Friday, March 18, 2016

Traveling with History: Touring the Black Creek Historic Brewery

By David Duncan

Black Creek Historic Brewery is part of the Historic Village at Black Creek in Toronto.  There, the brewery recreates the techniques, tools and recipes used by brewers in 1860s Ontario.  Indeed, the Historic Brewery employs a local brewmaster to create small-scale brews entirely by hand. As someone who has toured dozens of breweries, the tour was definitely a change of pace.  While the ingredients haven’t changed over time, certainly the actual brewing process is similar, there were several differences that modern day equipment make readily apparent. 

The Brew tour is in addition to the Historic Village admission and the tour covers not only the brewing how-to but also the beer history of the area.  According to the tour guide, in the 1860s there were over 150 registered breweries in Ontario and countless smaller operations.  It is wonderful that the Black Creek Historic Brewery is honoring the past by replicating the brewing processes of the time period.  Brewing beer at the time meant no electricity, no stainless steel tanks, no mechanized bottling plants, and no artificial carbonization.  When taste testing the brews, the lack of carbonization was apparent.

The equipment at Black Creek Historic Brewery is made mainly of wood and copper. The beer ferments in wooden casks just as it did in the 1860s.  Malted barley is shoveled by hand into the mash tun. Hot water converts the starch in the malt into a fermentable sugar, which then infuses into the liquid-now called "sweet wort." The barley husks act as a filtration bed, allowing the wort to pass from the mash tun. We then boil the wort and add hops, both for flavoring and as a natural preservative. Once the boiling is complete, the wort is cooled and put in barrels where the yeast is added. After five days of fermenting and a week of aging, the beer is ready.

At the end of the tour, visitors sample the beer at cellar temperature—the way it was enjoyed in the time period. When we visited, the beers on tap included an India Pale Ale, Porter, Stout and Brown Ale.  Again, when taste testing the biggest difference to modern beer was the fact that the beer is allowed to naturally carbonate.  Some tasters didn't care for the taste.  Meaning—the beer through bottle conditioning is rather flat but flavorful.

For anyone who loves beer and history, I would heartily recommend touring the Black Creek Historic Brewery!