes exist today, showing that the tradition of using dandelions in beverages still stands.

Root Beer
Katie published an excellent, in depth post about Victorian root beer.  To quote her post:

Root beer is a beverage traditionally made with sassafras roots and/or sarsaparilla as its main flavouring agent. The Indigenous populations of North America were making sassafras-based beverages long before European contact, using it to treat various ailments from wounds to fevers. Unsurprisingly, then, when “root beer” began to be sold through the mid-nineteenth century, it was touted as a healthful drink.

Of course, this is a little ironic as it was later discovered that sassafras is actually carcinogenic, enough so that it was banned by the FDA in 1960.

Spruce Beer
Spruce beer is a beer I get asked about quite a bit down in the brewery,  and many people ask if it actually was used to prevent scurvy. The answer is yes, as explained by our previous beer writer Karrell:

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!

We’ve actually made our own spruce beer in the historic brewery, but it had a taste that didn’t agree with everyone. Apparently, it tasted quite similar to a liquid Christmas tree!

So there are some great examples of some medicinal beers that helped the Victorians cure what “aled” them! Of course, it’s much more beneficial to use modern cures for what currently ails you, but it’s interesting to see how resourceful Victorians managed to make medicinal ales out of everything from dandelions to spruce needles! Many of these recipes can be found online if you’re curious, but maybe just stick to the pharmacy when you’re feeling under the weather.

What’s in the Tap Room?

The Halfway House is a very unique building here at the village. The Halfway House could be found on a stagecoach line between St. Lawrence Market in Toronto and the village of Dunbarton, near Pickering.  It was a great place to stay after a long journey, complete with a taproom to have a beer at the end of the day. Now, the Halfway House has a new lease on life as one of our most impressive historic buildings here at the village, and the site of the Black Creek Historic Brewery. This blog has showed you all the ins and outs of the historic brewery, so let’s shine a spotlight on a different part of Halfway – the taproom!

So what historic goodies can be found in our taproom? Let’s take a look:

Crokinole – Crokinole is a perfect choice as a taproom game, as it was thought to be invented in Ontario in 1876. Crokinole was a popular parlour game in the Victorian times, and is still played today. The game is similar to the idea of curling, with players sliding their pieces into the areas that get the most points.

Historic Glassware – So not all of this glassware is historic (definitely not the clear, modern looking glasses there) but check out those historic glass bottles! According to the Society for Historical Archaeology, black glassware such as the bottles in the taproom are some of the oldest types of colored glassware. Black glassware was excellent for keeping light from spoiling wine and beer, similar to brown or dark bottles today.

The Black Creek Gazette – So this is not a historic artifact, but a fun addition to the taproom. The “Black Creek Gazette” outlines some important late 19th century events that would have taken place around the time period of the village. It’s very interesting to see what was happening at the time, including the Civil War, labor movements, and of course Confederation!

Map of Upper Canada – As many of us know, Ontario was not always “Ontario” but “Upper Canada” instead. It was called Upper Canada due to its position relative to the Great Lakes. Our neighbor to the east, Quebec, was known as Lower Canada.

The Drunk Door – This is a really interesting one. This side door is thought to be a “drunk door.” So when someone got too drunk, instead of sending them out the front door of the inn (potentially harming the reputation of the establishment), they would instead be sent out of a side drunk door. I have never seen this door used before, but it would infact lead to the side of the building, out of sight from the main porch.

Nine Men’s Morris – This one is another taproom game you can find on our tables. However, Nine Men’s Morris has been around in some form or another since the ancient Roman times. Nine Men’s Morris was even referred to in the work of Shakespere.

So there you have it! This is definitely not the extent of the cool things you can find in the taproom, and in the rest of the Halfway House! Of course, you can also find the historic brewery in the lower level of Halfway as well. Come by and visit us!