by Jen Hunter
Microbrews are all the rage in Toronto these days. From small-town operations with cultish followings (like Flying Monkeys from Barrie), to Twitter superstars that have a hit on their hands before they even heat up their mash tun (like newly-formed Bellwoods Brewery). Either way, beer is the new wine for Toronto’s beverage elite. The hippest bartenders are lining up at bars, not for cocktails, but for the latest styles to hit the taps, like Blackened Pilsener, or Farmhouse Saison.
Operating well outside the Twittersphere (or blogoverse), is a tiny brewery in Toronto’s far northwest corner, making styles of beer true to recipes not from today’s repertoire of funky hop combinations, but to beers served over two hundred years ago. Talk about rebelling against the mainstream…
This brewery is like no other. Situated in the middle of Black Creek Pioneer Village (a historical Museum 30 acres in size, with over 50,000 historical artifacts, and surrounded by groups of kids on school trips), the place itself is a working museum. Everyone that works here is in dressed in period costumes (and obviously loves what they do, otherwise who would go to all the trouble of working in the middle of nowhere and wearing some pretty uncomfortable shit?).
So, we’re here in the middle of a museum staffed by women in nineteen layers of skirts, surrounded by 8-year olds with picnic baskets and straw hats. It’s time to get drunk.
After wandering past a working tinsmiths, a saddlemakers, and a bunch of livestock, we are finally greeted by a girl named Jennifer at the porch of The Half Way House Inn. After a talk about Toronto’s brewing history, and a visit to the mill, we are taken down to the tiniest commercial brewery in existence. With nothing but a copper kettle (copper is better retaining heat then steel), a mash tun (also copper), and a cooling ship (a flat copper table that cools the beer after it is boiled), they are able to make 10 different types of beer throughout the year. Most of these are made with ingredients grown at the village or from local sustainable sources.
She explains the brewing process: malted barley is brewed in the mash tun before going for a vigorous boil in the kettle with the hops, and then strained through a linen cloth into the cooling ship, before it is added to whiskey barrels (washed and reused, these same barrels have been in operation since the brewery opened over four and a half years ago) and kept for 5 – 10 days, after which it is drained off into ‘growlers’ (a four-pint handled jug). These are not your ordinary Canadian beers: they are unfiltered, unpasteurised, and completely uncarbonated. The folks at CAMRA would just about cream in their pants at the sight of this.
Black Creek also have a bigger more sophisticated brewery in Oakville, Ontario which produces in the same style on a bigger scale which then supplies us lovely people who don’t want to travel to the back end of beyond for some big ass bottle of raw beer. Available at your local LCBO (that’s the government-run booze shops here in Toronto) is The Black Creek Stout, India Pale Ale, Porter, and the best of the lot, The Rifleman’s Ration. Made to comemmorate the war of 1812 (which is when the British helped us Canadians beat the big bad Yanks from taking our country), this is a beer made in accordance with the recipe served up to soldiers in that very war, who were entitled to 5-6 pints of beer a day. Black Creek decided to replecate the style those soldiers would have clearly needed after a long day of getting shot at with muskets and such. North Americans are often rightly derided by the British for making thin, overchilled, and over-carbonated lagers in comparison to a good pint of Pride, for example. Rifleman’s Ration is truly the best of Canada’s response. The beer is a English style brown ale with a deliciously nutty caramel aroma. The taste follows through on this promise, with added notes of maple and and coffee. It comes in a 500ml bottle at 5% ABV, and sells for $3.95 (or £2.50).
The Growler we picked up at the brewery was $16 (£10) – it holds 4 pints and looks like something moonshine would come in. The beer was called Wet Hop Pale Ale, and the hops were grown on the property and used in the beer the day they were picked. A definite romantic thought when drinking a beer is knowing where, how and when it was made and seeing the ingredients that were used in that beer growing in a garden next door. Exotic ingredients be damned, this takes locavore-ism to a whole new level.
Black Creek is located at 1000 Murray Ross Parkway, Vaughan, Ontario. Hours are 9:30am to 4:00pm during the week and 11:00am to 4:30pm on weekends. Brewery tours are $3.95 plus admission. It is an hour tour and talk including tastings. Find out more info at www.blackcreek.ca
Jen Hunter is Spindle’s Toronto Food & Drink Correspondent. You can follow more of her gastronomic misadventures on Twitter @JennyTreehorn