DIY Beer Tastings!

Over the years, we’ve had thousands of people come to sample our beer in the Black Creek Historic Brewery. But what if you want to bring some friends together at your next dinner party? What if you want to put together…your own beer tasting?

Never fear! Your trusty beer journalist is here to give you some advice!

 

Step One: Consider Your Audience

Who’s your crowd? What do they normally drink? Are they game to try anything, or do they have a preferred style?  Are they seeking easy recommendations for their next night out, or do they want to try really unusual, hard-to-find beers?

Answering these questions for yourself will help you figure out the next set!

Step Two: Choose Your Scale and Scope

Do you want to have a close exploration of one style? Get as wide a range as possible? Stick to one geographic region, or taste beers from all over the world?

Every answer’s a good one, but sorting this out before you get to the store can save you time staring at bottles and second-guessing yourself.

Generally speaking, you probably want to sample between three to five beers, so setting some parameters can help you narrow your options!

Step Three: Calculate How Much You Need

One standard serving of 5% ABV beer is 12 oz. A pint’s either 16 oz (American) or 20 oz (British). Obviously, you want to be consuming responsible amounts.

If you’re doing flights of beer (which you are), you don’t want to go above 4 oz per style, and 2-3 oz is just fine—this is only a taste, after all!

Step Four: Logistics

You will need…

  • Sufficient glasses
  • Water
  • Snacks
  • A place to dump unwanted samples
  • Napkins if you are fancy
  • Notepads and pencils if you’re REALLY fancy

Step Five: The Order

There is a method to our madness in the brewery. When you’re sampling different beers, the general rule of thumb is to start mild, and work your way up.

First, look at the ABV content of your beer. The lowest ABV beers usually get sampled first, working your way up to the higher ones. (So that 4% English Bitter should come before the 6.5% India Pale Ale.)

But wait, there’s more!

Consider “mild’ in terms of flavour as well. If you have a 5% pilsner and a 4.8% oatmeal stout, you don’t want to have the stout first. Why? Because it’s a much heavier, more complex beer and it’ll mask the pilsner on your palate.

One more caveat: sour beers and hops affect the palate longer than malt tastes. So still save those lambics and IPAs for the end.

Confused?

Low ABV → High ABV

Mild flavours → Malty flavours → Sour/Hoppy flavours

Don’t worry. It’s part instinct, part practice. You’ll get the hang of it!

Tasting at Pen Druid, in Sperryville, VA.

Step Six: Do Your Homework

Your pals will appreciate if you can tell them a little about each beer. Learn the dominant tasting notes for each style, and maybe a little history, if that’s your jam. Though if you’re reading this blog, I hope it is!

Step Seven: Be a Good Host

While serving, keep track of quantity and pacing. People tend to adjust their rate to match others’, so keep things easy and relaxed. Break things up with snacks and water, and make sure all of your friends have a safe way to get home.

And there you have it!

Your very own beer-tasting party, in seven easy steps! Be responsible, and have fun!

-Katie

 

The Not-So-Humble Hop

It’s mid-September, which means our hops have just passed their peak season. The ripening of our hop flowers is an annual sign that summer is ending, and Ed’s Wet-Hop Ale is just around the corner. Of course, we mostly know hops for their role in flavouring and preserving beer, but Victorians had many other uses for this feisty little plant!

Ed picking hops!

To start, Victorians often wrote about hops’ soporific qualities; many remedy compilations suggest stuffing one’s pillow with hops as a sleep aid. According to The Family Physician (1865), hops are especially useful when “…for any reason the use of opium is considered objectionable.” (The Family Physician, p. 829). All of the calming benefits, none of the narcotic drawbacks! (I bet it smelled pretty strong, though.)

The New Family Herbal goes a step further. If you really want a good night’s sleep, it suggests a teaspoonful of a tincture of hops…made from “six or seven ounces of Hops in two pints of proof spirits” (The New Family Herbal, p. 139). I’m not sure the hops were entirely responsible for any drowsiness!

But this particular manual lists many more uses for hops: in addition to helping you sleep and making beer taste great, apparently taking powdered hop seed could destroy worms. Hops heated in a flannel bag were touted as a cure for toothache. They also claimed that decoctions of hops cured ulcers, cleansed the blood (thus healing scabs, ringworms, and other ailments), eased jaundice, and even “…destroy[ed] the heat of the liver and stomach” (ibid).

Not to be outdone, The Hop Farmer: or, a Complete Account of Hop Culture (1838) adds animals to the species reaping hops’ benefits. In addition to using hops to cure rheumatism, this book suggests using decoctions of hops to strengthen cattle against severe weather!

From “The Hop Farmer: or, a Complete Account of Hop Culture,” by E.J. Lance (1838).

This all sounds great, but what does 21st-century science say on the matter?

No clinical studies have been done to evaluate hops’ medical benefits. That said, it looks like hops do help with insomnia, anxiety, tension, and irritability. There is also some evidence that they can help with indigestion and poor appetite. And of course, hops’ bitter acids have some antimicrobial qualities – that’s why they preserve beer!

So the next time you drink a hoppy IPA – or try one of the many fine Wet Hop Ales coming out from Ontario craft breweries – you know hops aren’t all bitterness and acid. Well – biologically, they are. But metaphorically, they’re a little sweet as well.

-Katie

 

QUIZ: What Beer Time Period Are You?

Hello Beer-Lovers,

As some may recall, I took a number of online beer knowledge tests a while back. While that was thoroughly enjoyable, I wanted to try my hand at making a beer test of my own. But this one is more about testing personality. And it’s entirely for fun.

So, without further ado:

What Beer Time Period Are You?

1. Who do you expect to brew your beer?

a) Priestesses

b) Monks or alewives

c) Plucky tradesmen

d) Macrobreweries or hip entrepreneurs

2. What are the dominant flavours in your beer?

a) Figs, dates, honey…

b) Smoky malt, supplemented with herbs like bog myrtle, rosemary, and sweet yarrow

c) Richly roasted malts: caramels, coffees, burnt grain

d) Depends. Sometimes intensely vibrant pine/citrus (Pacific Northwest hops, natch); sometimes Thai basil; sometimes boozy bourbon and vanilla. My palate cannot be constrained.

3. What do you drink your beer from?

a) Clay vessels, with a straw for getting past the floating grain husks

b) Probably a shallow wooden bowl or cup.

c) Pewter/stoneware mugs, though those brown glass bottles are pretty fancy.

d) A bottle, a can, or a clear glass appropriate to the style.

4. Who drinks beer?

a) Everyone.

b) Everyone.

c) Almost everyone (small beer for women and children)

d) A wide-cross section of society, assuming they’ve reached legal drinking age.

5. What is your view on hops?

a) What?

b) Why use hops when you can use gruit??

c) They’re great for shipping beer to the colonies!

d) Used appropriately, they’re great, but over-hopped beers are getting a little passé, IMHO.

6. What’s your biggest pet peeve when it comes to beer?

a) Choking on a barley husk.

b) When you’re trying to roast your malt over an open fire, and it heats unevenly so half is burnt and half is barely singed.

c) When Temperance advocates try to guilt you about it—beer isn’t whisky, you know?

d) When your favourite microbrewery gets acquired by a huge conglomerate and the quality tanks.

7. And finally, your favourite thing about beer?

a) It’s a divine gift from the gods, forming the basis of our civilization.

b) When you’re doing a bread-and-water fast, beer totally counts (grains, water, yeast, amirite?)

c) It’s a fortifying, nutritious drink with pleasurable side-effects.

d) There is endless opportunity for creativity and fine craft, and it’s fun to try new styles with friends.

RESULTS

Mostly A’s:

You are Mesopotamian/Sumerian Brewing! Starting from around 3500 BCE, your beer is a gift from the gods. As such, most of your beer is brewed by priestesses—particularly of the goddess Ninkasi. Thick and porridge-like, your beer is flavoured with honey and fruits, and drunk through straws!

 

Mostly B’s:

You are Medieval Brewing! Your beer is still largely a cottage industry: for the most part, it’s made by women, though plenty of monasteries have gotten into the act, too. The spent grains get filtered out, so your beer isn’t nearly as thick as it was millennia ago. Some Germanic countries are using hops to flavour their beer, but gruit—a mix of different herbs—is your beer’s defining feature!

 

Mostly C’s:

You are Victorian Brewing! You’re quite content to use hops—you know that they help prevent beer spoiling, which is useful in the interconnected trade network developing across the globe. Some of your most popular styles include brown ales and porters, though pale ales are gaining traction. Beer is still an important part of people’s daily diet…though Temperance advocates are starting promoting abstinence from alcohol.

 

Mostly D’s:

You are Modern Brewing! You have so much variety in your beers! Proliferating craft breweries are keen to explore unique flavour profiles and take risks, focusing on quality ingredients and top-notch craft. People of all backgrounds enjoy your beers (assuming they’re of legal drinking age) and with new microbreweries opening constantly, it’s a safe bet they’ll never get bored.

Tasting at Pen Druid, in Sperryville, VA.

 

To Queen and Country!

Katie

 

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

150 Years of Beer Facts

We’re celebrating a very special birthday this weekend! That’s right, Canada’s 150th anniversary is this Saturday! And to celebrate, Black Creek Pioneer Village is putting on one heck of a party!

Whoo!

 

(As a point of interest, it was my birthday yesterday, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Our Canada Day celebrations last from Saturday, July 1st until Monday, July 3rd. On July 1st, 2017— free admission for all! That’s right! Everyone! Marvel at magicians, tumblers, and jugglers, learn what was trending in 1867 (#Spiritualism? #PteriodomaniacLife?), and of course, experience the life as it was on that first day under the Constitution Act.

Learn more about our Canada Day celebrations here!

And of course, the Black Creek Brewery is celebrating as well! Drop by to taste a special birthday brew. Can’t wait until Saturday? Well, in honour of our 150th anniversary, here are 15 Interesting Facts about Beer from the last 150 Years

  1. The first brewery in Canada was Québec City’s La Brasseries due Roy, established in 1668 by New France Intendant Jean Talon.
  2. At the time of Confederation, Toronto had about 300 taverns and a population of ~45,000. That’s nearly 150 people per tavern! Today, Toronto has ~950 bars and a population of 2,615,000. That’s over 2750 people per bar! (It gets a little better when you factor in 6980 establishments recorded by DineSafe as “restaurants” or “cocktail bars”—more like 310 people per “establishment where one could theoretically order a drink”).
  3. Today, the only Canadian-owned major brewery is Moosehead, established in 1867.
  4. Canada’s northernmost microbrewery is NWT Brewing Co., in Yellowknife, NT.
  5. Ontario’s smallest microbrewery is…the Black Creek Brewery!
  6. The 1864 Dunkin Act gave townships in Ontario an option to vote on going dry. Toronto didn’t get around to holding a vote until 1877. It voted to stay wet.
  7. The Canada Malting Silos down by Harbourfront were built in 1928. According to Wikipedia, their “stark functionalism…was an early influence on modernist architecture.”
  8. In 1934, John Sackville Labatt (yes, son of that John Labatt) became an early Canadian kidnapping victim. His kidnappers held him captive for three days, demanding $150,000. They eventually panicked and released him, but sadly, Labatt remained a recluse for the rest of his life.
  9. In the 1880s, a hop picker was paid around 30 cents per box of hops (about 13 lbs of hops). A really good picker could harvest two boxes each day.
  10. Much early planning for the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion was done in John Doel’s brewery.
  11. The first free school in Toronto was built in 1848—by brewer Enoch Turner. You can still visit it today!
  12. At Confederation, roughly 10% of Toronto’s licensed tavern-keepers were female.
  13. The Industry Standard Bottle—also known as the “stubby”—was first adopted in 1962 and finally faded from use in 1984.
  14. There was no real legal drinking age in the 1800s. By the 1960s, it was 21 in Ontario. Then in 1971, it dropped to 18, before settling at 19 years of age in 1979.
  15. From 1867 to now, beer’s main ingredients have not changed: barley, hops, water, and yeast!

To Queen and Country!

Katie

Trying Beer Quizzes

There comes a time in every Beer Expert’s life when you wonder, “Just how expert am I?” For myself, I’ve been studying beer for… (*squints*) five years. I’ve logged tasting notes for well over 400 distinct brews on Untappd. Down in the brewery, I received almost every conceivable question.

So—how does that knowledge stack up?

Fortunately for the budding beer enthusiast, the internet is rife with beer knowledge quizzes of every stripe. I found a selection of five, took them, and made notes on each. Take a look through, and try taking a few yourself!

Ultimate Beer Knowledge Test

The title is promising, and it is one of the longer tests I took. There are a few oddly phrased questions in here, and it seems more focused on stats (breweries per capita, quantity of breweries per country) than history.

I scored 87%.

Test Your Craft Beer Knowledge

I will do precisely that, thank you! This quiz mostly asks you to differentiate between styles: their origins, history, characteristics, etc. There’s a tiny bit about the brewing process, too.

It’s helpful to know US measurements (I think in litres, but I am learning to speak in gallons).

I scored 100%.

Beer Knowledge Quiz

There’s a mistake on this quiz. I’ll just point that out right now. The quiz asks in which year the Reinheitsgebot (German Beer Purity Law) was issued. This decree regulated the ingredients and prices of beer—it was meant to prevent competition with bakers for wheat and rye. As we all know, it was issued in 1516.

1516 was not listed as an option. The answer was listed as 1487. While some similar regulations were passed prior to 1516, that’s not what this question asked.

I scored 9/10. I protest my score.

Girls’ Guide to Good Beer: Beer IQ Test

Grab paper and a pencil for this one: no clickable boxes! Overall, it’s a decent overview of different areas of beer knowledge, but I have two quibbles: one, with their definition of what makes “craft” beer, and second, on their unclear distinction between “grain” and “malt” (after all, malt is grain—but it’s been partially germinated and roasted).

I scored 12/12. There was no badge.

Cicerone Certification Practice Exam

You’ll need to make a free account to access the official 10-question quiz. This is a practice test towards becoming a Certified Beer Server: the first level of cicerone certification. The cicerone program is demanding: beer history, styles, brewing methods, and serving protocol. For obvious reasons, I am less comfortable with that final one—there were no draught lines in the brewery.

Nevertheless, I scored 10/10.

They’re fun quizzes, eh? If you’re looking to brush up on your beer knowledge, our brewmaster Ed is a veritable fountain of brewing facts (most of my technical knowledge comes from him). Remember to drop by the brewery on weekends to see him in action!

To Queen and Country!

Katie

 

We’re (Almost) Back!

Greetings, Beer-Lovers!

This is just a quick note to remind you all that Black Creek Pioneer Village’s 2017 season begins on Saturday, April 29th, 2017. It’s Canada’s 150th birthday, and we are ready to party like it’s 1867!

Check out the Black Creek website for a whole slew of special events happening this year, and make sure to see our Canada Day event details on Facebook! And of course, we’ll have new programming and activities rolling out throughout the season!

Photo de Black Creek Pioneer Village.
Did someone say, “Historic trades and activities, History Actors, musicians, animals, Discovery Stations, Pioneer Day Camps, and more?” I’m pretty sure someone said ALL of that! 😉

Down in the brewery, Ed has also been preparing. I won’t give too much away right now, but rest assured  – we’ve got the sesquicentennial well in hand!

And if your stocks of historic beer are a little low after the long winter – well, you can always swing by the brewery to pick up more historic brew. Ed will be back brewing on weekends, so feel free to come say, “Hi!”

Getting excited? So are we – so until Saturday, here are some pictures we love.

Coming through the hop garden one summer morning.

 

Our beautiful mill…
Photo de Black Creek Pioneer Village.
Our campers having fun!

 

Hard at work!

 

Our lambs are skipping!

 

And of course…

To Queen and Country!

Katie

Joseph Bloore: City-Shaper

If you live in Toronto, you probably divide your universe into “north of Bloor” and “south of Bloor.” If you’ve visited Toronto, Bloor was probably (hopefully?) a landmark around which to orient yourself. In any case, Bloor is one of Toronto’s cardinal points—I think only the West End/East End divide is greater.

But did you know that Bloor Street is named after a brewer?

Well, we are the Black Creek Growler, so you may have had an inkling. 😉

Joseph Bloore. NOT a post-mortem photograph. (courtesy http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca)

Joseph Bloore was born in 1789 in Staffordshire, England. Around 1819, he immigrated to Upper Canada with his wife, Sarah. He didn’t get into the brewing business straightaway, instead opening an inn near the St. Lawrence Market. Located quite close to the St. Lawrence Hall’s current location, the “Farmers’ Arms” was part of the “Devil’s Half-Acre,” so-called for the plethora of inns and taverns ready to service thirsty farmers.

While refreshing themselves at Bloore’s tavern, those farmers likely would’ve been drinking beer brewed by the Helliwell family. They had an off-site shop near the Farmers’ Arms, and the two families seem to have had a close relationship—one of Bloore’s children was named John Helliwell Bloore, while a Helliwell son took the name John Bloore Helliwell. (This happened with Gooderham and Worts’ sons as well—the thought of brewer/distiller buddies in 1800s Toronto is immensely pleasing to me).

In fact, beer historian Jordan St. John wonders if Bloore learned brewing from the Helliwells. While it’s impossible to say for sure, we do know that in 1830, Bloore moved his family north to what’s now Yorkville. At the time, the area was decidedly out of the big city—this was the 1800s equivalent of moving to the suburbs for greener spaces and purer air.

Once settled, Bloore established a brewery in the Rosedale Ravine, not far from today’s Sherbourne subway station. Of course, the landscape was remarkably altered by Bloore—he dammed the river, creating a large pond, and built a sluice to direct water for his brewing.

Joseph Bloore's brewery, painted by R. Baigent , 1865 (www.torontopubliclibrary.ca)
Joseph Bloore’s brewery, painted by R. Baigent , 1865 (www.torontopubliclibrary.ca)

By 1843, he’d made enough money with the brewery to retire and go into land speculation with William Botsford Jarvis (we’re sensing a pattern with Toronto street names, I hope). Jarvis and Bloore established the village of Yorkville, and Bloore spent the rest of his life working to develop the area.

Originally, the concession road running along Yorkville had the rather uninspiring name of “Second Concession Road” (Lot Street – Queen Street, today – was the first). A series of names followed, but eventually, the village settled on Bloor—sans E.

But what of the brewery? On Bloore’s retirement, it was taken over by a man named John Rose. He operated it until 1864—two years after Bloore’s death. In this article on Bloor Street’s history, historian/heritage advocate Stephen Otto says, “…anybody looking for the location of Bloor’s brewery today can practically stand on Sherbourne Bridge and drop a penny.”

So the next time you’re strolling along Bloor Street, raise a glass to Joseph Bloore. The brewery may be gone, but his name and contributions remain!

-Katie

 

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. 😉

growler

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?

IrishPotatoStout2014

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

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!

wassailing2

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: