Tag Archives: Toronto history

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!

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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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Joseph Bloore: City-Shaper

If you live in Toronto, you probably divide your universe into “north of Bloor” and “south of Bloor.” If you’ve visited Toronto, Bloor was probably (hopefully?) a landmark around which to orient yourself. In any case, Bloor is one of Toronto’s cardinal points—I think only the West End/East End divide is greater.

But did you know that Bloor Street is named after a brewer?

Well, we are the Black Creek Growler, so you may have had an inkling. 😉

Joseph Bloore. NOT a post-mortem photograph. (courtesy http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca)

Joseph Bloore was born in 1789 in Staffordshire, England. Around 1819, he immigrated to Upper Canada with his wife, Sarah. He didn’t get into the brewing business straightaway, instead opening an inn near the St. Lawrence Market. Located quite close to the St. Lawrence Hall’s current location, the “Farmers’ Arms” was part of the “Devil’s Half-Acre,” so-called for the plethora of inns and taverns ready to service thirsty farmers.

While refreshing themselves at Bloore’s tavern, those farmers likely would’ve been drinking beer brewed by the Helliwell family. They had an off-site shop near the Farmers’ Arms, and the two families seem to have had a close relationship—one of Bloore’s children was named John Helliwell Bloore, while a Helliwell son took the name John Bloore Helliwell. (This happened with Gooderham and Worts’ sons as well—the thought of brewer/distiller buddies in 1800s Toronto is immensely pleasing to me).

In fact, beer historian Jordan St. John wonders if Bloore learned brewing from the Helliwells. While it’s impossible to say for sure, we do know that in 1830, Bloore moved his family north to what’s now Yorkville. At the time, the area was decidedly out of the big city—this was the 1800s equivalent of moving to the suburbs for greener spaces and purer air.

Once settled, Bloore established a brewery in the Rosedale Ravine, not far from today’s Sherbourne subway station. Of course, the landscape was remarkably altered by Bloore—he dammed the river, creating a large pond, and built a sluice to direct water for his brewing.

Joseph Bloore's brewery, painted by R. Baigent , 1865 (www.torontopubliclibrary.ca)

Joseph Bloore’s brewery, painted by R. Baigent , 1865 (www.torontopubliclibrary.ca)

By 1843, he’d made enough money with the brewery to retire and go into land speculation with William Botsford Jarvis (we’re sensing a pattern with Toronto street names, I hope). Jarvis and Bloore established the village of Yorkville, and Bloore spent the rest of his life working to develop the area.

Originally, the concession road running along Yorkville had the rather uninspiring name of “Second Concession Road” (Lot Street – Queen Street, today – was the first). A series of names followed, but eventually, the village settled on Bloor—sans E.

But what of the brewery? On Bloore’s retirement, it was taken over by a man named John Rose. He operated it until 1864—two years after Bloore’s death. In this article on Bloor Street’s history, historian/heritage advocate Stephen Otto says, “…anybody looking for the location of Bloor’s brewery today can practically stand on Sherbourne Bridge and drop a penny.”

So the next time you’re strolling along Bloor Street, raise a glass to Joseph Bloore. The brewery may be gone, but his name and contributions remain!

-Katie

 

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New Brew: Pumpkin Ale

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!

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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!

Look for the Pumpkin Ale in the LCBO, too!

Our LCBO version!

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!

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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Specialty Brew: Ginger Beer

Currently in our fridges at the Black Creek Brewery: Brown Ale, India Pale Ale, Best Bitter, and Pale Ale. And of course, our June specialty beer is the Ginger Beer!

That comes out Father’s Day weekend. It is one of my very favourites, so I am excited! It’s also a beer with an interesting history…

Ginger also appears in many 19th century beer recipes!

Ginger also appears in many 19th century beer recipes!

Ginger ale derives from ginger beer, which is itself descended from drinks such as mead and metheglin. These were sweet, honey-based beverages, fermented with yeast and flavoured with a variety of spices, including ginger, cloves, mace. Ginger beer was 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 symbiotic composite of yeast and bacteria! From the eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century, ginger beers were impressively alcoholic, sometimes reaching 11%.

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.

So, what’s the difference between ginger beer and ginger ale? Easy: ginger beer is brewed, ginger ale is carbonated water flavoured with ginger. With some exceptions, ginger beer tends to be spicier, with a more pronounced ginger taste and cloudier appearance, while ginger ale is lighter in taste and colour.

Although ginger ale was reputedly invented in Ireland, Canada has a role to play in ginger ale’s history. In 1890, University of Toronto alumnus and pharmacist John McLaughlin opened a carbonated water plant in Toronto by Old City Hall. By adding various fruit juices, he developed sodas to sell to pharmacies. His Belfast Style Ginger Ale was one notable example, and by 1904, he had refined the recipe into a lighter, sharper version he called “Canada Dry Pale Ginger Ale.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Our Ginger Beer is an amber ale with a lovely burnished orange hue. In addition to the gingery heat, you might also get a bit of sweetness – Ed’s added some molasses this year to bring that ginger taste out even more.

This one, specific Ginger Beer is mine, though.

This one, specific Ginger Beer is mine, though.

It will be available starting this Father’s Day weekend until it’s all gone. Do remember, it’s also our Battle of Black Creek Revolutionary War Re-Enactment this weekend! In between hunting the Yankee spy and following the battle, you can swing by the brewery and pick up a ginger beer of your very own. 😉

 

-Katie

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The Thompsons of Half Way House

Down here in the Black Creek Historic Brewery, we’re occasionally asked who owned and operated the brewery back in the 1860s. It’s a segue for a really cool conversation, because the brewery only dates back to 2009 – the entire basement of the Half Way House was put in after the building was moved from Scarborough to its present location at Black Creek.

The Half Way House, in its original location at Kingston Rd and Midland Ave. ca. 1912. Courtesy Toronto Public Library.

The Half Way House, in its original location at Kingston Rd and Midland Ave. ca. 1912. Courtesy Toronto Public Library.

So – no one was operating the brewery in the 1860s. But the Half Way House was alive and kicking! It was built around 1847/48, owned and operated by Alexander Thompson and his wife, Mary (née McClure).

Alexander had married into a big family: the Half Way House sits in the centre of four farms. Three of them belong to Mary’s siblings and one to an uncle. What’s more: those four farms were originally one parcel of land belonging to her great-grandmother, Sarah Ashbridge.

(If you’re wondering, “As in, Ashbridge’s Bay?” you’re absolutely correct!)

Everything the light touches...I mean, everything within that rectangle belongs to the Ashbridge/McClure family.

Everything the light touches…I mean, everything within that rectangle belongs to the Ashbridge/McClure family.

In many ways, it’s a similar story to our Stong family here at Black Creek: a large family that proceeded to marry most of their neighbours, creating a dynastic look to certain areas. Interestingly, Mary was Alex’s second wife: he had been married to another relative of hers, but she passed away quite young. Contrary to certain legends, Mary was quite aware of this first marriage (she acted as a witness!), and remarrying another family member following a spouse’s death was not terribly uncommon .

So while Alexander is hard to track down prior to his marriages, it seems the McClure family absorbed him quite nicely. In fact, the Half Way House is built on a sliver of land carved out from William Hale’s farm, and Alex also has a bit of land on the corner of Isaac Ashbridge’s property!

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.

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.

Now, in addition to being a tavern-keeper, Alexander pops up in Victorian classifieds as an auctioneer, and the Scarborough Town Council Minutes as a pathmaster (he would’ve helped look after the road). There’s some evidence he may have been a postmaster as well. With all these other occupations, you may be wondering how he found time to work at the Half Way House!

Well…while Alexander got the tavern license every year, Mary probably had the main hand in the day-to-day running. Thinking about taverns as a whole, there’s quite a bit of domestic work. Besides, Alexander dies in 1867, whereupon Mary immediately starts getting the license herself, and running the inn until her own death in 1872. The fact that she was able to take the reins so seamlessly suggests that she knew what she was doing!

If you’re keen to learn more about the Thompson family, drop by one of our History Actors performances. You can see yours truly portraying Delilah Thompson – Mary and Alex’s teenage daughter. Blythe and I have been working very hard on new pieces and programs for summer, and we’re excited to share them!

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And remember: kids get in free this summer, Monday through Friday!

See you in the village!
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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