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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Victorian Root Beer

In the past, I was occasionally asked if common drinks like “root beer” and “ginger ale” were ever alcoholic—this question usually arose when Ed rolled out our Ginger Beer in June. The short answer is…yes! Several popular modern sodas like root beer, ginger ale, and birch beer (okay, maybe that one’s less common) had their origins in Victorian beers!

Since we’ve talked about ginger ale a while back, I wanted to explore root beer a little.

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.

The sassafras tree grows from southern Ontario right to the southern United States! (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

(Point of interest: sassafras does contain an oil called safrole that can lead to liver damage and cancer. It’s been banned by the US Food and Drug Administration since 1960—root beer today is sometimes made with sassafras extract that’s had the safrole removed, but more commonly with extracts from wintergreen and black birch bark.)

Pharmacist Charles Elmer Hires was the first person to make a commercial brand of root beer—though being a teetotaller, he really would’ve preferred to call it “root tea.” And he wouldn’t have been far off the mark, either—though root beer can be fermented, most traditional recipes barely get to 2% ABV. However, when he debuted his drink at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, he wanted to attract customers among the local coal miners.

Thus, with (I’m sure) some regret, he sold his product as “root beer.” But not to worry—I’m equally sure he would’ve been cheered by a proliferation of non-alcoholic root beers. Indeed, they were very popular during the United States’ Prohibition years.

Poking around, I did find a recipe for traditional root beer in a lovely book called A Thousand and One Receipts Useful to Families (1883).

Looking this over, it’s not surprising root beer had such a low alcohol content. Remember, alcohol is what happens when yeast metabolizes fermentable sugars. With only a little bran (hard to break down) and molasses, there’s just not much to work with in this recipe!

But I was intrigued by a) the lack of sassafras, and b) the mention of “Indigenous bitters.” A little more digging unearthed this advertisement in the May 2, 1890 edition of The Québec Daily Telegraph.

Given the description of “a combination…of a large number of roots and barks,” and the assertion that “INDIGENOUS BITTERS never fail to afford prompt relief, and most frequently a perfect cure,” I think we’ve found our star player! Clearly, this was another incarnation of root beer as a health drink.

(I was also delighted to see that—sure enough—these “Indigenous bitters” are sold in “25cts boxes only.” Just like the recipe says!)

Obviously, root beer today is very different—in ingredients, method, and purpose. But as you raise a frosty mug, you can contemplate its Victorian predecessors!

To Queen and Country!

Katie

Recipe: Boston Beer-Baked Beans

Greetings, beer-lovers!

As we discussed not long ago, one of beer’s many wonderful qualities is its versatility! Here at the Black Creek Growler, we do enjoy cooking with our beer. Although this didn’t happen that frequently in the 1800s, beer adds some pep to modern-day recipes!

And so, I embarked on a quest for Boston Beer-Baked Beans.  As usual for me, I combined several recipes based on availability of ingredients and my preferences. Now, without further ado:

Boston Beer-Baked Beans (Vegetarian)

  • 1 can beans (they’re meant to be navy beans, but I only had mixed beans)
  • ½ cup beer (not dark)
  • 1 medium chopped onion (I had two teeny onions)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 3 Tbsp molasses
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Drizzle olive oil
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • ¼ tsp black pepper.
Ingredients assembled!
Ingredients assembled!

Let’s talk about the beer. According to most recipes I found, most light beers will work. Personally, I’d go for something a little hoppier and more bitter, to cut through the molasses’ thickness and sweetness. So probably a pale ale, as opposed to a light lager. Being lighter in flavour generally, pale ales also balance nicely with most recipes.

Ideally, of course, I’d be using Ed’s Pale Ale, brewed at the Black Creek Brewery. Alas, it is March, not July, and so I had none to hand. I compromised by using Molson’s 1908 Historic Pale Ale. It’s an unfiltered beer based on a recipe from 1908. I mean, it’s not an 1830s recipe, but it’s a perfectly serviceable pale ale. Which, in this context, I count as high praise.

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Anyway, once the ingredients are assembled, the recipe is simple:

  • Drain and rinse beans
  • Combine other ingredients in a large bowl
  • Mix beans in
  • Bake uncovered at 350°F until most liquid is absorbed: about 40 minutes.
All mixed and ready for baking.
All mixed and ready for baking!

It smelled really, really good while baking. Like, the molasses aroma definitely filled my apartment, but I could get hints of beer underneath. It reminded me of being in the brewery while Ed’s boiling the wort.

I wasn’t sure if I’d overdone the baking, but the result tasted good! Sweet and savoury, with the beer’s sharpness cutting through and adding a lovely counterweight. Paired with some corn bread, it’s definitely something I’d make again…ideally, with Ed’s Pale Ale (or maybe his IPA—I bet the citrus flavours would give it a nice zing!).

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Until next time, beer-lovers!

Katie

Twelfth Night Lambswool Recipe

Hello, beer-lovers!

We hope you had a happy and restful holiday season! If you’re still yearning for festivity and good cheer, don’t worry! Today is Twelfth Night – that is, the twelfth day of Christmas. We may not have any lords-a-leaping for you, but I do have a traditional recipe!

Poet Robert Herrick (www.poets.org)

Lambswool is a drink customarily consumed around Twelfth Night. It’s related to old wassailing traditions, in which apple trees are serenaded and alcohol consumed to ensure a bountiful harvest. This stanza in Robert Herrick’s poem Now, Now the Mirth Comes (1660) paints a good picture of lambswool:

Next crown the bowl full
With the gentle lamb’s-wool
Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
With store of ale too;
And thus ye must do
To make the wassail a swinger.

Essentially, it was a mulled ale, called lambswool either for white froth scudding over the bowl’s surface, or as a corruption of the Irish celebration “La Mas Ubhal.”

Curious to try lambswool for yourself? There are many on the internet, but I think that this example from the “Miss Foodwise” blog sounds particularly tasty:

  • Bramley or Cox stewing apples, 500 gr (peeled and cored about 300 gr)
  • water, 100 ml
  • sugar 100 gr
  • freshly grated nutmeg, 1 teaspoon
  • ginger powder, 1 teaspoon
  • a good ale, 750 ml

Method 
Peel and cut your apples in small pieces and place in a pot along with 100 ml of water and the sugar and spices. Stew until soft and puree so there are no bits left.
When ready to serve, heat up the apple puree and add the ale while whisking. You should get a nice froth while doing so. Serve at once.

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)

Check out her post in its entirety here (there’s even more interesting historical background)! And waes hael!

Katie

 

From the Vaults: Cooling Off

Hi all! It’s been a very, very hot summer, but it seems like we’ve turned a corner into some cooler weather. Of course, hot weather could be a challenge for brewers in the 1800s – in my archives, I found this very timely post! Enjoy!

For rural brewers, brewing tended to be  a seasonal activity. This was mostly because you have to cool wort before adding the yeast. After all, when the wort comes out of the brew-kettle it is boiling. Yeast is a living organism. If you chuck it into boiling hot wort, it won’t be living much longer, which means that it will not be fermenting anything effectively.

All of which to say: brewers needed some way of cooling the wort. In the first half of the nineteenth century, they used coolers. W. Stewart describes them as “floors of wood, surrounded with a wooden ledge, placed in the most airy and exposed situation in the brewery…in large breweries, they are of an enormous extent” (Stewart, 63).

The idea behind a cooler is to spread the wort out very thinly over a wide surface area in order to let the heat dissipate. That’s why coolers can be so expansive—they’re usually only 2-4 inches deep, so they need to be quite wide to contain a large volume of beer.

Our cooling ship, located on top of the casks - so, a slightly different set-up than the larger breweries. (Courtesy www.greatcanadianbeerblog.com)
Our cooling ship, located on top of the casks – so, a slightly different set-up than the larger breweries.
(Courtesy http://www.greatcanadianbeerblog.com)

So, no problem, right? Run the beer into the cooler and wait.

Not quite.

Beer fresh out of the brew-kettle is extremely vulnerable to contamination. Remember, it’s been at a rolling boil for a significant amount of time (usually an hour, for us), which means that it’s been rendered more-or-less sterile. The longer the wort is left out in the open, the more likely it is to be infected by airborne pathogens or wild yeast. Brewer Thomas Hitchcock also worries about the “acidifying” of the wort through the absorption of excess oxygen, which apparently “takes place most rapidly in warm weather” (Hitchcock, 31).

Modern-day breweries have heat exchangers which can cool the wort very quickly. Victorian brewing guides recommend getting it down to anywhere from 11-20 degrees Celsius. From boiling, that’s quite a drop, especially in the summer—without air conditioning to help.

So how did they do it?

Some brewers avoided summer brewing altogether. According to A Practical Treatise on Brewing (1835), by William Chadwick, “…in hot weather, brewing is a critical operation, and private families should refrain from brewing in summer if possible…no prudent person would willingly brew when the temperature of the air is as high as 60 degrees” (Chadwick, 43-44). In the winter, however, it would be easy to open a window (Stewart does recommend letting a fresh air current pass over the wort) and let that chill Canadian winter help with the cooling.

But for large commercial brewers, sitting out the summer months entirely wasn’t always an option.

Stewart’s brewing guide addresses the conundrum of summer brewing:

When the brewery is obliged to make ale in warm summer weather, it is material to reduce the temperature as low as possible. In such cases great advantage would attend cooling the wort in coolers without any roof or covering whatever, but quite open to the sky; because in clear nights, the wort might be cooled in this way, eight or ten degrees lower than the temperature of the atmosphere… (Stewart, 66-67)

The idea seems to be that the wort would radiate the heat out into the night:

We have no doubt that it might be put in practice with advantage in hot climates; at that, by means of it, good ale or porter might be manufactured in the East and West Indies. Such a manufacture, if successful, would be particularly relished in India… (67)

Of course, this was only a theoretical model. There were other options. While Chadwick urges private families to avoid warm-weather brewing, he notes that the commercial brewer generally “…also has a command of cold spring water, that can he convey through pipes, so contrived to branch in various directions amongst the worts, that they are cooled down to the required temperature in a very short time” (42).

Which is one reason why breweries were often located near streams. It’s pretty similar to what we do at Black Creek: we have pipes branching through our cooling ship, although we use Toronto tap water.

Bloor, Joseph, brewery, n. of Bloor St. E., between Mount Pleasant Rd. & Sherbourne St.
Joseph Bloore’s brewery, located on the stream running through the Rosedale ravine. (courtesy http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca)

By the century’s later decades, cooling had become more reliable. E.R. Southby’s A Systematic Handbook of Practical Brewing dates from 1885, and mentions refrigerators. Don’t get too excited—they weren’t fridges, but rather, three distinct set-ups:

  • Wort flows in a body over pipes placed horizontally.
  • Wort flows in a film over pipes placed vertically.

OR

  • Wort flows through pipes surrounded by cool water.

Southby favours the vertical model, particularly recommending the Riley or Ashby models—reminding us that brewing was becoming increasingly industrialized. The old coolers were still used to aerate the wort—but rather than the old wooden models, cast iron or copper (like ours!) were preferred, as they were easier to clean and didn’t rot. Still, cooling was increasingly based on the principle of heat exchange, much as it is today.

So, would a small, country, one-man brewing operation enjoy this cold snap?

But I’m still looking forward to May and warmer weather!

– Katie

Sources:

Chadwick, William. A Practical Treatise on Brewing. London: Whittaker and Co., 1835.

Hitchcock, Thomas. A Practical Treatise on Brewing. London: R. Boyd, 1842.

Southby, E.R. A Systematic Handbook of Practical Brewing: Including a Full Description of the Buildings, Plant, Materials and Process Required for Brewing All Descriptions of Beer. London: E.R. Southby, 1885.

Stewart, W. Brewing and Distillation, with Practical Instructions for Brewing Porter and Ales According to the English and Scottish Methods. Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1849.

New Brew: Elderflower Stout

A new month, a new brew. 🙂

Elderflowers in a basket (source: Wikimedia Commons)
Elderflowers in a basket (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Our November specialty beer launches this weekend! This month at the Black Creek Historic Brewery, Ed has crafted an Elderflower Stout. Elderflowers are flowering hedgerow plants or shrubs. They’re identifiable by their feathery white sprays of flowers and small, dark berries. Both flowers and berries are frequently used in cooking and baking (the leaves, roots, and sticks can leave you pretty sick, though).

The indomitable Mrs. Beeton tells us:

The elder-berry is well adapted for the production of wine; its juice contains a considerable portion of the principle necessary for a vigorous fermentation, and its beautiful colour communicates a rich tint to the wine made from it.

Turns out it’s good for beer-making, too! The Elderflower Stout pours very dark indeed; black enough that you can’t see through it. At first sniff, I thought, “Wine,” but then richer, more chocolate aromas came through. Those carried through the flavours as well­—chocolate and roasted grains carry things at first, but then the elderflowers emerge in the mid-taste. They give a subtle, floral edge to the beer: a hint of grape-like fruitiness. The BBC’s food writer likens elderflowers’ aroma to a “heady Muscat grape,” so the very strong wine character I’m getting isn’t too surprising!

This beer is medium-bodied: some weight on the tongue, but nothing too heavy. It’s very round and smooth, with a dry finish. This would make a good dessert beer, I think, perhaps paired with some lighter tea-cakes or scones.

The Elderflower Stout launches this weekend, and will last until we’re out. Come on down for a floral taste in the middle of November! (And don’t forget, Black Creek’s Christmas events and activities begin November 21st!)

Cheers,

Katie

Something Sweet: Honey Brown Ale

Soon, soon, soon
Soon, soon, soon

October is shaping up to be a busy month here at the Black Creek Historic Brewery! Our Spirited Affair last Saturday was a killer-diller of an evening. Ed’s brewed his first batch of the Pumpkin Ale (out October 18th). But before we get to that, we have another specialty beer for you!

Our Honey Brown Ale hits the fridges this weekend, just in time for Thanksgiving. Honey’s having a resurgence of interest in the brewing world, but its alcoholic roots actually go back much further – not to beer, but to mead. Mead is a mixture of fermented honey, water, and occasionally spices, fruits, and grains. It was a hugely popular drink in the Medieval Ages, particularly through Scandinavia and Great Britain (no Norse or Old English saga would be complete without mead being consumed at a mead-party in a mead-hall on mead-benches…Old English literature has its peculiarities). In those contexts, alcohol was an important accompaniment to ritual gatherings, the binding of oaths, and the making of boasts…which essentially amounted to the same thing as binding an oath.

On the technical side, honey has a lot of delicate, complex flavours and enzymes, which makes it a really interesting addition to brews. However, honey is mostly sugar, and yeast love it. In fact, 90-95% of the sugar in honey is fermentable. So, it takes a careful hand while brewing: you don’t want the yeast to devour it all and leave you with none of that honey flavour.

Luckily, there are several brews out there that do an excellent job. Besides our Honey Brown, there’s the Chateau Jiahu from our comrades at Dogfish Head Brewery. They’ve replicated an ancient Chinese beverage that used honey both for flavour and alcohol content (it’s upwards of 9%!). Closer to home, you may have tried the Royal Stinger/Apiary Ale from the Fairmont Royal York. Only available on draught in the hotel, it’s made with honey from their own rooftop beehives!

Hotel-bees-piclarge

You could also try this Victorian recipe:

Spruce beer recipe: Boil to a jelly half a pound of fine starch, and add to it one and a half pound of strained honey, and one gallon of soft water, allow for three times this receipt two ounces of the essence of spruce, add yeast, and close the cask as soon as fermentation ceases. It will be fit to use in two days, and will not keep a very long time.

The housekeeper’s encyclopedia of useful information for the housekeeper in all branches of cooking and domestic economy, Mrs. E.F. Haskell, 1864

So how does our Honey Brown taste?

It pours a dark golden-brown colour, and you can smell the honey right away. At first sip, it’s mostly notes of our classic Brown Ale: some slight burnt caramel and toasty malt flavours. Then the honey hits. Playing along the rear of the palate, the honey comes up through the nose and leaves a very sweet finish as well. This is an incredibly smooth beer, almost silky in mouthfeel. After swallowing, you’ll notice the honey on the tongue for a long time; it’s a lot more noticeable than last year…

And I think it would pair well with some post-Turkey relaxation. We’re open all long weekend, so drop by and say hi!

Katie