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. 😉
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?
The Black Creek Brewery will be shut from December 24th, 2016 to April 29th, 2017. The rest ofBlack 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!
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.”
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!
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!)
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!
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.
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*)
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.
So, no problem, right? Run the beer into the cooler and wait.
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.
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.
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!
Hot enough for you? This scorching summer continues; we’re very happy that the Black Creek Brewery is kept quite cool! As befitting these warmer months, we’re still exploring the lighter end of things with our bitters and pale ales (the Simcoe Hopped Ale is our next specialty beer – out for the August long weekend – its hoppy character should cut right through this humidity!).
Last time, we talked about cicerones here on the Growler. An important part of being a cicerone is learning to taste beer. Let’s continue the discussion and break down one of our Black Creek beer tastings, step by step!
Step 1: Appearance
First impressions count for a lot, and sight is an important part of the overall sampling experience. Pour your beer into a clear glass (at the brewery, we’ll do this for you). Take a good look at it. Hold it to the light.
What colour is it? Pale gold, copper, pitch-black? Can you see through it?
Look at the clarity: can you see my smiling face through the glass, or is it clouded? Hint: our beers tend towards cloudiness because they’re unfiltered—and the further down in the growler your sample was, the cloudier it will be!
Our naturally carbonated beers don’t have much head, but make sure you note it in modern beers!
Step 2: Swirl
You’ve seen people swirling wine glasses before, right? Same idea: swirling the beer around your glass releases aromas and nuances you wouldn’t catch otherwise. Just a few gentle swirls will do it, and don’t worry about looking pretentious: this is exactly the behaviour we encourage.
Step 3: Smell
Our senses of taste and smell are closely linked. Don’t be afraid: give your beer a good sniff. How intense is the smell? What aromas do you notice?
More malt-oriented aromas? (Grains, nuts, chocolate, coffee, caramel, toastiness, sweetness)
More hop-oriented? (Citrus (often grapefruit for us, particularly in our IPA), earthiness, resins, pine, floral and/or spicy aromas)
Step 4: Sip
And now, it’s time to taste the b—do not chug it! Slow down and enjoy your drink. We’re friendly people, I promise. Take a small sip, but don’t swallow it right away.
Start with the beer on the tip of your tongue and move it slowly through your mouth. Different flavours will trigger taste buds in different regions of the tongue, so enjoy the different sensations as your beer travels over the tongue.
In tasting notes, I frequently mention “mouthfeel.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, this term refers to the way the beer feels in one’s mouth: that is, its weight and texture. Is it thin and sharp? Smooth and rounded? Does it feel heavy or light?
If you’d like to be really thorough, some people suggest exhaling while tasting; this is called “retro-olfaction.” Essentially, beer is warmed by being in your mouth, which causes more aromas to travel through your nasal cavities. It’s a different way to experience the beer’s aromas than the preliminary sniffing.
Got all that? Good—swirl the beer around your mouth once, letting it touch every part of your tongue, cheeks, and palate.
Step 5: Finish
We’re not done yet! The finish is highly important. Swallowing lets the very back of the tongue and throat experience the beer. How does the flavour change?
As well, note any flavours that linger after the beer has left your mouth. Are they bitter and/or floral (more hoppy), or more rich and grainy (leaning towards malts)? How intense are they?
Give it an extra second—sometimes, you might be surprised by how long the finish lasts. For me, sampling BadWolf Brewery’s stout epitomized the necessity of waiting. I’d swallowed my beer, and I thought the finish was over—only to have another surge of chocolate flavour catch me completely off-guard.
Take a moment to let all these impressions settle.
Now, the most important question of all…
Does this beer work for you? Do you feel it, love it? Do you want to keep drinking it?
Remember: no right or wrong answers, just the one that works for you.
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.
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%.
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.