Last Call: 2016 Edition!

Dear beer-lovers,

Once again, we have made it to the end of our brewing season here at the Black Creek Brewery! Tomorrow, December 23rd, 2016, is the last day we’ll be open until April 29th, 2017. We can’t believe it either, but time flies when you’re having fun. 😉

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Once again, we’ve had a fantastic year of beer tours and tastings, new brews and historic views. From our fresh and fruity spring beers, to the ripening hops, to our ghostly ales and historic tales, to our winter celebrations, we have loved every minute of it.

So I think that this is a good time to raise a glass to you! Yes, you! Where would we be, without your thirst for history?

Going back through the archives, I realize that this wraps up four years on the blog for me – and remember, my predecessor started The Growler way back in 2009. Many of you have been following us the whole time, for which we cannot thank you enough. When I started writing here, I’ll admit that I didn’t know what a rabbit’s hole awaited me. But that’s beer for you, isn’t it? More complex than meets the eye, rich and nuanced, with that appeal that keeps you coming back for more.

What happens now?

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The Black Creek Brewery will be shut from December 24th, 2016 to April 29th, 2017. The rest of Black Creek Pioneer Village will reopen from March 13th-19th, 2017 for March Break, but the brewery will stay closed.

Can’t wait until our season starts on April 29th, 2017?  Never fear, our commercial beer is available in the LCBO, Beer Store, and select grocery stores all year long. Check the LCBO and Beer Store websites to see stock at your local store!

Thanks again! We’ll see you in the spring!

To Queen and Country!

Katie

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From the Vaults: Wassail, Wassail!

In this occasional series, we delve into our archives to bring you some of our favourite posts. Here’s a look at the tradition of wassailing!

Here we come a-wassailing,

Among the leaves so green…

Alcohol and winter celebrations have a long and intertwined history. This is particularly true when you start looking at the old tradition of wassailing. “The Wassail Song” is one of my favourites anyway – but you can imagine how my ears prick up when we get to this verse:

Call up the butler of this house,

Put on his golden ring,

Let him bring us up a glass of beer,

The better we shall sing…

So what is wassailing, exactly? The word can refer either to a custom of drinking someone’s health and/or going from home to home singing, or to the drink itself. A “wassail” drink is often mulled cider, wine, or beer. A specific type of wassail called “lambs’ wool” was frequently used: this was dark ale, whipped into a froth, spiced and decorated with roasted apples. The admittedly peculiar name may arise either from the appearance of the froth, or from a corruption of the Irish celebration “La Mas Ubhal.”

An earthenware wassail bowl from the late 1600s. (Courtesy the Victoria and Albert Museum)

An earthenware wassail bowl from the late 1600s. (Courtesy the Victoria and Albert Museum)

Looking at “wassail” as a verb, there are a few different types. For instance, wassailing can refer specifically to a custom of blessing apple and other fruit trees.

In England’s West Country, usually on Twelfth Night (January 5th), or Old Twelfth Night (January 17th), people carried mulled cider and/or spiced ale to apple and cider trees. Cider-soaked cakes were laid at the trees’ roots, and more cider splashed on the tree itself. Guns fired into the branches, pots and pans were banged together—the commotion was meant to frighten away evil spirits. At the same time, wassail songs were sung, encouraging good spirits to protect the trees and ensure their fertility for the next year.

For it’s our Wassail, jolly Wassail,

Joy come to our jolly Wassail,

How well may they bloom, how may they bear,

That we may have apples and cider next year.

– Apple Tree Wassail

Wassailing can also refer to passing around a common cup or bowl, called a “Loving Cup.” The tradition of passing around a common drink and toasting good health dates back centuries in English history; there is even a reference to wassailing in Beowulf! The term “wassail” itself comes from the Old English phrase “Waes hael!” or, “To your health!” The traditional response to this was, naturally, “Drinc hael!” or, “Drink your health!” It’s interesting to see alcohol consistently used to seal off deals, oaths, and wishes—perhaps a remnant of the practice of pouring libations to the gods?

Bryng us in good ale, and bryng us in good ale;

   For owr blyssyd lady sak, bryng us in good ale.

Bryne us in no browne bred, for that is made of brane,

Nor bryng us in no whyt bred, for theriun is no game.

           But bryng us in good ale.

Bryng us in no befe, for ther is many bonys,

But bryng us in good ale, for that goth downe at onys;

           But bryng us in good ale.

– Bryng us in no Browne Bred (Thomas Wright, Songs and Carols Now First Printed, From a Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century, 1847)

Finally, wassailing can also refer to the practice of going around to people’s houses with a wassail bowl and a song. The group would sing and bless the house in exchange for money and more alcohol—this tends to be the version of wassailing in many of the songs with which we’re familiar today. Interestingly, there was a concern in the early decades of the nineteenth century that the old wassail songs and carols were dying out, prompting a concerted effort to record tunes and lyrics (much like Thomas Wright did, just above!). We have much to thank those Victorian writers for!

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Wassail, wassail, all over the town,

Our toast it is white, and our ale it is brown…

– Gloucestershire Wassail

Wassailing also gave rise to carolling: travelling around to sing to people’s homes, but without the involvement of alcohol. We’ve kept this tradition at Black Creek, with our own wandering carollers during our Christmas by Lamplight! Feel free to join in the singing—perhaps after a visit to the brewery for some “Waes hael!’ (Hey, with the bitter orange peel and coriander, our Winter Warmer actually makes a decent wassail!)

Drinc hael!

Katie

PS.  A wassailing song in full:

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New Brew: Winter Warmer 

Thanks to everyone who came out to celebrate the first of our three “Christmas by Lamplight” events. Lamplight 2.0 is this Saturday evening (tickets here!), and we will once again be sampling our Winter Warmer down in the Black Creek Brewery. 

Our 2016 Winter Warmer is similar to last year’s brew.  It’s an amber ale: Ed’s replicated the colour of a Christmas orange in your glass! Not surprisingly, the main players here Ed’s additions of bitter orange peel and coriander. Orange is the first aroma I noticed, and certainly the first thing I tasted. This is a medium-bodied beer, very smooth and drinkable, even with an ABV of 6.5%. My fellow Beer Expert Milan and I posit that it’s a little sweeter than last year’s batch – come see what your palate says! 

Ed’s doing several brews of the Winter Warmer, and it will only be available here at the Black Creek Brewery. Be sure to pick some up before we close for the season on the 23rd!

Cheers!

Katie 

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“Christmas By Lamplight” starts this weekend!

It’s officially December, and you know what that means! Our Christmas by Lamplight evening events run the first three Saturdays of December…which means that the first event is this weekend!

In the deep of the winter evening, the village comes to life with holiday cheer! Explore the village through the soft glow of candles and lamplight. Strains of traditional music float through the air as you breathe in the spiced scents of mincemeat, gingerbread, and other treats. As you create your own crafts and ornaments to take home, enjoy the Victorian Christmas decorations proudly festooning every building.

But wait—there’s more! Round out the evening with some artistic entertainment! Learn the history of beloved Christmas carols and join in singing, tap your toes at a country dance, and take in a traditional Christmas pantomime—a specially commissioned production of The Snow Queen.

A new (and hilarious!) adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's classic!

A new (and hilarious!) adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s classic! (Our History Actors might have been involved…)

Thirsty after all that? I hope so! Naturally, the brewery will be open, with yours truly delighted to lead you through guided tastings all night long. Our Winter Warmer will be debuting this weekend, so get ready for a cup of cheer! (A growler also makes a great present…or treat for poor, hardworking Santa. Just saying! *wink*)

The holidays are kicking into high gear now, and we look forward to celebrating them with you! You can learn more and purchase tickets here. Book early to avoid disappointment!

Happy holidays!

Katie

 

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Interview with a Beer Expert: Milan on Home-Brewing

Milan in the Harness Shop

Milan in the Harness Shop

Black Creek Beer Expert Milan is a man of many talents. When he’s not conducting tours and tastings in the brewery, he can often be found trying his hands at historic trades from printing to leather-working. And when he’s not at Black Creek, he’s still a beer expert – after joining the brewery team, Milan has become a burgeoning home-brewer.

We caught up in the Harness-Maker’s Shop recently to chat about his brews. It’s a cozy little space, especially with the woodstove burning away. “So, Milan,” I said, leaning on the counter, pen poised above my notebook. “Tell me about your beer…”

It’s largely a creative outlet, Milan explains. “And it gives me access to whatever styles I want.” Indeed, he’s done everything from oatmeal stouts to pale ales to pumpkin beers (made with real pumpkin, just like Black Creek!). But while an in-house brewery sounds like a dream, surely it’s beyond the reach of the average person with an average (or smaller-than-average) living space?

Not necessarily, Milan says.

“For small batches, you can just use pots and pans that you already have. If you’re going bigger, there are a few start-up costs—getting the equipment and everything—but then it’s actually pretty cheap.”

How much beer does Milan make?

“Four gallons. I built my mash tun from scratch.”

When I point out that Milan has garnered quite a reputation for elaborate costumes and props made from scratch, he laughs. “I guess so, yeah. I like making things and working with my hands.”

I decide not to mention that he’s stitching leather while talking to me. The poetic justice is too great.

“Working with Ed is great too; I can ask him questions along the way. Things like what temperature is best for specific yeasts…he has a very finely tuned process.” He pauses, sunlight catching in his hair. “Ed is a wealth of knowledge. And he’s always happy to share it.”

Indeed, our adult apprentices know this very well. I inquire whether he thinks our apprenticeship program would help people just getting into home-brewing. Milan ponders.

“As Beer Experts, we learn a lot from watching Ed work. But so many key things happen before we arrive—the mash, for example. Seeing every step would’ve helped a lot; I made some mistakes at first.”

But Ed was able to help?

“Yeah.”

When asked whether he has any tips for other beginning brewers, Milan suggests purchasing a beer-making starter kit. “It’s a good way to try it out.” And of course, coming to chat with Ed and our Beer Experts, right here at the Black Creek Brewery!

Until next time!

Katie

 

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New Brew: Gingerbread Stout

“You’ll like this one, Katie,” Ed announced as I entered the Black Creek Brewery. “I know you like ginger, and you like stouts, so this should be a great beer for you.”

Another month, another specialty beer! For November and the start of the holiday season, Ed has brewed a Gingerbread Stout. It’s a new beer for us, so we were all very excited to see how it turned out. Especially me—as Ed observed, I do like ginger and I do like stouts…

No, that's not beer! That's molasses - but the Gingerbread Stout is about the same colour.

No, that’s not beer! That’s molasses – but the Gingerbread Stout is about the same colour.

As the months get colder, darker, heavier ales come back into fashion, and festive or holiday-themed beers get an extra kick from added spices. This Gingerbread Stout is a great example of both trends. It pours pitch black in the glass, and cinnamon and ginger are immediately discernable on the nose.

“I looked at a lot of gingerbread recipes for inspiration,” Ed explained. “And I used a lot of the same ingredients. Not just ginger—cinnamon, cloves, molasses…”

All of which make their presence known. The cinnamon is most apparent upfront, and the molasses lends a mellow smoothness to the body, balancing well with the stout’s rich, roasted flavours. That said, the ginger is the star player here. It shows up right after the initial taste and lingers long into the finish: warm and tingling on the tongue and lips. The Gingerbread Stout comes in at 5% ABV. If you enjoyed our Ginger Beer this past June, this will probably be right up your alley!

Boiling in the brew-kettle.

Boiling in the brew-kettle.

The Gingerbread Stout hits our fridges this Saturday, November 19th, coinciding with the start of our Festive Weekends! From November 19th to December 18th, enjoy special programming every weekend! Tap your toes at a country dance, meet Santa in his cottage, try your hand at festive crafts, and giggle and cheer as our History Actors hit the boards with holiday-themed performances! And of course, drop into the Black Creek Brewery to try a sampling of our brews, the perfect thing to get you into some holiday cheer!

Visit with Santa at Black Creek

-Katie

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Society of Beer Drinking Ladies – All Ladies’ Craft Beer Festival

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It was long a matter of regret that in all my years as a Beer Expert and resident Beer Journalist, I had not attended a Beer Festival. Curated beer tastings, yes. Other breweries’ tours, yes. But ill luck and circumstance had prevented attendance at a larger event.

Clearly, this had to be remedied. Last Saturday, November 5th, former beer expert Steph and I went to the All Ladies’ Craft Beer Festival, organized by the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies. If you’ve not run across the SOBDL before, they are a vibrant group of beer lovers:

We are a group of Toronto ladies passionate about all things craft beer. On the last Friday of every month, we hold a “bevy” in a secret location, where we explore delicious craft beer in the company of other fantastic women. Join us at our next event.

So I duly turned up at the beautiful Artscape Wychwood Barns, tickets in hand. While I waited for Steph, I saw something really cool.

Women. Women of all sorts – getting out of cabs, hopping off the bus, walking up with huge grins. Down in the Black Creek Brewery, we see this every day: craft beer is for everyone. But the sense of camaraderie was palpable; the atmosphere charged with excitement, but still low-key.

When Steph and I got our drink tickets and stepped inside, we both stopped.

“Wow.”

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Imagine the cavernous, high-ceiling barns filled with breweries and chalkboards proclaiming their offerings. Directly ahead of us, a display of malt and hops. To the right, SOBDL merch. And tables stretching as far back as we could see – table upon table upon table of beer. We grinned at each other.

“Where do we start?”

I’ve manned the Black Creek Brewery table at various events, but this was my first time on the other side of the table. We quickly fell into a rhythm: check out the beers, chat with the other ladies, choose a beer, duck against the wall to compare tasting notes. For me, the hardest part was deciding between beers I’d tried and loved, and beers I’d never had before. I won’t go through all the beers we tried between the two of us – suffice it to say we ended up purchasing extra drink tickets – but here are a few highlights.

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Beau’s All-Natural Brewing: Pilot Batch 1

Beau’s All-Natural Brewery is raising funds for the Rwanda Brewery Project – a woman-owned and operated craft brewery in Rwanda. Entrepreneur and soon-to-be brewery owner Fina Uwineza brewed this beer in collaboration with Beau’s, using non-traditional ingredients like cassava and banana.

It was a delightful blonde ale – the banana paired really well with the light malts, almost like a nice hefeweissen. I’ve had cassava on its own before; it tastes not unlike potato. Still, this beer was light and fresh – I got rather more citrus than I was expecting!

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(PS. You can support the Rwanda Craft Brewery project here – only about a week left on the Kickstarter!)

Royal City Brewing Co.: Earl Grey Porter

My understanding is that this one ran out partway through the night, so I’m glad Steph and I found it when we did!  This is Royal City’s winter beer – a porter infused with Earl Grey tea. And goodness, it’s uncanny! This could almost be a cold black tea with plenty of bergamot, but a luscious chocolatey undertone reminds you of its true porter nature.

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Nickel Brook Brewery: Raspberry Uber Style Weiss

This was a beer that I needed to try again, although I’ve had it before. This is a Berliner Weisse: a sour wheat beer. While I’m a fan of sour beers in general (beers partially or wholly fermented with lactic acid bacteria, to give it that distinct tang), this one ups the ante by aging on Ontario raspberries. It’s gorgeous in the glass – an almost jewel-like pink – and equally delicious on the palate; the raspberries’ tartness blends perfectly with the style’s natural sourness.

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All in all, it was a delightful event: wonderful, supportive vibe; an excellent assortment of beers; and exceptional organization. Much thanks to the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies for putting on this event – it was wonderful!

So, if you’re looking to chat with other beer-lovers and try some innovative and unusual brews, a beer festival may be the place for you. Keep your eyes peeled!

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-Katie

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