Tag Archives: history

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

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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!

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Colonial Williamsburg and Eighteenth Century Beers

What a ride!

Once again, your trusty beer journalist has gone international! Last week, my colleague Blythe and I spent a wonderful few days exploring Colonial Williamsburg. Depicting the city of Williamsburg just prior to the American Revolution, Colonial Williamsburg is one of the largest and oldest living history sites out there. Our time was not nearly long enough, but it was most entertaining and improving…

…and we got to sample some eighteenth century ales!

Displaying FullSizeRender.jpg

We may have taken some home, too…

We’ve discussed Colonial Williamsburg’s brewing on this blog before. Essentially, Colonial Williamsburg does not brew itself—at least, not for public consumption. Rather, they partner with Alewerks Brewing Co, a microbrewery in Williamsburg, VA.

(Colonial Williamsburg is separate from, yet still part of, the actual city of Williamsburg. Imagine dropping Black Creek Pioneer Village where Toronto’s Distillery District currently sits.)

So, Frank Clark, master of historic foodways at Colonial Williamsburg, adapted three eighteenth century ales. The original three beers were the Old Stich (a brown ale), the Dear Old Mum (a golden ale flavoured with coriander and grains of paradise—almost a Belgian Wit), and Wetherburn’s Bristol Ale (a lighter brown ale, a little hoppier). Since then, they’ve added Toby’s Triple Threads (a very nice porter).

Of course, learning about eighteenth century Virginia’s beer scene made me wonder about Toronto’s. What was happening with 1770s Toronto brewing?

The answer is…not much.

Remember, Colonial Williamsburg is set almost a century earlier than Black Creek. While Jean Talon established the first Canadian brewery in 1668, there weren’t many other large breweries until later. In fact, John Molson didn’t set up shop in Montréal until 1786—a good three years after the American Revolutionary War ended.

Map of the Toronto Purchase.

Map of the Toronto Purchase.

But here’s where the histories intersect. After the war finished, newly landed Loyalists were settling on land recognized as belonging to the Indigenous populations. Since Governor-in-Chief Lord Dorchester needed somewhere to put these Loyalists, he began negotiating the Toronto Purchase.

In 1787, the Mississaugas of the New Credit exchanged 250,808 acres of land (most of current Toronto) for various goods and money. However, they understood the deal as not so much purchase as land rental. Thus, the Toronto Purchase was renegotiated in 1805, though a land claim settlement was not reached until 2010.

In any case, the site wasn’t even surveyed for town planning until 1788…which explains the dearth of breweries. I can’t imagine there was much of a market. 😉

So, if there wasn’t much beer scene in 1770s Toronto, what were Williamsburg’s brews like?

They’re not too dissimilar from Black Creek’s, really. Like our summertime Best Bitter, they are brewed with East Kent Golding hops. That said, the hop character is very muted, as per the style of the time. Though all were flavourful and well-balanced, the Triple Thread porter was my favourite, with hints of molasses and licorice.

And of course, the beers were served in stoneware mugs, which I’ve never actually experienced before. I was entirely too excited!

Photo de Katie Bryski.

Thanks, Colonial Williamsburg! We’re sure to return soon!

-Katie

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From the Vault: Brewing in Victorian Ontario

Hello, Beer-Lovers!

This week, it’s another special look through our archives. I’ve been enjoying learning new things myself, so here is a great post from my lovely predecessor, Karell. She has some great facts and figures on the business side of 1860s brewing! Enjoy!

Katie 

Just thought I’d share a few interesting facts and figures about the business of brewing beer in Ontario in 1866 and 1867!

Despard Brewery, Picton – Late 19th Century

Did you know….

  • In 1866 there were 118 commercial breweries in operation in Canada West.
  • William Street Brewery introduced a locally designed and built mechanical refrigeration unit into their brewery in 1866!
  • Copeland’s Steam Brewery was producing 7000 gallons of ale a week and malting 20 000 bushels of barley a season in 1866.
  • O’Keefe’s Brewery introduced a locally designed and built steam engine and boiler into their brewery in 1866.  By 1867 their 25 horsepower engine was capable of turning out a staggering 2000 gallons of beer a day.  This is equivalent to running a brewery off a large ride-on lawn mower!
  • O’Keefe’s Brewery was importing Bavarian, Belgian, Mid Keat, Worcester and Wisconsin hops for various brews.
  • There were four ale bottling plants in Toronto by 1867.  Independent of the breweries, these include Malcolm Morrison’s Beer Bottling Establishment, and businesses operated by James Leask, Thomas Rutlege, and R.D. Congden.

Some neat facts to share at your next pub trivia night, courtesy of Black Creek Brewery!

PS. Our Pumpkin Ale is coming soon, I promise (and it’s already available in the LCBO)! Watch this space for updates and tasting notes! – Katie 

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Pirates and Princesses and Grog!

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.

Woodcut: "Ship of Fools." I wonder what that man at right is drinking?

Woodcut: “Ship of Fools.” I wonder what that man at right is drinking?

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.

Rum-gone

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!

Until next time,

Katie

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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

 

 

 

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Fall Updates

Another summer has come and gone. With Labour Day behind us, we are looking forward to cooler weather here at the Black Creek Historic Brewery. A new season at Black Creek always brings new developments, so here is a quick rundown of what we have in store this autumn…

September Beers

Ed has brewed his last Pale Ale and Best Bitter for the year, so if you want some before 2016, you should visit us sooner rather than later—once they’re gone, that’s it! Never fear, though: this means the Porter and Stout are back. What better way to enjoy the brisker days than with a lovely, full-bodied beer?

Ed picking hops!

Ed picking hops!

Our September specialty beer is the Wet Hop Pale Ale. Ed brewed this beer using fresh hops from our own gardens. This is a very seasonal brew (you can only make it when the hops are ripe; it’s no use asking for it in February), and it’s become an unofficial sign of ending summer around here. The Wet Hop Pale Ale will be released on Saturday, September 19th.

Which reminds me…

Pioneer Harvest Festival: Sept. 19/20

The Pioneer Harvest Festival is one of our busiest days in the Black Creek Historic Brewery. This year, we get double the excitement! The festival runs two days this year—Saturday, September 19th, and Sunday, September 20th. On Saturday, enjoy demonstrations of pioneer trades, delicious food, a fast-paced quilt auction, and much more! Sunday celebrates local food, live music, and farmer’s markets.

Of course, the brewery will be open all weekend long for sampling and growler purchasing. We look forward to seeing you there!

A Spirited Affair: Oct. 3rd

It’s an affair! This year, the Boys Come Home as we celebrate the 1860s and 1940s. Dig out your snazzy duds, and come prepared to sample tasty treats and divine drinks, try your hand at one of our many games, and dance the night away! Craft breweries, distilleries, and wineries will have their products available for sampling throughout the village. Ed’s also brewing up a special whisky-barrel-aged ale in honour of the event (think Innis & Gunn).

Remember, proceeds from this event go towards restoring our historic buildings, for you and future generations to enjoy!

Pumpkin Ale

It’s coming, I promise.

October’s a very busy month for specialty beers (Whisky Barrel, Honey Brown, and Pumpkin, oh my!), but Ed will be releasing the Pumpkin Ale starting October 17th. Perfect for sampling while the kids enjoy our Howling Hootenanny!

In the meantime, you can pick up the commercial version of the Pumpkin Ale from the LCBO. As always, check the website before you venture out, but your intrepid beer journalist has spotted it in several downtown locations. (She saw the Rifleman’s Ration, too!)

Our Pumpkin Ale is essentially an liquid, alcoholic pumpkin pie...

Our Pumpkin Ale is essentially an liquid, alcoholic pumpkin pie…

So there you have it: the shape of the next few weeks. And you thought summer was a busy time for the village. The 2015 season is only half-over: you haven’t seen anything yet!  🙂

Cheers!

Katie

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