Interview with a Beer Writer (Me!)

Our Interview Series continues! As some of you may know, I’ve been administering this blog since 2013. In four years, I have written many articles on brewing, sampled many beers, and done my best to share that knowledge with you!

And so, I thought it would be fun to try something different for this interview. I’m stepping out from behind the curtain and interviewing myself! Besides writing this blog, I’m also one of Black Creek’s History Actors and an award-winning author. I’ve spoken about beer and brewing history at conventions across the United States and Canada, and historically-accurate beer regularly appears in my fiction. And so, without further ado, here I am!

Presentation for the Baltimore Science Fiction Society, 2014.

KT: As you know, I love origin stories. Everyone has a different reason for getting into beer—what’s yours?

KT: Ironically, for the longest time, I thought that I didn’t like beer. But what was I drinking at 19? Some Molson, some Sleeman—lighter beers that don’t really suit my palate. I didn’t realize this, however, so I continued in denial until my first year working at Black Creek Pioneer Village. Somehow, I heard that the brewery needed an extra pair of hands for our Christmas by Lamplight event. Since I had my SmartServe certification from a previous job, I volunteered to help out. One thing led to another, and…

I fell in love. From the moment I set foot in the brewery, I fell completely, utterly, hopelessly in love with it. The space captured my heart immediately: this cosy, tucked-away corner of the village with its gleaming brew-kettle and proudly standing casks. The history and technical aspects of brewing fascinated me – forgive the pun, but that first taste awakened a raging thirst for more knowledge. And so, I spent the next 18 months or so learning about beer on my own, preparing myself in case there was another opening in the brewery.

There was. The rest is history.

I’m still in love.

KT: How has your palate changed, over the years?

KT: How hasn’t it changed? Remember: I thought I didn’t like beer, so I resisted drinking it at first. Fortunately, I had our wonderful brewmaster Ed to tutor me. He led through different beer styles: explaining their characteristics and giving recommendations on what to try. I started out really enjoying IPAs—the hoppier the better. I think it’s because the aggressive, sharp bitterness of a hop-oriented beer was immediately apparent to my immature palate in ways that the rich, deep malt flavours of a stout weren’t.

But gradually, I shifted to the dark side. I’ve always been a fan of dark chocolate and black coffee, so my fondness for dark beers makes sense—I just needed to work up to them.

Mmmm, stout.
Mmmm, stout.

KT: Of all the things you’ve learned about beer, what is your favourite?

KT: Well, I do really like being able to give tasting notes. That’s a cool skill, and one I’ve worked hard to develop. I’ve spent a lot of time training my palate and learning the vocabulary. At time of writing, I’ve got well over 400 different beers logged in my database. This is another instance where I was so grateful to work with Ed: he taught me how to approach beers, examining the colour and appearance, before taking in the aroma and that all-important first sip. It takes practice to train your palate to detect different flavours, and further practice to learn how to describe those sensations in a way that makes sense.

I was also amazed to learn just how important beer was to Canada’s history, and how much beer history is still hidden all around us in Toronto. Culture, politics, nutrition, gender roles, industry…beer touches so many different aspects of our lives, and it’s fascinating to see those connections draw together.

KT: You’re also an author. How has beer impacted your fiction?

KT: In my stories, my beer is always historically accurate, so there is that. I’m also able to describe flavour and aroma with precision – it’s those sensory details that make stories come alive. On a deeper level, though, I’ve been most impacted by the notion that beer touches many different aspects of our lives. My fiction leans towards the historical (I can’t imagine why), and I know how important taverns and beer culture were to Victorian society. And so, taverns tend to occupy a central place in my fiction as well – just as they were deeply interwoven into the society about which I write.

See, while I’m an artist, I’m also an educator. And so, I’m still drawing those connections between beer, culture, politics, et al., as much as I did in the brewery. I’m just doing it through a different form of art.

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And there you have it: a  behind-the-scenes look at your favourite beer journalist! Thanks, beer-lovers!

To Queen and Country!

Katie

The Red Lion Inn: An Early Local Pub

Welcome, beer-lovers! This week at the Black Creek Growler, we’re delving into another chapter of Toronto’s beer history: the Red Lion Inn!

You can’t get very far into researching Toronto taverns without running across the Red Lion. It was built somewhere between 1808-1810 by Daniel Thiers. Like Black Creek Pioneer Village’s Stong family, Thiers was of Pennsylvania German origin, settling in Upper Canada in the late 1700s.

The Red Lion, ca. 1888. (courtesy Toronto Public Library)

The Red Lion sat on Yonge St, just north of modern-day Bloor (near the Toronto Reference Library today). When Thiers built the Red Lion, the area was still quite undeveloped—Toronto grew largely northward and westward from the lake. However, it was already an important crossroads: Davenport, Yonge, and Bloor were all established travel routes, and seemed likely to become even more heavily-travelled as the young city grew.

The inn itself was always large: its façade was about 100 feet along Yonge St. As wings and extensions were added, it eventually encompassed a two-acre site—including its outbuildings and yards. And of course, it had a sign emblazoned with a red lion rampant.

The bar area: 1912 painting based on an 1888 sketch. (Courtesy Toronto Public Library)

In the early days, the Red Lion served as a stopping point for travellers, particularly for farmers taking their goods from Holland Landing to York. An 1808 advertisement states Thier’s intention to open a public house, selling, “…[the] best strong beer at 8d, New York currency, per gallon, if drank in his house, and 2s 6d New York currency if taken out.”

(A few things to note about this: first, we can see the absolute mishmash of currency that pervaded the colony during this period. Second, takeaway beer is more expensive than beer drunk in-house—perhaps a tactic to get patrons to settle in, order more pints, and eventually take a room for the night?)

In his Landmarks of Toronto (1894), publisher-politician John Ross Robertson imagines what the Red Lion Inn might have been like: “…bronzed farmers, patriotic reformers, intriguing politicians, bright eyed girls, and spruce young men—all classes that made up the society of York and its environs.” Contemplating the ballroom, he writes, “Perhaps here many a maiden breathed that wonderful ‘Yes.’”

The ballroom, ca. 1888. (Courtesy Toronto Public Library)

While his tone is a touch sentimental—even by Victorian standards—it’s clear that he considered the Red Lion Inn a focal point for the community. Indeed, it proved to be the nucleus around which Yorkville developed (ably assisted by Joseph Bloor, as we learned here).

In addition to facilitating socialization, the Red Lion also played an important role in civic life. It was used for polling and political debates, and Reformers met there frequently through the 1830s—including William Lyon Mackenzie itself. After his expulsion from the legislature in 1831, a by-election was held at the Red Lion Inn. Following the vote, a triumphant Mackenzie greeted his supporters in the ballroom, receiving a medal and making a speech before leading a procession into town.

But alas, the good times could not last forever. The Temperance movement did not treat the Red Lion Inn kindly. After a series of struggles, it closed in 1892. Two years later, Robertson wrote, “Most of the characters who figured in the Red Lion’s history have gone over to the great majority, and soon the old inn will follow the course of all mundane things.”

The Red Lion Inn, ca. 1885. (Courtesy Toronto Public Library)

Sadly, he was right, for no trace of the Red Lion remains today. Yet it remains in memory, “The Most Famous Hostelry in the Annals of York.”

To Queen and Country!

Katie

PS. Keen for more? You can read a digitized version of John Ross Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto here!

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

 

Interview with a Beer Expert: Milan on Home-Brewing

Milan in the Harness Shop
Milan in the Harness Shop

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

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

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

Not necessarily, Milan says.

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

How much beer does Milan make?

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Ed was able to help?

“Yeah.”

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

Until next time!

Katie

 

Beer Glasses 101

A well-crafted beer is a fine, fine thing indeed. It’s the sort of beverage you savour, enjoying to the utmost. And if you want to make the experience truly complete, you can sip your brew from the appropriate glass.

That’s right: just like wines, certain styles of beer are best served in certain styles of barware. It’s not an absolute perquisite, but it does help show your beer off to its best advantage. There’s a wide range of glasses out there, but here’s a “sample flight” for you!

(Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Pint Glasses

Two different types here: US “shaker” pints are simple affairs that hold 16 oz. Their straightforwardness is well suited to many American styles, particularly pale ales.

2000px-pint_glass_mixing-svg

The British “Nonic pint,” by contrast, holds 20 oz. It’s most distinguished by the lip at its top: not only does this give you a better grip on the glass, it’s helpful when stacking them—as is the case in many cosy British pubs. The extra 4 oz can hold more beer, or accommodate beers with more head—it’s a good all-around, everyday glass.

2000px-pint_glass_pub-svg

Flutes

Long, narrow, and slender, these beauties almost look like champagne glasses. Not too far off the mark, they pair well with lambics and fruit beers, as they show off those styles’ lacing, carbonation, and help concentrate their complex aromas.

2000px-flute_glass-svg

Tulip

Also good for beers with strong aromatic profiles! The tulip is a stemmed glass: the top pushes out (much like a tulip) and the sides curve down to a bulbous body. Try them with Belgian ales, lambics, Scotch ales, and saisons.

cognac_glass_-_tulip_shaped

Chalice

Similar to the tulip, but with a wider bowl. This glass works well with heavy, malty beers: bocks, Belgian ales, and stouts!

2000px-goblet_glass_schooner-svg

Weizen

As the name suggests, the weizen is designed for wheat beers. Its long body draws attention to wheat beers’ pale, hazy colour. A bulbous top accommodates their thick heads, and locks in the characteristic banana/bubblegum aromas.

spiegelau_wheat_beer_glass_2

Pilsner

Not unlike the flute glass, a slender and tapered body captures a pilsner’s effervescence. A very versatile glass, it’s great for lagers of all varieties.

collins_glass

Snifter

How many times have we seen a classic movie hero swirling a snifter? Swirling releases aromatic notes. They generally hold 6-8 oz, which makes them a good match for beers with a high ABV. Try them with trippels and quads, imperials and strong ales—even barleywines!

2000px-snifter_glass_brandy-svg

So there you have it—choosing a beer is only part of the fun! Choosing a glass to go with is equally entertaining!

Katie

 

New Brew: Wet Hop Ale

Ah, the hop harvest: an unofficial sign that summer is ending. Here at the Black Creek Brewery, Ed’s Wet Hop Ale is a seasonal favourite. When brewing, brewers generally use dried hops (today, they’re often pelletized!). But once a year – when the hops are just ripe – you can use them directly off the vine. It’s only a few metres from our hop vines behind Laskay’s Emporium to Ed’s brew-kettle: it’s hard to get more local than that!

So, one beautiful late summer morning, Ed, fellow Beer Expert Milan, and I harvested our hops. Being much taller than I, Milan and Ed took the vines down from their trellises.

031

030

Then, whilst Ed attended to the mash, Milan and I stripped the hop flowers from the vines. The hops’ pollen (lupulin) is what gives beer that distinctive floral aroma. You can see it if you very gently peel the hops’ delicate layers apart. Fresh off the vine, the pollen is a wonderful bright yellow colour – and it smells pretty good, too!

027

029

(We did wash our hands thoroughly after, though. Hops are all well and good, but the aroma tends to linger.)

Coming in at 5% ABV, Ed’s Wet Hope Ale is a light amber. Brewing with wet hops is like cooking with fresh herbs rather than dried: the nose is quite delicate and floral. Naturally, this ale is hop-oriented, but they aren’t very aggressive. Floral and citrus notes come through to start, with a hint of underlying earthiness.

Since this brew requires hops that have just been harvested, we can only make the Wet Hop Ale once each year. Like much of life, it is far too fleeting – which makes us appreciate it all the more. Stop by and try some for yourself at our annual Pioneer Harvest Festival and Artisans’ Village – another seasonal favourite! From September 17th-18th, you can see exciting demonstrations and crafts, sample delicious food (I’m picking up sausage and cheese curds), and celebrate all things handmade!

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The village gets more beautiful every season…

The Seven Crowns Society Ale is also available now! This is a luscious cherry porter, brewed with help from our very special apprentices! It’s a little lighter than our usual porter, with lots of rich chocolate and dark fruit aromas. On first tasting it, there’s a sweetness that’s almost reminiscent of our brown ale, but that quickly deepens to cherry, chocolate, and a rounded vanilla booziness.

Until next time,

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.