The Most Interesting Man in the World

Over the years, we have covered many interesting historical personalities on this blog: from the indomitable Susannah Oland to the lyrical John Ross Robertson. But, oh, readers: I have found the most interesting beer-related man in the world. And his name is—Jerry Thomas.

Jeremiah P. Thomas was born in Sacket’s Harbor, New York in 1830. He learned bartending as a young man—and then took off to the west coast to join the California Gold Rush (1848-1855). There, he continued bartending while searching for gold, and eventually returned back east to New York City. There, he opened his own bar under PT Barnum’s American Museum. Because of course he did.

But even that was not cool enough. Thomas then hit the road, working as head bartender at hotels across the United States and Europe. As he travelled, he developed a distinctly flashy style: pulling tricks and juggling while making his drinks. In fact, his signature drink—the Blue Blazer—was a hot toddy set aflame, and then tossed from cup to cup to create  “a blazing stream of liquid fire.”

Jerry Thomas demonstrating his famous Blue Blazer.
“How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion” New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, Publishers, 1862. pg. 77.

But wait, there’s more!

He travelled with solid silver bar tools. He wore jewellery as ostentatious as his showmanship.

At one point, he made more money each week than the Vice-President of the United States.

He returned to New York City and in 1866 (so, right at our time period), opened his own bar again. But we’re not done. His favourite things included kid gloves, a gold Parisian watch, and collecting art.

And there’s still more.

Dear readers-

Dear readers, in the 1870s this man was president of The Gourd Club, for he had produced its largest specimen.

To recap:

Virtuoso bartender, fashionista, and gourd enthusiast.

At this point, I think his legacy is probably pretty self-evident, but let’s go into it anyway. Among all these other highlights, Thomas was the first to put forth the notion of bartender as creative professional: he is the original bartender personality. His book, How to Mix Drinks: Or, the Bon-Vivant’s Companion (1862) was the first book on mixing drinks published in the United States.  It’s no wonder the foreword to his book says, “His very name is synonymous in the lexicon of mixed drinks with all that is rare and original.” For indeed, he was one of the cornerstones of the mixed-drink culture we still see today.

And he’s really, really cool.

Some recipes!

Ale Punch

A quart of mild ale, a glass of white wine, one of brandy, one of capillaire [syrup flavoured with orange flowers or fruit], the juice of a lemon, a roll of the peel pared thin, nutmeg grated on the top, and a bit of toasted bread.

 

Ale Sangaree

(Use large bar glass)

1 teaspoonful of sugar, dissolved in a tablespoonful of water.

Fill the tumbler with ale, and grate nutmeg on top.

 

Porter Cup

Mix in a tankard or covered jug a bottle of porter, and an equal quantity of table-ale; pour in a glass of brandy, a dessert-spoonful of syrup of ginger, add three or four lumps of sugar, and half a nutmeg grated; cover it down, and expose it to the cold for half an hour; just before sending it to the table, stir in a teaspoonful of carbonate of soda. Add the fresh-cut rind of a cucumber.

 

Arf and Arf

(use large bar glass)

In London this drink is made by mixing half porter and half ale, in America it is made by mixing half new and half old ale.

All recipes from How to Mix Drinks1862. Check it out, maybe you’ll find a new favourite!

-Katie

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Victorian Root Beer

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

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

Root beer is a beverage traditionally made with sassafras roots and/or sarsaparilla as its main flavouring agent. The Indigenous populations of North America were making sassafras-based beverages long before European contact, using it to treat various ailments from wounds to fevers. Unsurprisingly, then, when “root beer” began to be sold through the mid-nineteenth century, it was touted as a healthful drink.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Queen and Country!

Katie

Black Creek Test Kitchen: Beer-Braised Pork Chops

Hello Beer-Lovers,

And we’re back with another recipe! This one is mostly from Taste of Home, except then I changed it as I am wont to do. While I’m very precise about most things in life, cooking is not one of them.

Anyway.

Beer-Braised Pork Chops: Ingredients

  • Pork Chops
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Oil
  • 3 Tbsp ketchup
  • Scant 1/2 Tbsp white sugar
  • Drizzle molasses
  • 3/4 cup of beer

What beer to use, you ask? Well, pork pairs really nicely with sweet things, so I was thinking a brown ale—caramel/chocolate sweetness. Something like Black Creek Brewery’s Rifleman’s Ration. But alas, my local LCBO’s stock was unhelpful.

Until I spotted the Griffin Maple Butter Tart Ale from Sawdust. I’ve had this beer before: it’s a very mild, very sweet beer. If I recall, my exact thoughts at first tasting were, Well, it tastes like a butter tart, but I’m not sure what that’s meant to accomplish.

 

“But…” quoth I, standing in the LCBO, “I bet it would go well with the pork.”

So I picked up a can, went home, and assembled my ingredients:

 

STEP THE FIRST:

Season pork chops with salt and pepper. Heat up oil in a large skillet and brown meat.

Or if you’re me, forget about the salt and pepper until after the meat is sizzling, and throw them in late, hoping it won’t affect anything (it didn’t).

STEP THE SECOND:

Mix beer, ketchup, sugar, and molasses. Pour over pork chops.

STEP THE THIRD:

Bring liquid to boil and then reduce heat. Cover and simmer until pork chops have reached an internal temperature of 145 F/ 63 C.

This is when I realized two things:

  • This is the first time I have knowingly braised meat: i.e. searing it and then stewing in a covered pot.
  • I have lost my meat thermometer.

So I kind of let the meat do its thing for 30 minutes and then cut the end from one of the chops. It looked done, and nothing happened when I ate it, so off we went:

The sweetness of this particular beer complimented the pork really well. I wasn’t sure how the ketchup would blend, but it gave things a nice savoury edge. There is definitely a buttery character to the beer I used – I’d be interested to see how the recipe works with other styles.

This recipe would work really well with our Brown Ale or Best Bitter: anything sweet, but not overpowering. A delicious summer dish!

To Queen and Country!

Katie

 

May Specialty: Apricot Ale

It’s time for our first specialty brew of the season! Down here in the Black Creek Historic Brewery, Ed has been busily crafting an Apricot Ale – a light, fruity beer to kick off the Victoria Day Weekend. It also ties in nicely with our Pirates and Princesses event,  May 20, 21, and 22. Pirates, of course, require ale, and the apricot’s delicate sweetness and beautiful golden colour definitely puts one in mind of royalty!

Our Apricot Ale matches Belle’s dress! She’ll be at Black Creek this weekend, along with Cinderella and a rascally pirate crew!

The beer is golden too, with hints of apricot in the flavour and aroma.  There’s a bready malt taste too, and it’s fairly lightly hopped. This ale is light-to-medium-bodied, perfect for an afternoon on the patio. It hits our fridges this weekend, and there it will remain until it’s all been sampled and purchased.

Victorians liked their apricots too! For them, it was a late summer dessert. In her Book of Household Management, Mrs. Beeton says:

The apricot is indigenous to the plains of Armenia, but is now cultivated in almost every climate, temperate or tropical. There are several varieties. The skin of this fruit has a perfumed flavour, highly esteemed. A good apricot, when perfectly ripe, is an excellent fruit. It has been somewhat condemned for its laxative qualities, but this has possibly arisen from the fruit having been eaten unripe, or in too great excess. Delicate persons should not eat the apricot uncooked, without a liberal allowance of powdered sugar. The apricot makes excellent jam and marmalade, and there are several foreign preparations of it which are considered great luxuries.

Ah, Mrs. Beeton…
(courtesy National Portrait Gallery; http://www.npg.org.uk)

She also gives a recipe for an apricot pudding that sounds both a) achievable, and b) delicious.

INGREDIENTS – 12 large apricots, 3/4 pint of bread crumbs, 1 pint of milk, 3 oz. of pounded sugar, the yolks of 4 eggs, 1 glass of sherry.

Mode.—Make the milk boiling hot, and pour it on to the bread crumbs; when half cold, add the sugar, the well-whisked yolks of the eggs, and the sherry. Divide the apricots in half, scald them until they are soft, and break them up with a spoon, adding a few of the kernels, which should be well pounded in a mortar; then mix the fruit and other ingredients together, put a border of paste round the dish, fill with the mixture, and bake the pudding from 1/2 to 3/4 hour.

If you want to try this at home, be aware that Victorians rarely gave specific cooking temperatures, as they assumed you’d either be using a wood-fired oven…or, you obviously know what temperature to bake puddings at, because you’ve been doing this your whole life, right? 😉

In any case, I looked up modern recipes to compare, and my best advice is to bake it around 325 F and check it at 25 minutes. If anyone tries it, let us know!

Especially if you swap the glass of sherry for a glass of the Apricot Ale…

To Queen and Country!

Katie

Hot Punch: A Victorian Recipe

It’s November now. Here in the Black Creek Brewery, we’re convinced that we were sampling our summer pale ales and best bitters just…what, two weeks ago? But no, autumn is starting to wane further into winter…

We saw frost on the Grain Barn's roof!
We saw frost on the Grain Barn’s roof!

Which means that it’s getting cold outside. A nice rounded stout or porter usually pairs well with these chilly nights, but sometimes, you want something with a little more punch.

Ah, Mrs. Beeton... (courtesy National Portrait Gallery; www.npg.org.uk)
Ah, Mrs. Beeton…
(courtesy National Portrait Gallery; http://www.npg.org.uk)

In fact, sometimes you want a punch – a hot punch! I went to the ever-reliable Mrs. Beeton to find out more about this warming beverage. In her Book of Household Management, she had this to say:

Punch is a beverage made of various spirituous liquors or wine, hot water, the acid juice of fruits, and sugar. It is considered to be very intoxicating; but this is probably because the spirit, being partly sheathed by the mucilaginous juice and the sugar, its strength does not appear to the taste so great as it really is.

So as always, drink responsibly.

Now, onto the recipe!

  • ½ pint rum
  • ½ pint brandy
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 large lemon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • 1 pint of boiling water

“Rub the sugar over the lemon until it has absorbed all the yellow part of the skin, then put the sugar into a punchbowl; add the lemon-juice (free from pips), and mix these two ingredients well together. Pour over them the boiling water, stir well together, add the rum, brandy, and nutmeg; mix it thoroughly, and the punch will be ready to serve. It is very important in making good punch that all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated; and, to insure success, the process of mixing must be diligently attended to.”

If you’re thinking, “This is basically a hot toddy, isn’t it?” you’re right! Hot toddies are typically made with whisky, but it’s the same general idea—in fact, Mrs. Beeton notes that the Scots usually substituted whisky in their punch “…and then its insidious properties are more than usually felt.”

Now, if you’re wondering whether a hot toddy will cure a cold…well, I’m afraid there is no science to back it up. That said, warm liquids, spices, and honey can do wonders for a sore throat—as my partner-in-crime Blythe and I discovered when we tested another Victorian recipe! (You can catch that episode of Blythe Tries on the Black Creek page this Tuesday!)

Does it work? Find out on Tuesday!
Does it work? Find out on Tuesday!

No matter what you’re drinking, stay warm out there! And come pay us a visit in the brewery soon!

-Katie

Something Sweet: Honey Brown Ale

Soon, soon, soon
Soon, soon, soon

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

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

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

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

Hotel-bees-piclarge

You could also try this Victorian recipe:

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

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

So how does our Honey Brown taste?

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

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

Katie

 

 

 

New Brew: Thomas Benson’s Olde Ale

Hello, beer lovers!

Remember how a few weeks ago, I mentioned that Ed was pondering a very special beer here at the Black Creek Historic Brewery? Well… we were both so excited by it, that he went ahead and brewed it!

To recap: a few years back, MPP Kevin Flynn gave us a historic beer recipe, written by Thomas Benson sometime between 1827-1837. We were thrilled to return to it! For my part, it was fascinating to watch Ed work with this historic recipe…and to see and taste the finished product.

As per Thomas Benson’s recipe, Ed used cinnamon, licorice root, and capsaicin (cayenne pepper) to flavour the beer, along with a healthy dose of molasses. (Molasses adds extra sweetness, and also gives the yeast more to work with.)

Some ingredients...
Some ingredients…

According to Ed, capsaicin was used to give the impression that the beer was stronger than it was. Before the industrial revolution, beers were typically served at strengths of “mild” and “old” or “strong.” “Mild” beers cost publicans less to buy from the brewers. So, it was common for tavern-keepers to buy mild beer cheaply, and then age it to “old” beer to turn a profit. Similarly, a bit of strong or stock ale might be added to a mild beer to give it a stronger taste—and thus justifying an increased price! In some cases, capsaicin might have been used in a similar way to create a stronger flavour.

The Olde Ale pours a deep, burnished orange/dark amber. Molasses and caramel notes come through on the nose, and the sweetness carries through on the initial sip. This beer has a nice weight, and the mouthfeel starts quite smoothly—but the spices add a nice tingle as the beer moves over the tongue. There are definitely cinnamon notes, but the cayenne is the real player here. Its heat hit most at the back of the throat and tongue.

Recipe from the diary of Thomas Benson, part of the Benson family fonds at the Archives of Ontario
Recipe from the diary of Thomas Benson, part of the Benson family fonds at the Archives of Ontario

I am notorious for my love of spicy things, so I was all over this. That being said, I found the sweetness of the malt and molasses really calmed and balanced the spice here. As well, licorice root has a coating effect, which also tempered the intensity. Expect a long, long finish—but honestly, the cayenne heat just made me want to have another sip. This is a great beer for hot weather—definitely one to sip on the patio, maybe with some barbeque or pulled pork. Again, thinking sweetness to balance the heat!

Of course, my favourite part of the Olde Ale is its historicity. Not only has it been made with historic methods, it was sourced from a historic document. I wonder what Thomas Benson would make of it?

And what will you make of it? Well, you can drop by this weekend and try some for yourself. After all this is probably the closest you can get to drinking 1800s beer!

See you in the brewery!

-Katie