It’s mid-September, which means our hops have just passed their peak season. The ripening of our hop flowers is an annual sign that summer is ending, and Ed’s Wet-Hop Ale is just around the corner. Of course, we mostly know hops for their role in flavouring and preserving beer, but Victorians had many other uses for this feisty little plant!
To start, Victorians often wrote about hops’ soporific qualities; many remedy compilations suggest stuffing one’s pillow with hops as a sleep aid. According to The Family Physician (1865), hops are especially useful when “…for any reason the use of opium is considered objectionable.” (The Family Physician, p. 829). All of the calming benefits, none of the narcotic drawbacks! (I bet it smelled pretty strong, though.)
The New Family Herbal goes a step further. If you really want a good night’s sleep, it suggests a teaspoonful of a tincture of hops…made from “six or seven ounces of Hops in two pints of proof spirits” (The New Family Herbal, p. 139). I’m not sure the hops were entirely responsible for any drowsiness!
But this particular manual lists many more uses for hops: in addition to helping you sleep and making beer taste great, apparently taking powdered hop seed could destroy worms. Hops heated in a flannel bag were touted as a cure for toothache. They also claimed that decoctions of hops cured ulcers, cleansed the blood (thus healing scabs, ringworms, and other ailments), eased jaundice, and even “…destroy[ed] the heat of the liver and stomach” (ibid).
This all sounds great, but what does 21st-century science say on the matter?
No clinical studies have been done to evaluate hops’ medical benefits. That said, it looks like hops do help with insomnia, anxiety, tension, and irritability. There is also some evidence that they can help with indigestion and poor appetite. And of course, hops’ bitter acids have some antimicrobial qualities – that’s why they preserve beer!
So the next time you drink a hoppy IPA – or try one of the many fine Wet Hop Ales coming out from Ontario craft breweries – you know hops aren’t all bitterness and acid. Well – biologically, they are. But metaphorically, they’re a little sweet as well.
While chatting about people’s beer preferences, I would often hear visitors to the brewery describe themselves as “seasonal beer drinkers.” Fair enough, I am too. Even the most fervent lover of stouts and porters finds them a bit much on a day when the Humidex hits 40. Likewise, a light lager doesn’t always do it on a cold, rainy night.
But then I thought a little more about it, and I realized: the weather isn’t the only factor influencing the beers towards which I gravitate. When you’re selecting a beer to drink, there’s a whole range of things to think about: the setting, the list of available beers, the food, your cravings/mood on that particular day…
And so, I have compiled this list of alternate beer categories. Enjoy!
This is the beer that you can find on tap in nearly any pub. Easy-drinking, it’s the sort of beer you can drink throughout the night—and feel pretty pleased about.
For me? Beau’s Lugtread Ale.
Okay, so you’re scanning the beer list…and you’re not seeing anything that grabs your interest. In fact, you’re contemplating getting water instead. Then you see it—that beer that really isn’t your favourite, but you will still drink it!
For me? Guinness
“That Beer That’s Harder To Find, But You Love It, so When You See It, It’s Yours”
It’s not a common beer, but you fell in love with it long ago. When you spy it on a beer list, there’s no question. It’s yours, right now.
For me? Black Creek’s Ginger Beer, Péché Mortel (Dieu du Ciel).
“The Thirst-Quenching Beer”
You’ve been outside for hours. The sun is beating down. Probably, you’ve been doing physical work or exercise, and you are parched. Sometimes, you just need a beer, and this hits the spot.
For me? Sidelaunch Wheat, Beat the Heat (Black Oak)
“The Sitting By the Fire on a Midwinter’s Night”
It’s the middle of winter. The wind chill is somewhere in the negative-20s. A gale is howling around your house, darkness has fallen, and if you don’t have a blazing fire, you should. It’s just you, a good book, and a beer in a very fancy glass.
For me? Midvinterblot (Sigtuna Brygghus)
“That Beer You’ve Heard Everyone Rave About and then You Randomly Spy it in the LCBO One Day”
Pretty self-explanatory, and it also just happened to me!
For me? Founders Kentucky Breakfast Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout
“The Local Brew in a Strange City”
Travelling as often as I do, I’ve made friends with beers and breweries in many different cities. It’s always fun to see what’s on tap elsewhere, and you start to find a few reliable favourites.
For me? Old Bust Head’s Mocha Macchiato Stout, Alewerks’ Old Stitch
“The What IS That, I MUST Try It!”
Every so often, you come across a beer that you just have to try. Maybe the description is particularly intriguing. Maybe it boasts your exact favourite flavours. Or maybe your favourite brewmaster is trying a new recipe. 😉
For me? Black Creek’s Gingerbread Stout, Hypnopompa (Omnipollo), Earl Grey Porter (Royal City Brewing)
What about you? What are your beers for all seasons? Maybe you’ll find your next one down at the Black Creek Historic Brewery!
As many of you know, Ed supplements our standard beer roster with a monthly specialty beer! These seasonal brews are limited releases. They tend to come out around the holidays, and when they are gone, they are gone!
So what’s on tap for this year?
May – Apricot Ale
A fruity pale ale, perfect for taking along to your Victoria Day celebrations!
June – Ginger Ale
This is not for kids! A 5% light amber ale made with real ginger. Spicy, refreshing, and just in time for Father’s Day!
Brewed in honour of Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe, this ale features the distinctive pine-citrus notes of Simcoe hops, a classic dual-purpose hop from the Pacific Northwest. Start your August Long Weekend off right!
September – Fresh Hop/Wet Hop Pale Ale
Summer’s ending, and the hops are finally ripe! Take home this beer made with hops from Black Creek’s very own vines. This beer can only be made when the hops are ready, so don’t miss out!
October – Potato Stout, Honey Brown Ale, Pumpkin Ale
A triple threat! Enjoy the roasted, earthy notes of our Potato Stout, the warm sweetness of our Honey Brown Ale, and of course – that perennial favourite – our Pumpkin Ale! (We know you all love the Pumpkin Ale, so Ed usually does several brews of it – all with real pumpkin and spice.)
November – Gingerbread Stout
Ah, this is one of my personal favourites (stout and ginger, where can you do wrong?). Molasses and spices make this a lovely wintertime treat as we get ready for our festive season!
December – Winter Warmer
The end already? Our Winter Warmer will keep you cozy on those cold December nights. An amber ale brewed with coriander and bitter orange peel to a strength of 6.5%, this ale makes the season even brighter. 🙂
Can’t wait to see these release throughout the year! Remember, our specialty beers tend to vanish fairly quickly, so drop by the brewery promptly to avoid disappointment!
It’s officially December, and you know what that means! Our Christmas by Lamplight evening events run the first three Saturdays of December…which means that the first event is this weekend!
In the deep of the winter evening, the village comes to life with holiday cheer! Explore the village through the soft glow of candles and lamplight. Strains of traditional music float through the air as you breathe in the spiced scents of mincemeat, gingerbread, and other treats. As you create your own crafts and ornaments to take home, enjoy the Victorian Christmas decorations proudly festooning every building.
But wait—there’s more! Round out the evening with some artistic entertainment! Learn the history of beloved Christmas carols and join in singing, tap your toes at a country dance, and take in a traditional Christmas pantomime—a specially commissioned production of The Snow Queen.
Thirsty after all that? I hope so! Naturally, the brewery will be open, with yours truly delighted to lead you through guided tastings all night long. Our Winter Warmer will be debuting this weekend, so get ready for a cup of cheer! (A growler also makes a great present…or treat for poor, hardworking Santa. Just saying! *wink*)
The air is brisk, the leaves are changing. October is well underway, which means that it’s time for the Pumpkin Ale. While the Pumpkin Ale has been on LCBO shelves for a few weeks now, Ed’s version comes out this weekend from the Black Creek Brewery. We know you’ve been looking forward to it, so we’re thrilled that it’s ready!
And this is no “Pumpkin Spice Ale,” either. Ed’s Pumpkin Ale uses real pumpkin puree. One addition during the mashing breaks the pumpkin’s starch into sugar that will be fermented alongside the malt. Another during the boil adds that truly pumpkin-y taste and aroma. Ed’s also added ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice – everything you’d expect in a pumpkin pie. It’s autumn in a glass, perfect for Halloween!
Speaking of Halloween, our Howling Hootenanny weekends are also here: October 22nd/23rd, and 29th/30th. Take the kids trick-or-treating in the village, make creepy crafts to take home, and decorate your own pumpkin. If you need some refreshment after braving the Haunted Maze and testing the Apple Slingshot, come join us in the historic brewery for a fresh sample of Pumpkin Ale!
Hi all! It’s been a very, very hot summer, but it seems like we’ve turned a corner into some cooler weather. Of course, hot weather could be a challenge for brewers in the 1800s – in my archives, I found this very timely post! Enjoy!
For rural brewers, brewing tended to be a seasonal activity. This was mostly because you have to cool wort before adding the yeast. After all, when the wort comes out of the brew-kettle it is boiling. Yeast is a living organism. If you chuck it into boiling hot wort, it won’t be living much longer, which means that it will not be fermenting anything effectively.
All of which to say: brewers needed some way of cooling the wort. In the first half of the nineteenth century, they used coolers. W. Stewart describes them as “floors of wood, surrounded with a wooden ledge, placed in the most airy and exposed situation in the brewery…in large breweries, they are of an enormous extent” (Stewart, 63).
The idea behind a cooler is to spread the wort out very thinly over a wide surface area in order to let the heat dissipate. That’s why coolers can be so expansive—they’re usually only 2-4 inches deep, so they need to be quite wide to contain a large volume of beer.
So, no problem, right? Run the beer into the cooler and wait.
Beer fresh out of the brew-kettle is extremely vulnerable to contamination. Remember, it’s been at a rolling boil for a significant amount of time (usually an hour, for us), which means that it’s been rendered more-or-less sterile. The longer the wort is left out in the open, the more likely it is to be infected by airborne pathogens or wild yeast. Brewer Thomas Hitchcock also worries about the “acidifying” of the wort through the absorption of excess oxygen, which apparently “takes place most rapidly in warm weather” (Hitchcock, 31).
Modern-day breweries have heat exchangers which can cool the wort very quickly. Victorian brewing guides recommend getting it down to anywhere from 11-20 degrees Celsius. From boiling, that’s quite a drop, especially in the summer—without air conditioning to help.
So how did they do it?
Some brewers avoided summer brewing altogether. According to A Practical Treatise on Brewing (1835), by William Chadwick, “…in hot weather, brewing is a critical operation, and private families should refrain from brewing in summer if possible…no prudent person would willingly brew when the temperature of the air is as high as 60 degrees” (Chadwick, 43-44). In the winter, however, it would be easy to open a window (Stewart does recommend letting a fresh air current pass over the wort) and let that chill Canadian winter help with the cooling.
But for large commercial brewers, sitting out the summer months entirely wasn’t always an option.
Stewart’s brewing guide addresses the conundrum of summer brewing:
When the brewery is obliged to make ale in warm summer weather, it is material to reduce the temperature as low as possible. In such cases great advantage would attend cooling the wort in coolers without any roof or covering whatever, but quite open to the sky; because in clear nights, the wort might be cooled in this way, eight or ten degrees lower than the temperature of the atmosphere… (Stewart, 66-67)
The idea seems to be that the wort would radiate the heat out into the night:
We have no doubt that it might be put in practice with advantage in hot climates; at that, by means of it, good ale or porter might be manufactured in the East and West Indies. Such a manufacture, if successful, would be particularly relished in India… (67)
Of course, this was only a theoretical model. There were other options. While Chadwick urges private families to avoid warm-weather brewing, he notes that the commercial brewer generally “…also has a command of cold spring water, that can he convey through pipes, so contrived to branch in various directions amongst the worts, that they are cooled down to the required temperature in a very short time” (42).
Which is one reason why breweries were often located near streams. It’s pretty similar to what we do at Black Creek: we have pipes branching through our cooling ship, although we use Toronto tap water.
By the century’s later decades, cooling had become more reliable. E.R. Southby’s A Systematic Handbook of Practical Brewing dates from 1885, and mentions refrigerators. Don’t get too excited—they weren’t fridges, but rather, three distinct set-ups:
Wort flows in a body over pipes placed horizontally.
Wort flows in a film over pipes placed vertically.
Wort flows through pipes surrounded by cool water.
Southby favours the vertical model, particularly recommending the Riley or Ashby models—reminding us that brewing was becoming increasingly industrialized. The old coolers were still used to aerate the wort—but rather than the old wooden models, cast iron or copper (like ours!) were preferred, as they were easier to clean and didn’t rot. Still, cooling was increasingly based on the principle of heat exchange, much as it is today.
So, would a small, country, one-man brewing operation enjoy this cold snap?
But I’m still looking forward to May and warmer weather!
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!