My boyfriend, Ryan, recently celebrated his 21st birthday this month. When I was trying to decide what I wanted to give him for his present, I was considering taking him to try and make his own beer. He and his friends have always appreciated drinking beer, so I thought it would be a fun opportunity for him to learn how to make his own. When I was telling my mom that I wanted to take him to try it out, she recommended the apprenticeship program with the Brew Master at Black Creek Pioneer Village in the northern part of Toronto.
We had both been to the pioneer village before; it’s a lovely place to walk around and learn about Canadian history. The village is set up to replicate the 1860’s in rural Ontario and has collected various buildings from across the province to form its own little town. The Village has a variety of stores, homes, and public buildings that would have been in a typical pioneer village during the time period. The brewery where we were spending the day making 1860’s beer is located in the cellar of the Halfway House, which is a type of Inn that was originally located in Scarborough, Ontario.
While the Halfway House is quite bright inside, the cellar is really dark and lit by replicated gas lamps. The whole space has quite an orange glow to it. According to the Brew Master, this brewery is the only functioning brewery from this time period that he knows of in Canada. He has heard of another one that is privately funded in the United States, but he isn’t certain of its location.
As a part of Ryan’s present, I also set him up with an authentic costume which you rent from the village. The costume is an optional feature and costs extra, but I think it really pulled the whole experience together for him. It came with pants, suspenders, shirt, vest, and cravat, but you were responsible for bringing your own closed-toe shoes. I got some good photos of Ryan in his costume – he looked quite handsome!
Even though I was allowed to sit in on the brewing process, I am a little ashamed to admit that I am still not entirely sure of how things were done back in the day (probably because I don’t drink beer myself, so I was a little overwhelmed by the process). Ryan seemed to understand everything that the Brew Master was saying and asked a lot of questions about how things are done in modern times versus how they were done in the pioneer days. I was just mesmerized by all of the steam and the really strong smells.
Once the barley is stirred, you must wait for it to settle to the bottom of the pot. This takes several minutes (which were used by Ryan to sample some of the many beers made and sold in the brewery). After the barley settles to the bottom, the liquid is drained and transferred back to the kettle for boiling. If you sample the barley water at this point in the process it tastes a little something like Ovaltine.
The process of transferring the barley water back to the kettle takes quite a while as you are trying to remove the grain from the water. While waiting for the draining, I was talking to the Brew Master about other beers they brew there. The Black Creek Brewery also commercially sells various ales at the LCBO. One of their most popular flavours is the Pumpkin Ale, which is sold in the fall.
After our lunch, Ryan and the Brew Master added hops to their mixture and began to drain the kettle so that the beer could cool down. This is done in a tray that is outlined with pipes which has cold water running through them. This process is really hot and I was able to get some pretty cool photos out of it.
The steam was really beautiful in the orange lights and visitors of the brewery stopped to watch. Afterwards, Ryan was taken on a beer tour which took him to the mill and described the more social aspects of beer in the 1860’s. While he was on his tour I took a stroll around the village to take some photos.
In school I am studying Art and Art History, focusing on design and print media. So when I wandered into the old Print Shop I was in Heaven. I was even allowed to try out the old printing press!
There are also apprenticeships available in the print shop, so hopefully I will get to spend a day there in the near future!
After Ryan returned from his tour he was allowed to choose a 2 litre growler of his choice of beer. He chose a “Best Bitters English Ale,” which is to be consumed at room temperature in order to taste the best flavours of the beer.
Overall, Ryan and I had a really great time at Black Creek. We both learned a lot and had a lot of fun. I would definitely recommend this experience to any beer lovers out there! And always choose to dress up in period clothing if you get the chance, because it’s a lot of fun to pretend to step back in time, even just for a day.