The Most Interesting Man in the World

Over the years, we have covered many interesting historical personalities on this blog: from the indomitable Susannah Oland to the lyrical John Ross Robertson. But, oh, readers: I have found the most interesting beer-related man in the world. And his name is—Jerry Thomas.

Jeremiah P. Thomas was born in Sacket’s Harbor, New York in 1830. He learned bartending as a young man—and then took off to the west coast to join the California Gold Rush (1848-1855). There, he continued bartending while searching for gold, and eventually returned back east to New York City. There, he opened his own bar under PT Barnum’s American Museum. Because of course he did.

But even that was not cool enough. Thomas then hit the road, working as head bartender at hotels across the United States and Europe. As he travelled, he developed a distinctly flashy style: pulling tricks and juggling while making his drinks. In fact, his signature drink—the Blue Blazer—was a hot toddy set aflame, and then tossed from cup to cup to create  “a blazing stream of liquid fire.”

Jerry Thomas demonstrating his famous Blue Blazer.
“How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion” New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, Publishers, 1862. pg. 77.

But wait, there’s more!

He travelled with solid silver bar tools. He wore jewellery as ostentatious as his showmanship.

At one point, he made more money each week than the Vice-President of the United States.

He returned to New York City and in 1866 (so, right at our time period), opened his own bar again. But we’re not done. His favourite things included kid gloves, a gold Parisian watch, and collecting art.

And there’s still more.

Dear readers-

Dear readers, in the 1870s this man was president of The Gourd Club, for he had produced its largest specimen.

To recap:

Virtuoso bartender, fashionista, and gourd enthusiast.

At this point, I think his legacy is probably pretty self-evident, but let’s go into it anyway. Among all these other highlights, Thomas was the first to put forth the notion of bartender as creative professional: he is the original bartender personality. His book, How to Mix Drinks: Or, the Bon-Vivant’s Companion (1862) was the first book on mixing drinks published in the United States.  It’s no wonder the foreword to his book says, “His very name is synonymous in the lexicon of mixed drinks with all that is rare and original.” For indeed, he was one of the cornerstones of the mixed-drink culture we still see today.

And he’s really, really cool.

Some recipes!

Ale Punch

A quart of mild ale, a glass of white wine, one of brandy, one of capillaire [syrup flavoured with orange flowers or fruit], the juice of a lemon, a roll of the peel pared thin, nutmeg grated on the top, and a bit of toasted bread.

 

Ale Sangaree

(Use large bar glass)

1 teaspoonful of sugar, dissolved in a tablespoonful of water.

Fill the tumbler with ale, and grate nutmeg on top.

 

Porter Cup

Mix in a tankard or covered jug a bottle of porter, and an equal quantity of table-ale; pour in a glass of brandy, a dessert-spoonful of syrup of ginger, add three or four lumps of sugar, and half a nutmeg grated; cover it down, and expose it to the cold for half an hour; just before sending it to the table, stir in a teaspoonful of carbonate of soda. Add the fresh-cut rind of a cucumber.

 

Arf and Arf

(use large bar glass)

In London this drink is made by mixing half porter and half ale, in America it is made by mixing half new and half old ale.

All recipes from How to Mix Drinks1862. Check it out, maybe you’ll find a new favourite!

-Katie

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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!

(courtesy http://www.warof1812.ca)

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

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!

Displaying FullSizeRender.jpg
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

Wild vs. Sour Ales

Hello, beer-lovers!

Welcome back to the Growler! I hope that you enjoyed the holiday season. Long-time readers will not be surprised that I spent mine gallivanting through the United States. (We hit up a brewery, distillery, and cider mill/winery all on the same day. It was awesome.)

But now I’m back, and looking a little closer to home. I was reading this article about Bar Volo’s new offspring, Birreria Volo, when something caught my eye: “Sour and spontaneously fermented beers are the focus…”

“Hold up,” quoth I. “When I visited Pen Druid Brewing a few weeks ago, they talked a lot about wild fermentation, but I don’t remember them being particularly sour.”

Tasting at Pen Druid, in Sperryville, VA.
Tasting at Pen Druid Brewing (Sperryville, VA).

The difference between wild and sour ales is not one to contemplate when the beers in question are 7.8% ABV (their . However, it is a good topic for the Growler.

The wonderful Urban Beer Nerd blog reminds us that “…there are no concrete definitions of sour beer and wild beer.” I think we can all agree that sour beer tastes…well, sour, but “wild beer” is a little trickier. BeerAdvocate defines American Wild Ales as “…beers that are introduced to ‘wild’ yeast or bacteria…” while Jeff Alworth’s Beer Bible says, “The category of wild ale includes any beer that derives its central character from wild yeast and bacteria” (p. 528).

But see, I have to agree with Urban Beer Nerd: every definition distinguishes between “wild yeast” and “bacteria.” Both play roles in fermentation, but they’re different microorganisms that result in different flavours.

Take Pen Druid’s “Golden Swan” Wild Blonde. It’s a blonde ale made with a wild yeast culture (genus Brettanomyces, rather than Saccharomyces). While it’s certainly got a “funk” to it, it doesn’t have the sour tartness of a lambic or a Flemish ale. Compare that to their “Saturnalia,” an “all-Virginia soured Blonde.” That one had a sour bite.

So in the end, I think UBN and The Oxford Companion to Beer have it right:

Brettanomyces yeast strains = Wild Ale

Brettanomyces yeast strains AND/OR bacteria = Sour Ale

No matter what you call them, though—they taste pretty good to me. And with Pen Druid now so far away, it looks like it’s Birreria Volo for me!

To Queen and Country!

Katie

Specialty Brew: Ginger Beer

Currently in our fridges at the Black Creek Brewery: Brown Ale, India Pale Ale, Best Bitter, and Pale Ale. And of course, our June specialty beer is the Ginger Beer!

That comes out Father’s Day weekend. It is one of my very favourites, so I am excited! It’s also a beer with an interesting history…

Ginger also appears in many 19th century beer recipes!
Ginger also appears in many 19th century beer recipes!

Ginger ale derives from ginger beer, which is itself descended from drinks such as mead and metheglin. These were sweet, honey-based beverages, fermented with yeast and flavoured with a variety of spices, including ginger, cloves, mace. Ginger beer was 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 symbiotic composite of yeast and bacteria! From the eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century, ginger beers were impressively alcoholic, sometimes reaching 11%.

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.

So, what’s the difference between ginger beer and ginger ale? Easy: ginger beer is brewed, ginger ale is carbonated water flavoured with ginger. With some exceptions, ginger beer tends to be spicier, with a more pronounced ginger taste and cloudier appearance, while ginger ale is lighter in taste and colour.

(Courtesy http://www.digitaldeliftp.com )

Although ginger ale was reputedly invented in Ireland, Canada has a role to play in ginger ale’s history. In 1890, University of Toronto alumnus and pharmacist John McLaughlin opened a carbonated water plant in Toronto by Old City Hall. By adding various fruit juices, he developed sodas to sell to pharmacies. His Belfast Style Ginger Ale was one notable example, and by 1904, he had refined the recipe into a lighter, sharper version he called “Canada Dry Pale Ginger Ale.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Our Ginger Beer is an amber ale with a lovely burnished orange hue. In addition to the gingery heat, you might also get a bit of sweetness – Ed’s added some molasses this year to bring that ginger taste out even more.

This one, specific Ginger Beer is mine, though.
This one, specific Ginger Beer is mine, though.

It will be available starting this Father’s Day weekend until it’s all gone. Do remember, it’s also our Battle of Black Creek Revolutionary War Re-Enactment this weekend! In between hunting the Yankee spy and following the battle, you can swing by the brewery and pick up a ginger beer of your very own. 😉

 

-Katie

Playing it Cool: Victorian Refrigeration

You’ve probably noticed just how hot is in Toronto these days. Welcome to summer in the city! We’re nice and cool down here in the Black Creek Historic Brewery, thanks to a few 21st-century conveniences: specifically, air-conditioning and refrigerators. These modern marvels allow the beer to ferment properly and keep longer, providing you with tasty brew even in the hottest weather.

Now, things were a little trickier in the 1800s. Especially in the early decades of the nineteenth century, brewing was primarily a seasonal occupation, occurring in the cooler months between September (ish) and April (ish). When it gets really hot in the summer, brewing becomes harder, as ale yeasts like to ferment at room temperature—and lager yeasts, even colder than that! Not to mention, sitting out in the heat makes beer more likely to spoil.

So it’s not terribly surprising that Victorians were keen on experimenting with means of refrigeration. Simply, refrigeration is the process of moving heat from one place to another. The earliest “refrigerators” were simple cellars and/or holes in the ground, lined with straw or sawdust and filled with ice and snow.

Earlier than our period, but here's the general principle. (Courtesy https://janeaustensworld.files.wordpress.com)
Earlier than our period, but here’s the general principle. (Courtesy https://janeaustensworld.files.wordpress.com)

Ice harvesting and distribution became quite a lucrative industry by the 1830s. Consumption jumped through the 1840s and 1850s: from 12,000 to 100,000 tons in New York City, and 6,000 to 85,000 tons in Boston. A particularly entrepreneurial man named Frederick Tudor seized the opportunity to make money sending ice to the tropics. To transport it, he experimented with different insulators, eventually reducing ice loss from 66% to 8%.

Harvesting ice in New York, ca. 1852. (Courtesy Wikimedia)
Harvesting ice in New York, ca. 1852. (Courtesy Wikimedia)

Besides ice, Victorians also explored refrigeration with mechanical means, which more-or-less fit the age’s general preoccupation with industry, innovation, and progress.  Vapor-compression systems, like the one built in 1834 by inventor Jacob Perkins, worked continuously. The workings of vapor-compression refrigeration systems are more involved than can be described here, so I shall simply quote, “The vapor-compression uses a circulating liquid refrigerant as the medium which absorbs and removes heat from the space to be cooled and subsequently rejects that heat elsewhere.” Other inventors followed suit, including John Gorrie, who in 1842 created a system capable of freezing water into ice. Although a commercial disaster, the stage had been set for increasing experiments through the rest of the century.

Gorrie's Ice Machine: courtesy Wikipedia.
Gorrie’s Ice Machine: courtesy Wikipedia.

Unsurprisingly, by the 1870s, the biggest refrigeration consumers were none other than the breweries, for reasons very much like those stated at the beginning of this post. That being said, increasing industrialization and pollution often resulted in “tainted ice,” which affected the health and flavour of the beer. Brewers’ complaints drove inventors to seek alternates…

…a path which eventually ended up in our cool, cozy brewery today. So come on down, take a break from the broiling sun, and enjoy a flight of cool (cellar-temperature) beer.

-Katie

Horsing Around: the Budweiser Clydesdales

I have to admit that Budweiser is not my favourite beer. As we say in the historic brewery, everyone’s palate is different. I’m not a fan of eggs either, but I love spice. Just the way my palate is constructed.

Nevertheless, I do have a secret soft spot for the Budweiser Clydesdales. Clydesdales in general make me happy—they’re gorgeous animals, and they always remind me of Ross and Integra here at Black Creek. Plus—the Budweiser Clydesdales actually have a Canadian connection!

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Draught horses have long been used to pull brewery wagons and make deliveries. As you all know from lifting your purchased growlers, beer is heavy. And remember, nineteenth century roads were very rough; large, well-muscled horses had an easier time of it. Different companies favoured different horse breeds. Some liked Hackneys; Shires were popular.

But we’re here to talk about Clydesdales.

The Clydesdale breed emerged in 1800s Scotland—from the region around the River Clyde, funnily enough. Selectively bred from Flemish stallions, they were also the favourite breed of one Mr. Patrick Shea, a brewer in Winnipeg.

PatrickShea
Patrick Shea

Born in County Kerry, Ireland, Shea emigrated in 1870, finally settling in Manitoba in 1882. From 1884, he operated the Waverley Hotel with his new friend, fellow Irishman John McDonagh (side bar: it always fascinates me, pondering how two people decide to go into business together—did they cook up this plot over a pint?). In 1887, the dynamic duo purchased the defunct Winnipeg Brewery. Sadly, McDonagh died six years later, leaving Shea the sole owner.

Besides brewing, Shea was also dedicated to breeding Clydesdales. So much so, he took to importing champion horses from Scotland to strengthen the bloodline. Even after the introduction of the car, Shea continued to use his horses well past World War I. In 1933, he finally sold some to an American brewery….

 

Horse2

…because in 1933, Prohibition had just been repealed in the United States, and one August Busch Jr. wanted to give his father a gift to celebrate. August Busch Sr., a St. Louis brewer, had been told his son had bought him a car. But when he came out, a team of Shea’s Clydesdales awaited him. They carried the first case of post-Prohibition beer, thrilling crowds and providing lots of advertising for Anheuser-Busch.

Today’s Budweiser Clydesdales are descendants of that original team, and they still thrill crowds and provide advertising—think of the Super Bowl!

So what does it take to be a Budweiser Clydesdale?

Prospective hitch members must be…

  • A gelding
  • At least four years old
  • At least six feet high at the shoulder, weighing between 1800-2300 pounds.
  • Bay in colour (light-dark reddish brown)

And they must have a black mane and tail, four white stocking feet, and a white blaze on the face. Our boy Ross might have a little too much white around his legs and face, and I’m not sure he’s quite big enough…but I’d take him any day. 😉

Ross on a summer morning.
Ross on a summer morning.

Even though those Clydesdales are pretty stunning…

Cheers!

Katie