It’s that time of year again! Black Creek Pioneer Village has been hopping this March Break as our Junior Detectives (of all ages) help Sherlock Holmes solve the Maple Mystery. It is truly a sticky situation—sap-otage of the worst kind!
The Black Creek Brewery, alas, opens on April 29th. But there’s no reason we can’t join the March Break fun! I’ve paired some of our March Break characters with our Black Creek brews.
Sherlock Holmes: Best Bitter
Our super sleuth! At Black Creek Pioneer Village, Holmes is always affable and keen to see his favourite Junior Detectives. Our smooth, easy-drinking Best Bitter is a perfect match: like Holmes himself, it’s a sure-fire crowd-pleaser. Add its classic English hops, and it’s a pairing too good to pass up!
Dr. Watson: Pale Ale
Of course, Watson is Holmes’ partner-in-detection, so I wanted a beer somewhat similar. Watson has a bit more dryness to him, though—which is why I’ve chosen our Pale Ale for him. It’s another easy-drinking summer beer, but with more hop character and fruit aromas: the perfect brew for this dapper gent!
Miss Moriarty: Russian Imperial Stout
For Miss Moriarty (Professor Moriarty’s sister, you know!), I had to go outside our brews at Black Creek, but she fits a Russian Imperial Stout perfectly. Acerbic and elegant by turns, she has a mysterious past and…um, a way with words. This pitch-black beer matches her heart, it can land you in trouble quite quickly, and has endless depth and subtlety.
Professor Moriarty: Milk Stout
As siblings, Professor and Miss Moriarty have a lot of similarities, which is why I wanted to stay in the stout family. But Professor Moriarty is more charming upfront: much like the milk stout gives you a rush of sweetness and smoothness. For both the Professor and the Milk Stout, bitter dark notes come later. 😉
Mrs. Stong: Maple Brown
The matriarch of the Stong family and a pillar of Black Creek’s community: Mrs. Stong is the victim of this year’s crime. Her prized maple syrup was dumped out the night before an important maple syrup competition! And so, in honour of her struggle, I’ve chosen our Maple Brown Ale. Like Mrs. Stong, it’s solid and down-to-earth, with a decidedly sweet character.
So what do you think? There is still plenty of time to visit Black Creek, solve the mystery, and see what you think of these pairings. Our March Break Mystery Fun goes until March 19th, and kids get in free!
The wine world has sommeliers. The tea world has tea sommeliers. What about the beer world? Are there beer sommeliers?
You bet. And they even have a special name: cicerones. (Say: SIS-uh-rohn)
The word cicerone originally meant a guide or someone who conducts visitors (so hey, we’re all cicerones here at Black Creek Pioneer Village!). Today, it usually refers to a Certified Cicerone: someone who has proven their knowledge of beer styles, flavours, and service under the Cicerone Certification Program. This is a certification body created by Beer Expert Extraordinare Ray Daniels.
There are four levels of tests: for Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone®, Advanced Cicerone™, and Master Cicerone®. And it’s tough stuff: of the 75,000 people who have undertaken the Cicerone Certification Program, only eleven have achieved the title of Master Cicerone.
Naturally, my knee-jerk response is, “Then I shall be the twelfth,” but we’ll see.
What do cicerones need to know? Short answer: everything. Longer answer: brewing techniques, beer and brewing history, beer ingredients, beer service, glassware, draught systems, beer tastings, and food pairings. Essentially, cicerones are experts in every aspect of the beer experience: from the technical, to the historic, to the artistic.
So, you wanna be a cicerone? The first level—Certified Beer Server—is an online test that takes about thirty minutes. Anything past that has to be done in person at one of the Cicerone Certification Program’s testing locations. And to be a Master Cicerone? You’re looking at two days of examination, including eight hours of written tests, two hours of oral examination, and two hours of beer tasting and evaluation.
To get us all started, I found this short sample quiz, courtesy of the Cicerone Certification Program. How well did you do?
Want to improve your score, or practice for those advanced titles? Drop by the Black Creek brewery this summer. We can all share our beer knowledge together, and add a few more samples to your beer tasting repertoire!
Arrr, mateys! This Victoria Day weekend, pirates and princesses are coming to Black Creek Pioneer Village! While we’re sure you’ll be very excited to taste our Apricot Ale (already fermenting in the cellar!), our salty pirate friends might be looking for grog.
They’ll be out of luck, because as you know, the Black Creek Historic Brewery is entirely beer-oriented. However, grog has a history all of its own.
Essentially, grog is a mix of water and rum, often with citrus juices added to help prevent scurvy. British Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon introduced it to his crew in the 1740s. Because of the grogham coat he wore, the Vice Admiral was nicknamed Old Grogham, or Old Grog. Soon enough, the name grog stuck to the beverage as well!
But why give sailors alcohol? During long ocean voyages, access to clean drinking water is absolutely vital. However, desalinating seawater isn’t terribly practical, which leads us to the conundrum of, “Water, water, everywhere – and not a drop to drink.” Fresh water was stored in casks, but quickly grew stagnant and full of algae. Beer and/or wine helped improve the taste, and so became an important part of life aboard ship.
When England conquered Jamaica in 1655, rum took over as the spirit of choice. Rum is derived from sugarcane byproducts – either molasses or sugarcane juice – fermented and distilled. As more and more sugar planters set up shop in the Caribbean, you can imagine how keen they were to have the navy as a robust market! In fact, the British Navy only stopped its rum ration in 1970, and the New Zealand Royal Navy continued right until 1990!
Of course, the navy wasn’t the only group that enjoyed its rum. There’s a longstanding association between pirates and rum as well – British privateers traded in this sweet commodity. Yet while movies suggest that grog and pirates go together like an IPA and a hot summer day, pirates often took their rum in the form of bumbo.
Bumbo mixes rum, water, sugar, and nutmeg (sometimes cinnamon instead). Pirates were less concerned about adding citrus juices. Their relatively short voyages meant that they were much less likely to develop scurvy, so they wanted something both intoxicating and delicious!
Of course, rum, grog, and bumbo were all products of, as well as contributors to, a global network of trade and colonialism that was in full swing by our time period here at Black Creek. Rum facilitated longer voyages; and rum production itself developed through British expansion. Ah, historical forces feeding upon each other. Something to ponder, as you sip our Apricot Ale over the long weekend!
Here at the Black Creek Historic Brewery, our standard roster of beers is made from four ingredients: malted barley, hops, water, and yeast. That’s it, as per tradition, the 1516 Reinheitsgebot (German Beer Purity Law) and several British Acts of Parliament. (Some of our specialty brews are different—but hey, they’re specialty brews for a reason!)
In the 1800s, however, things could be less cut-and-dried. Adulteration of food and beverage ran rampant in an era before modern regulations, and beer was no exception. I found two treatises from the 1820s bemoaning impurities in their flour, their tea, and their beer. These writers identified some main reasons for adulterating ales:
Increasing intoxicating effects
Basically, the alcohol content is beer is determined by the sugar content (yeast metabolize sugar to alcohol), which is in turn dependent on the proportion of malt you’ve used. Following the Napoleonic Wars, the price of malt spiked. Some brewers, therefore, found other ways to add some “cheer” to your cup.
Opium, poppy extract, and tobacco could all be added to beer to make it feel like you were getting drunk more quickly. More common was cocculus indicus: the fruit of the Indian berry plant: a potent narcotic.
Say you’re a little short on hops. What else can you use? Bitter herbs and plants like aloes, wormwood, horehound, bitter oranges, and quassia (a flowering tree) could all be used to mimic hops’ particular astringency. Now, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with flavouring your beer with herbs—medieval gruit beers took a combination of rosemary, bog myrtle, and sweet rosemary. However, hops contain oils that act as preservatives. Beers made without them simply don’t keep as long.
Colouring dark beers
In the 1820s, brewers were making porters from a blend of brown and pale malts. As mentioned, the Napoleonic Wars increased barley prices—and brewers discovered they could make more wort from pale malts. However, customers expected porters to be dark, and the pale malts weren’t cutting it.
So instead, brewers boiled down sugar to a black colour. Once added to the wort, it would darken it. Burnt treacle and sugar also mimicked the roasted tastes and sweeter finish of a porter. Sugar and molasses could also add fermentable sugars if your grain bill was lacking.
In the early modern period through the early 1800s, it was common for brewers to make two types of beer: aged (or “stale”) beer and mild beers. Aged/old beers had a sharper taste, whereas mild beers were…well, milder and a bit sweeter. In taverns, it was quite common to order and serve a mixture of both, but sometimes, unscrupulous brewers and tavernkeepers added a shot of old ales to mild ones in order to “age” them. Apparently, combining assorted dregs and leftovers into a single cask wasn’t unheard of, either!
Now, adulteration was generally slammed as a means of cutting corners and saving costs. But looking to early-nineteenth century Ontario, I wonder if adulteration sometimes resulted from necessity or desperation. Adding molasses when you didn’t have enough barley would result in a higher-alcohol beer, and additives like capsicum might well have helped liven taste when brewing ingredients were scarce (both molasses and capsicum/cayenne were ingredients in Thomas Benson’s ale, incidentally—he seemed unbothered).
While I certainly don’t want opium or tobacco in my beer, I’m all right with a bit of ginger. Maybe even treacle, depending on the style. Then and now, transparency about brewing method and ingredients is the key. 🙂
The long, dark days of winter are past…which means that the heavy, dark beers of winter are slipping away too! This winter, I fell in love with rich, complex stouts and porters—especially coffee ones. Highlights include the Mocha Macchiato Stout from Old Bust Head, the Midvinterblot (an imperial porter) from Sigtuna Brygghus, and the Old North Mocha Porter from the Lake of Bays Brewing Company.
Now, scanning the shelves of the LCBO, we’re moving back towards pale and amber ales. Which makes sense: a heavy, oatmeal stout does seem kind of out of place in warmer weather. But considering all this also got me thinking about another aspect of beer:
Beer really appeals to all the senses: we all know about appreciating taste, mouthfeel, and aroma, but what about the way your beer looks in the glass? On the one hand, some beer judging competitions see focusing on appearance as an unacceptable bias. On the other—well, I think aesthetics are just another thing to appreciate.
In the 1860s, Victorians likely weren’t terribly fussed about the appearance of their beer. But in the 1880s, an English brewer named Joseph Williams Lovibond found himself growing increasingly preoccupied by the hue of his beers.
Different colours in beers largely come about as a result of the different propo rtions of malt roasts used. The longer you kiln your malt, the darker it will be. So, very dark beers have a higher proportion of these more darkly-roasted malts. Other factors can play a part too: more alkaline water or a higher-pH mash can extract more pigment from the grains, resulting in a darker wort, and filtered beer tends to look a little lighter, since the cloudiness has been removed.
So, colour can hint at what the beer might taste like. Lovibond began experimenting with different colour scales. At first, he tried paint chips, but that didn’t work terribly well. Eventually, he came up with a set of coloured glass slides. Using this “Tintometer,” he visually matched beer samples to the slides. Determining the closest match gave the beer’s colour value in degrees Lovibond. In 1895, Lovibond retired from brewing to focus exclusively on “colorimetry,” as he called it, and he established the Tintometer Ltd. Company the next year.
You have to give the man credit: he definitely followed his passions.
Measuring beer by degrees Lovibond held sway for decades. Honestly, it’s still pretty useful today. But it is a qualitative measurement, fairly subjective. In the 1950, the American Society of Brewing Chemists came up with a more quantitative approach. They passed light at a wavelength of 430 nanometres through beer samples, and used spectrophotometers to measure how much light was absorbed/lost along the way. To make the numbers match more-or-less with the old Lovibond scale, the absorption was multiplied by 12.7. This is the Standard Reference Method, or SRM, and it’s still used today.
Simultaneously, European brewers came up with essentially the same idea, except that the level of light loss was multiplied by 25. Thus, values on the European Brewing Convention scale—EBC—are roughly double those of SRM.
If you’re just kicking back on the patio, do EBC or SRM units really matter all that much? Probably not, but I know that when I’m describing beers, I like to use a somewhat-consistent colour scale. When does straw change over into gold? At what point do we go from deep copper to light ruby? For general purposes, I’m still pretty indebted to Mr. Lovibond.
As we learned last week, 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!)
If you’ve ever taken our Historic Brewery Tour, you know that before every drink, we toast, “To Queen and country!” Since my brewery compatriots and I end up saying this toast almost every day, I eventually got to thinking: what’s the origin behind toasts, anyway?
The Oxford English Dictionary is usually a good place to start investigations. According to the OED, a “toast” is a…call to a gathering of people to raise their glasses and drink together in honour of a person or thing, or an instance of drinking in this way, while “cheers” is defined as expressing good wishes.
Lovely, but less etymology than I usually like. Continuing my digging, I found a myriad of explanations for the origins of toasting. One such theory, claims that the Ancient Greeks believed beautiful, spiritual things should appeal to all five senses. Thus, the colour of wine pleases the eye; the bouquet pleases the nose; and the body, both taste and touch. Clinking goblets together is therefore a way to include the ear. Indeed, if we look at the word aesthetics (in the sense of it being a philosophy dealing with the appreciation of art and beauty), we find it is ultimately derived from the Greek word aisthanomai: “I perceive, feel, sense.” But, while there is a possibility this is true, and while I personally really like the concept, I remain unconvinced—a few more primary sources would be nice.
Other theories include: banging mugs together to slosh part of your drink into your partner’s mug, and vice versa. Thus, if you had poisoned your partner’s drink, you’d end up contaminating your drink, too. Alternatively, toasting might have originated through the desire to frighten away spirits by banging mugs. Or, from offering the first drink to the gods: a remnant of sacrificial libation-pouring.
So the origins of toasting are likely multifaceted, and certainly nebulous. Luckily, the Victorians were a little clearer on their stance towards toasts. Surprisingly, they were not overly fond of them:
“The custom of drinking toasts, and of forcing people to drink bumper and bumper of wine, until drunkenness results, is quite banished from gentlemanly society to its proper place—the tavern. It arises from a mistaken idea of making visitors welcome… (Charles William Day, Hints on Etiquette and the Usages of Society, with a Glance at Bad Habits: 1844, p. 47)
Nor was this an isolated opinion:
“And you must drink whether it pleased you to do so or not; and the glasses were often refilled while you drank to the health of this person or that, while to refuse to do so was considered an insult. Such feasts are within the memory of many men now living, but let hope that our children may never return to them.” (Sophia Orne Johnson, A Manual of Etiquette with Hints on Politeness and Good Breeding: 1868, p. 58)
Of course, toasting meets temperance with a fabulous collision. They’re absolutely right: it is still considered impolite to refuse a toast (actually, the semantics of toasting etiquette caused quite a scandal between Canada and Ireland in the 1940s). It is easy to see why pro-temperance writers would worry about toasting leading people to drink an excessive amount (advice-manual writers and pro-temperance writers seem to overlap quite a bit). As well, temperance claimed that alcohol threatened health, society, and morality. Their aversion to it being used to celebrate to express well wishes therefore makes sense.
As one “gentleman” said,
Gentleman,—You have been pleased to drink my health with wine… Your drinking me will do me no harm; drinking it will do you no good. I do not take wine, because I am determined wine shall not take me. You are most daring, but I am most secure. You have courage to tamper with and flatter a dangerous enemy; I have courage to let him alone…I would rather drink your diseases; would rather root out from you whatever is wrong and prejudicial to your happiness… (A Manual of Etiquette with Hints on Politeness and Good Breeding, p. 69).
Sounds like this gentleman was great fun at parties. Sounds like he was also invented to make a point.
In any case, in temperance schools of thought, this anti-toasting attitude continued into the twentieth century. TheSacred Heart Review, a Catholic newspaper published in Cambridge/Boston, said:
“Toasting is a foolish old custom which ought to have died a natural death, years ago. Among temperance people, or at a celebration run on total abstinence lines, it is an anomaly. If there must be toasts, however, there are lots of temperance beverages, beginning with water (the best of all) in which to drink them.” (The Sacred Heart Review, February 16, 1901).
I find it interesting that so much emphasis is put on the vehicle of expressing those good wishes, rather than on the good wishes themselves. As we’ve seen, temperance becomes far more intolerant as the century progressed; this staunch stand makes sense in context, I suppose I’m just always surprised by how fervent temperance rhetoric can be.
In any case, we are quite pleased to toast you, the Queen, Black Creek, and various and sundry people down here. And we’re pleased to do so across languages, too! How do you toast?
Breton: Yec’hed mat!
Chinese (Cantonese): 飲勝 (yám sing) 飲杯 (yám bùi)
Chinese (Mandarin): 乾杯! [干杯!] (gān bēi)
Czech: Na zdraví!
French: À votre santé!
Greenlandic : Kasuutta!
Igbo : Mma manu!
Irish Gaelic : Sláinte!
Klingon: Iwllj jachjaj!
Korean: 건배 [乾杯] (geonbae)
Latin: Bonam sanitatem!
Māori: Mauri ora!
Old English: Wes þū hal!
Polish: Na zdrowie!
Russian : За здоровье! (Za zdarov’e!)
Scottish Gaelic: Slàinte!
Sindarin : Almiën!
Spanish : ¡Salud!
Swahili : Miasha mareful!
Vietnamese : Chúc sức khoẻ!
Welsh: Iechyd da!
(Please note: this is just a small smattering of languages!)