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

“Christmas By Lamplight” starts this weekend!

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.

A new (and hilarious!) adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's classic!
A new (and hilarious!) adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s classic! (Our History Actors might have been involved…)

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 holidays are kicking into high gear now, and we look forward to celebrating them with you! You can learn more and purchase tickets here. Book early to avoid disappointment!

Happy holidays!

Katie

 

Light Up The Night!

It’s a party in the Village! Tonight is our exciting Light Up The Night event at Black Creek Pioneer Village! Tonight, see the Village like never before as you explore the site after hours!

Whoo!
Whoo!

· Enjoy craft beer, artisanal whisky and local wine as you take in the sights and sounds
· Create your own gourmet treats at the Tostada, Crepe, and Mashed Potato Bars, made with local ingredients
· Unwind to local musical talent performed in intimate heritage settings
· Stop by “The Un-Bar” and sip 1800s virgin cocktails
· Try your hand at genuine 19th century trades, crafts, and games
· Laugh and learn with special performances from our History Actors
· Bid on unique and hand-crafted items and experiences at the Silent Auction
· Meet the Village’s newest residents – our heritage breed goats!

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE:

The Devin Cuddy Band will take the stage in an intimate open-air performance, bringing their unique blend of New Orleans Blues and Country to Black Creek. If you’ve not heard the Devin Cuddy Band before, you’re in for a treat. Take a listen to them performing at the Dufferin County Museum and Archives last year!


The proceeds from Light up the Night go towards restoration of historic buildings at Black Creek Pioneer Village to provide cultural experiences for future generations. And it’s not too late to join the party! Tickets are $40/person and can be purchased here, or at the door. You do need to be 19+ though… craft beer/whisky/local wine, you see. 😉

See you at the party!

Katie

September News and Brews!

Hello, Beer-Lovers!

Hard to believe it’s September, isn’t it? Here at the Black Creek Brewery, we’ve all been enjoying a summer of lighter, hop-oriented beers: from pales to bitters to IPAs. But as the seasons turn, so too does our fridge stock. September is a month for two specialty beers!

Cooler days are coming!
Cooler days are coming!

As you may remember from last year, one of the silent auction prizes in our Spirited Affair fundraiser was the chance to design and brew your own beer. This year, our lucky apprentices are the team at Seven Crowns Tattoo. Together with Ed, they’ve crafted the Seven Crowns Society Ale: a Cherry Porter. They explain, “We like dark beer and wanted to incorporate an in-season local ingredient. We enjoy cherries, and thought it would make a great beer.”

We agree! The combination of dark and sweet sounds perfect for the end of summer! The Seven Crowns Society Ale is fermenting at the moment, so it won’t be out until next weekend, but you can check back here for tasting notes as soon as it’s ready!

Also on our radar: the Wet Hopped Ale! As it’s September now, our hops are very nearly ripe. Ed’s keeping his eye on them, and once they’re ready, he’ll brew up this seasonal favourite.

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In other news, have you heard about our new event? Light up the Night is a party in the village! On September 22nd, experience the village like never before! Spend a fall evening enjoying live music (including the Devin Cuddy Band!), performances, and activities. Sample from a variety of food stations  – and put your two drink tickets to good use!  More information here!

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Black Creek – not just your grade three field trip.

Katie

A Spirited Affair! 2015 Edition!

This year's Spirited Affair is Saturday, October 3rd!
This year’s Spirited Affair is Saturday, October 3rd!

It’s that time of year again! Yes, it is our annual shindig and fundraiser – A Spirited Affair! Last year, we boogied down to the 1960s. Now, we’re jiving in the 1940s as the Boys Come Home!

This event gives you two time periods in a single evening, as we mix the elegance and tradition of the 1860s with the excitement and spirit of the late 1940s. Sample traditional ales alongside modern offerings. Tap your toes to violin music and toss a few horseshoes…and then take our slang challenge (it’s a gas!) as you sample fine foods. And of course, the evening wouldn’t be complete without some lindy hop dance lessons!

1940s style!
1940s style!

And we want you to join in the fun: 1940s outfits are highly encouraged. There were some very sharp dressers at last year’s event—we look forward to seeing your favourite get-up!

But there’s a serious cause alongside our celebration. The Spirited Affair is a fundraiser, directly impacting a restoration campaign called “Explore History­ – Build a Better Future.” This campaign was launched by the Living History Foundation with support from the Toronto Region Conversation Authority. This year, we continue to support the much-needed restoration of our Burwick House. Burwick House was one of the first buildings to be moved to Black Creek Pioneer Village. It’s one of the best examples we have of 19th century middle class life and customs. Situated in the heart of the village, it is also situated close to our hearts—now it’s time to show it the love it so richly deserves.

From the archives (Katie may have too much fun with the archives...): Black Creek Pioneer Village in 1959, the year before it officially opened. Burwick House has already been moved (just right of photograph centre).
From the archives (Katie may have too much fun with the archives…): Black Creek Pioneer Village in 1959, the year before it officially opened. Burwick House has already been moved (just right of photograph centre).

A Spirited Affair will be held on Saturday, October 3rd, from 7:00-10:00 pm. Tickets are $80/person and include drink samples and gourmet foods—advance reservations are required. To avoid disappointment, book early! Click here, or call our customer service line at 416-667-6295.

You can find more information here as well.

It’ll be an affair to remember! We can’t wait to see you there.

-Katie

Black Creek Historic Brewery: 2015 Edition!

Aaaand, we’re back!

Well, almost. We’re back on Friday, May 1st. And we’re launching straight into things! Ed’s already been in to brew, and he’ll be bottling Friday morning to make sure our fridges are filled. My lovely and talented colleague Blythe will be ready to kick off the first Historic Brewery Tour of the season, followed by yours truly this weekend.

What have we got in store for 2015?

Lots, as always! Here’s a sneak peek at some selected brewery events.

Year-Round

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Behind Closed Doors

Our Behind Closed Doors tour meets on the porch of the Half Way House every weekday at 12:30 pm. Led by one of our friendly beer experts, it’s a chance to stretch your legs and explore other parts of the village. No, we don’t explore beer on this tour ­– rather, we take you into closed and/or un-interpreted buildings to chat about parts of history we might not otherwise touch on.

Historic Brewery Tour

The Historic Brewery Tour also meets on the porch of the Half Way House: you can take the tour daily at 2:00 pm. We explore the social history of drinking in nineteenth century Canada, the ingredients used in beer-making, as well as the process of brewing in a historic brewery like ours. And of course, no tour is complete without sampling the finished product.

An additional cost does apply – you can purchase your ticket at Admissions!

Casks

Beer Sampler

So, you have a taste for history, do you? Come join us in the historic brewery daily from 3:00-4:00 pm to try some samples of our historic beer. We’ll give you a 4 oz glass, which we will fill not once, not twice, but thrice – each time with a different style of beer. On weekends, we have an additional sampler from 12:30-1:30.

Same as the tour: additional charges do apply. (You don’t have to go  to Admissions, though: the Beer Sampler is available for purchase right in the brewery!)

Brewery Apprenticeship

Try your hand at brewing: the old-fashioned way! Spend the day working alongside Ed, wearing traditional nineteenth century garments and learning to brew with historic methods. Join the beer tour to learn more about your creation, and then take a growler home as a souvenir. Spots are filling quickly, though – learn more here!

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Seasonal

Specialty Ales

Our list of specialty offerings for 2015 can be found here. With a new brew (or two!) every month, it’s always a good time to visit the brewery!

 

Hop Harvest

 The hop garden looks a little bare and forlorn right now, but in a few short months, our hops will have attained some impressive height. Spend the day harvesting our hops with Head Gardener Sandra Spudic, sample some special goodies and beer after working up that appetite, and come back in a few weeks to taste the Wet Hop Ale you helped us make!

The hops are usually ready for harvesting around late August/early September. You’ll want to book your spot early to avoid disappointment, so watch this space for details!

A Spirited Affair 

Our perennial favourite returns! It’s always an affair – and this year, the boys come home! Start with 1860s ballroom dancing and traditional ales, and then be whisked away to celebrate the food, drink, and fashion of the post-War years. Dance the night away to boogie-woogie swing music, sample an array of fine refreshments, and join the fun!

Costumes are highly encouraged. You were certainly a dapper bunch last year!

Saturday, October 3rd, 2015 – save the date!

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Tavern Tales

This one is for the members! Gold and Village Members can join me in the brewery on December 17th for an old-fashioned pub night! With tavern games, traditional Canadian folktales, rousing pub songs, beer from the historic brewery and treats from the Half Way House kitchen, it’ll be a night of fun and frolic in equal measure. There may also be revelry. I’ve yet to decide on that one.

(Psst…you can become a Member at any time. Just saying. 😉 )

And for now…

The beginning of the season is always an exciting time for us. It’s been a long, cold winter – we’re so glad to get back to sunny days and our cosy brewery. Can’t wait to see you all for another adventure-filled season. We’ve missed you, beer lovers!

See you soon!

Katie

A Spirited Affair: Spotlight on Whisky

Less than a week to go until our Spirited Affair! This is our annual fundraiser featuring local beer, wine, and spirits. Now, we’re pretty familiar with beer here on the Growler. We also did a spotlight on wine last year.

But what about spirits? What’s the story behind distilled drinks like whisky?

Whisky

If you’d like the dictionary definition, distillation is the “…process of separating component substances from a liquid mixture by selective vaporization and condensation.”

The dictionary definition is not terribly helpful.

But what it means is that the different substances making up a liquid mixture evaporate at different temperatures. If you can control the temperature correctly, you can extract alcohol from a wort-like mixture by boiling it out, and then condensing those gases to turn it back into a liquid. All while the water remains behind, resulting in a beverage with a much higher alcohol by volume.

Whisky has its roots in Ireland, dating back to roughly 1100 CE. According to the stories, Irish monks had travelled through the Mediterranean and Middle East; they then brought knowledge of distillation back with them. In any case, distillation of whisky was established in both Ireland and Scotland by the 15th century. Whisky-making spread to North America with British, Irish, and Scottish immigrants (George Washington had quite an impressive distillery),and in Canada, it was also helped along by the Late Loyalists who arrived from the States in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Québec in particular had quite a large number of distilleries around this time—the Molson family actually started out distilling, rather than brewing.

Brewer, distiller, kindly smile - John Molson, is there nothing you can't do?
Brewer, distiller, kindly smile – John Molson, is there nothing you can’t do?

Indeed, through the early 1800s, whisky was more popular than beer. By the middle of the century, there were over 200 whisky-makers in Canada. However, since hard liquors are very high in alcohol, they attracted attention from early temperance advocates, who urged people to drink milder beverages like beer. Some of these Victorian distillers are still quite familiar to us today: Seagram, Hiram Walker (Canadian Club), and of course, Gooderham and Worts.

Advertisement for the Waterloo Distillery, operated by Seagram and Sons (courtesy the University of Waterloo)
Advertisement for the Waterloo Distillery, operated by Seagram and Sons (courtesy the University of Waterloo)

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However, there are a few key differences between brewing and distilling. It starts very similarly: a cereal grain (barley, rye, corn, it doesn’t really matter) is malted, milled, and then placed into a mash tun. With the addition of hot water, enzymes formed in the malting process convert the starch into a fermentable sugar. The sugar-infused liquid is then separated from the grains.

The pot still's set-up.
The pot still’s set-up.

This is where things diverge. At this point, brewers would boil this “sweet wort” in a brew-kettle and add hops for flavour. Distillers cool the “wash” immediately and add the yeast to start fermentation. When fermentation is complete, the distiller now has a liquid that is about 8% ABV. Pretty high for a beer, nowhere near high enough for whisky (legally, whisky has to be at least 40% ABV).

So, the distiller then places the wash into the still and begins heating it. In the 1800s, distillers were still using copper pot stills. As the wash is heated, the alcohol will evaporate before the water. The vapour passes into the condensing tube where it cools and turns back into liquid form—except most of the water has been left behind, meaning the alcohol is much more concentrated. Victorian condensers were often submerged in open wooden “backs” (vessels) containing cold water.

The first liquid to come out of the condensing tube is a mix of volatile compounds (methanol, anyone?) that evaporate first. They are called the “heads,” and must be thrown out. Similarly, distillers don’t use the very end of their distillation—the “tails”—as it does not actually add anything useful to the whisky. To concentrate the wash even more, it is distilled again—Scotch and Canadian whisky gets two rounds, Irish whiskey gets three. The product is then aged for a minimum of three years in oak barrels, where it can “breathe” and develop mature aromas, flavours, and colours.

(Sidebar: properly, this beverage is spelled whiskey in the United States and Ireland, and whisky in every other whisky-producing country in the world, including Canada.)

You can try some delicious offerings from the Toronto Distillery Company this Thursday. We look forward to seeing you—it will be a spirited event indeed!

-Katie