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The Many Vices of Sir John A. Macdonald

Quick—what’s an interesting fact about Sir John A. Macdonald?

Well—he was Canada’s first Prime Minister.

And he really, really liked his drink.

He’s probably one of Canada’s most famous drunkards, which is a fact that seems to get bandied about a lot. Of course, it’s worth pointing out that Sir John A. wasn’t perpetually drunk. No, he went on binges. Sometimes, he was quick, calculating, and stone-cold sober—and sometimes, the Governor-General was writing letters explaining that they weren’t entirely sure where the erstwhile politician was.

There are a few anecdotes that always get retold. In one, Macdonald is notably…ah, “unwell” on the campaign trail (likely a by-election). During the debate, he vomits. When his opponent points this out, he responds, ““I get sick…not because of drink [but because] I am forced to listen to the ranting of my honourable opponent.”

In June 1866, the Fenian Brotherhood launched an invasion into Canada from Buffalo. The Battle of Ridgeway was the first battle fought on Canadian soil, led by Canadian officers, and also marks the last foreign invasion in Ontario. At the time, Sir John A. was the Minister of Militia and Defence. So of course, news of the attack went straight to him.

And…he was passed out drunk.

Bills failed and languished. Telegrams went unanswered. International relations could be embarrassing at best and dangerous at worst—during the London Conference that sought final British approval before Confederation, Sir John A. nearly set himself and his hotel room on fire when a candle tipped over while he slept.

(In fairness, he might not have been drunk that time—but his fondness for the Athenaeum Club and its libations is well-known.)

The Globe attacked his habit viciously. In fact, one article was so eloquent, I wanted to show a larger extract:

“The truth is that the prime minister has again yielded to the temptation of drink, and has again rendered himself incapable of attending to his duties at a most critical period of affairs. It would almost seem that Sir John A. Macdonald choose those seasons when his vice is calculated to bring the greatest disgrace upon himself and upon the country.

His pitiable condition during the Fenian raid when telegram after telegram was left unanswered because he was in such a state of intoxication that he could not comprehend them, was a matter which would have brought severe retribution upon a Minister in England; his disgraceful condition during the visit of Prince Arthur will long be remembered to the discredit of Canada; and now when every energy should be devoted to the affairs of the North-West…Sir John A. Macdonald again flies to the bottle.

It is really an outrage to the country. The spectacle of the Prime Minister staggering into the refreshment room of the House, and being taken out thence first by one colleague and then by another, or babbling in maudlin intoxication in a hotel bar-room, is a thing to which no other country would submit for an hour. We are not a nation of drunkards, and we have a right to expect that men occupying the most exalted position their country can bestow upon them shall, at least, behave with decorum.”

The Globe: April 30, 1870.

 

The Globe’s editor George Brown was one of Macdonald’s bitterest rivals, which may explain some of the acerbity, but clearly, there was genuine upset at his functional alcoholism. Macdonald himself shrugged off such criticisms: “…the people would prefer John A. drunk to George Brown sober.”

1873 political cartoon. Note the bottle in his back pocket.

Would they, though? The fact that Macdonald managed to accomplish as much as he did in spite of his alcoholism makes one wonder—what if he hadn’t had it? How might Canada look today? Would he have proven a more able leader, or would there simply have been more Pacific Scandals and exclusionary policies towards Asian and Indigenous peoples?

It’s impossible to say, of course. “Coulda, woulda, shoulda” history is probably best left to thought experiments. I’ll end by saying that Macdonald’s second wife Susan Agnes Bernard is largely credited with fighting Macdonald’s demons—biographer Richard J Gwyn claims she literally kept him alive long enough to see the new nation through its formative years.

So—I think John A. has had plenty of glasses raised to him over the years. If you must toast, perhaps consider toasting Susan Bernard.

To Queen, country, and Mrs. Macdonald!

Katie  

 

 

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New Brew: Ginger Beer

Father’s Day weekend is almost here! On June 17th and 18th, you can enjoy a fun-filled weekend of muskets, soldiers, and spies! That’s right: once again, the village will be hosting a Revolutionary War re-enactment!

And as per tradition, Ed has made an alcoholic ginger beer in honour of the event.

Ginger beer originally descends from drinks such as mead and metheglin (flavoured mead). These were sweet, honey-based beverages, fermented with yeast and flavoured with a variety of spices, including ginger, cloves, and mace. Early ginger beers were made from water, sugar, and ginger, and fermented with the ginger beer plant. Interestingly, the ginger beer plant wasn’t really a plant at all, but a gelatinous composite of yeast and bacteria! From the eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century, ginger beers were impressively alcoholic, sometimes reaching 11%.

ginger-300x262

By the 1850s, however, new laws forced English ginger beer brewers to water their product down to 2% alcohol. It still remained incredibly popular. In 1877, writers John Thomson and Adolphe Smith estimated that some 300,000 gallons of ginger beer were being sold in and around London.

With the rise of imperialism, ginger beer also went global. Soldiers stationed in the Caribbean and Africa were particularly fond of this spicy brew, drinking it to combat homesickness. The ginger was also useful in treating upset stomachs and inflammation – I guess soldiers are more likely to take their medicine if it comes in the form of beer!

Ed’s ginger beer is a really nice amber-coloured ale. It is a malt-oriented beer, so the flavour comes predominately from the grains, rather than the hops. Because this is a fairly light malt, that translates into a subtle sweetness – this isn’t an overly bitter beer. The ginger is definitely noticeable, but mild. The spice grows more pronounced after the first sip; it gives some warmth in the chest! I like it! There’s a moderate finish, too; the light maltiness comes back through the nose at the very end. I think curries and stir-fries would go really well with this beer: foods that are themselves a bit spicy and complex (actually, a ginger-soy pork stir fry, plus this beer…now I’m getting hungry).

Please note: this ginger beer is NOT for children. It’s still about 5% alcohol, so save it for the adults!

Our ginger beer will be only available in the Black Creek Historic Brewery. It hits our fridges this weekend, and will last until…well, until we run out.

To Queen and Country!

Katie

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Half Way House’s Doors: Doors Open Toronto 2017

Hello, Beer-Lovers! Guess what?

Doors Open Toronto is this weekend! In keeping with 2017’s sesquicentennial celebrations, this year’s theme is Fifteen Decades of Canadian Architecture, highlighting each decade of Canadian history since the 1860s…along with a few buildings from before Confederation!

That’s us! Yes, Black Creek Pioneer Village is once again participating in this annual cultural event, and most of our buildings date from the first half of the nineteenth century. The brewery was built in 2009, but it’s located in the Half Way House, which was originally built ca. 1847/48.

The idea of doors is an interesting one to apply to the Half Way House. Since our inn has seen many different owners and purposes, one can’t help but imagine how many people have walked through its doors…

There is the front door, of course—once used by travellers taking the stage coach route along Kingston Road. At the time of Confederation, those thirsty travellers would have been greeted by Mary and Alexander Thompson: the inn’s original owners.

F.F. Passmore did many sketches and surveys of Scarborough in the 1860s. The Half Way House is visible at right (north is down). Courtesy the City of Toronto Archives.

And let’s not forget the taproom’s side door, for patrons who may have accidentally had one too many.

The Half Way House, ca. 1918. (Courtesy: Toronto Public Library)

In 1872, the Thompson children—James and Delilah—left by that door for the final time. Following Alexander and Mary’s respective deaths in 1867 and 1872, the Half Way House was sold to a man named Ignatius Galloway.

By that point, the Grand Trunk Railway had mostly replaced travel along the Kingston Road. Thus, the people passing through its door likely would have been locals and boarders renting the upstairs rooms. However, Galloway did add an extension featuring a kitchen on the ground floor and a ballroom above—one hopes revellers came through the doors as well, eager for a night’s dancing!

A fine-looking group, ca. 1901 (Courtesy: Toronto Public Library)

In the early years of the twentieth century, the Half Way House was a popular rendezvous for a local bicycling club—invigorated friends, breathlessly chatting as they trooped through the front door for a break.

The Half Way House, ca. 1912. Can you spot the bicycles on the porch? (Courtesy: Toronto Public Library)

By mid-century, the Half Way House’s doors had changed greatly. It was subdivided into two stores, the doors constructed where our taproom and parlour are now. Still heavy traffic, I’d imagine, but customers rather than guests.

The Half Way House in 1952. (Courtesy: Toronto Public Library)

There was a time when no one passed through its doors…

Then in 1966, the Half Way House was moved to Black Creek! Its doors (and the rest of the building) were restored, once again ready to welcome travellers and guests—of history!

The Half Way House Inn: home of the Black Creek Historic Brewery.

And since 2009, a steady stream of beer-lovers has passed through the Half Way House’s front door to the brewery sheltered in its basement.

So there you have it: the history of the Half Way House, told through its front door. Come be part of the story this weekend as you enter the building for yourself. Last entry to the village will be at 4:30 pm both Saturday and Sunday, so come early to avoid disappointment!

To Queen and Country!

Katie

 

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Trying Beer Quizzes

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

So—how does that knowledge stack up?

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

Ultimate Beer Knowledge Test

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

I scored 87%.

Test Your Craft Beer Knowledge

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

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

I scored 100%.

Beer Knowledge Quiz

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

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

I scored 9/10. I protest my score.

Girls’ Guide to Good Beer: Beer IQ Test

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

I scored 12/12. There was no badge.

Cicerone Certification Practice Exam

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

Nevertheless, I scored 10/10.

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

To Queen and Country!

Katie

 

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Beer Flaws

Down in the Black Creek Brewery, we frequently said, “Beer is a very personal thing! There’s no right or wrong answer, only the beer that’s right for you!” While I wholeheartedly believe this is true, there is an aspect of beer that rarely came up in brewery conversations: beer faults.

That’s right. While preferences on style, flavour, and aroma are largely dependent on personal palates, it is possible to have beer that is—from a purely objective standpoint—flawed.

What makes beer taste bad? Sometimes, faults in beer arise from poor sanitation or infection (this was particularly a problem in the Victorian age). Sometimes, the ingredients are poor quality, stale, or improperly stored. Maybe something went wrong in the brewing process.

Victorian breweries didn’t have modern standards of sanitation…

 

Or maybe the recipe itself wasn’t very good (we’ve all eaten baked goods gone wrong—the same principle applies to brewing). Perhaps the wrong ingredients in the wrong quantities were used; or maybe the brewing method wasn’t followed correctly; or maybe a brewer let their creativity and zest for experimentation run too wild.

(A beer that will forever remain etched in my memory is a “Choc Lobster Porter.” Chocolate and lobster do not go together. The best I can say about that beer is that it makes a really good story now.)

Even if a perfectly good beer leaves the brewery, it can still pick up flaws before you drink it: improper storage, age, exposure to heat and/or light, and even dirty draught lines can all create undesirable flavours.

So that’s why a beer might have faults. But what are some common flaws?

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Green Apple

This is a very common one. If you’re detecting an odd, green apple flavour in your beer, you’re tasting the result of acetaldehyde. This compound is actually a precursor to sugars becoming alcohol. In small quantities, it can be perceived as a simple fruity note, but a large presence usually means the beer needs more aging.

Astringency

Astringency isn’t just bitterness. It’s an over-steeped-black-tea flavour and sensation. Unsurprisingly, astringency in beer comes from tannins. In brewing, astringency can result from over-steeping and/or over-sparging the malt, or mashing with water that’s too hot. In some cases, it can also result from bacterial infections.

Cheese/Feet

Mmmm, delicious! You’re smelling/tasting isovaleric acid, resulting from poorly stored, oxidized hops.

Skunk

Ever wonder why so many beer bottles are brown? It’s to avoid this fault. When the iso alpha acids in hops react with light, it creates a flavour incredibly similar to a skunk’s odour. It’s quite common in beers stored in clear or green glass bottles. To avoid “light-struck” beer, stick to brown glass, draught beer, or cans.

Metal

Does your beer taste like you’re licking an aluminium can? A metallic taste in beer is a fault that results from old, improperly maintained equipment and/or poor-quality water.

Water quality greatly affects beer. Here is Joseph Bloore’s brewery in the Rosedale ravine, painted by R. Baigent , 1865 (www.torontopubliclibrary.ca)

Butter

Beer and popcorn can be a good combination, but you don’t want your beer tasting like popcorn.  If your beer is slick on the tongue and tastes like a movie theatre, you’ve got excessive diacetyl. This is a natural by-product of fermentation: a little can be all right, but too much is unpleasant. Usually, high levels are found in beer that’s been rushed out or beer fermented with weak yeast. However, it can be caused by dirty draught lines.

Paper/Wet cardboard

Beers’ flavours change as they age. If you’re getting cardboard, your beer is probably old and overly-oxidized.

Nail Polish Remover

Yeast gives off esters as it ferments: the resulting ethyl acetate can be responsible for a slight fruitiness…or harsh acetone flavours. Beer that tastes like solvent indicates poor handling, though it can result from low-quality, plastic brewing equipment.

Mouldy/Musky

We all know bread goes mouldy. And we all know that beer and bread are made of similar ingredients. Mouldy, musky beer may indicate the presence of mould in the grain or casks. It may also arise from dirty draught lines.

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Fortunately, a good brewer using quality ingredients in a clean environment (like our brewmaster Ed!) will avoid most of these faults. But learning to detect flaws is just another part of educating one’s palate. Beer is still down to personal taste—but knowing standards of flavour can help beer-lovers make even more informed choices about their brews. 🙂

To Queen and Country!

Katie

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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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