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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Black Creek Historic Brewery - Toronto, ON

Black Creek Pioneer Village - Black Creek Historic Brewery
1000 Murray Ross Parkway
Toronto, ON M3J 2P3

Press releases are great for getting a point across, whether explaining something that's about to happen or about something that has already happened. When I received one from philpott communications about the Black Creek Historic Brewery a couple of weeks ago it did a great job informing me about Ontario's newest small brewery. It was nicely done, and laid out a nice picture, but it didn't do justice for what I was about to see last Monday.

Black Creek Pioneer Village is located near York University off Jane and Steeles and is home to a re-creation of life during the 1860's. Opened by the Metropolitan Toronto and Region Conservation Authority in 1960, the village features 40 heritage homes, shops, mills, barns, and other buildings to resemble a village as it would have looked in the late 1800's. The Half Way House Inn (a restored inn built in 1849) is one of these buildings and is now home to the Black Creek Historic Brewery.

The brewery officially opened on Monday June 22nd when the Honourable Provincial Minister of Heritage, Aileen Carroll, tapped the first barrel on the steps leading into the Inn. The brewery, opened with the help of a Provincial grant and private interest with Trafalgar Brewing Co., recreates a working brewery as it would have been in the mid 1800's and is situated in the basement of the Inn. The brewery is currently producing five beers: India Pale Ale, Pale Ale, Porter, Stout, and Dark Ale, and there are plans to brew a number of rotating styles - like a Barley Wine and a Mild.

I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to attend the grand opening on the 22nd, and as I mentioned, the press release didn't prepare me for what I was about to take part in. I had good expectations to begin with, but I was amazed with the detail that went into re-creating the brewery. After a brief walk through of the 'Ontario Brewing History' gala inside the actual village museum we were led by a man in a period costume playing the fiddle to the Inn where speeches were made and the barrel was tapped. From there we headed inside the Inn to the Taproom where we were poured a sample of the IPA, which was very nice. A touch of oak from the barrels shone through on the palate and the dry hopping was pleasant and refreshing. From here it was onto the Half Way House Kitchen where a sample of the Porter awaited us with some cheese straws. The Porter was sour, and lacked those chocolaty notes Porters are known for. Not for me.

The large basement of the Inn, which is where the brewery is found, also features a pub that will be serving up the beers produced on-site, along with a handful of other locally produced Ontario beers. We headed there next and had samples of the Dark Ale and the Pale Ale. Both very nice and extremely drinkable. The Dark had a nice roast profile to it and the Pale had a good earthy quality to it with a sharp hop bite. From my understanding the Pale will be packaged and sold through the LCBO come fall, which will most likely be done at Trafalgar under the Black Creek branding. It will be interesting to see how these beers turn out after spending some time in the oak barrels. The last stop on the tasting tour was at Roblin's Mill where we sampled the Stout.

Most of the equipment inside the brewery is made with copper and wood, one of which is the mash tun. The 200 litre wooden bin is filled with barley and stirred by hand and the wort is then sent to the brew kettle for boiling. When complete, the brewer will draw the beer into a bucket and pour it through a linen (cheesecloth) and from there it settles onto a large copper cooling sheet. Once it is cool enough the brewer will move the slots to the corresponding oak barrel and the beer will flow downwards into a funnel to age in the barrel. It is all done by hand, according to traditional methods. We watched as the brewer completed this process and he confirmed that they will be brewing every day. It was pretty damn cool.

Visitors to the village can enjoy a lively brewery tour lead by knowledgeable interpreters, starting daily in the Half Way House Tap Room at 12:30 and 3 p.m. You can sample the beers in the brewery or head over to the pub for a bite and a pint. Growlers are also available to purchase.

Here is the brewery in pictures.

Mike Arnold (President/Owner of Trafalgar Ales and Meads and partner in Black Creek Historic Brewery), The Honourable Aileen Carroll, and a Black Creek representative.

Malting of the barley.  The mash tun is 200 litres and is stirred by hand with large wooden paddles.

The brew kettle sits atop a brick casing that contains the fire that boils the wort.  The beer has been boiled at this point and is being drained into a bucket before heading to the cooling sheet.

John Bowden, sales and marketing representative with Great Lakes Brewing
Co. peers into the kettle.  It is very hot in the brewery, sauna temperatures.  The sweat was rolling off me after two minutes.

This is the beer cooling on the copper sheeting above the large oak barrels.  

This is where the beer is poured before settling onto the cooling sheet.  The beer gets strained through this cheesecloth.  You can see the remnants of some hops on the cloth.

And here is where the beer eventually settles, into the large oak barrels.  Rick Sikorski, marketing and communications manager for the Toronto and Region Conservation (runs Black Creek), stated that the barrels are brand new, so the beer has a lot of oakiness to them.

From Field to Firkin: Beer History Tours
Tours are offered twice daily at 12:30 and 3 pm until December 31st (except December 25th and 26th). Learn the whole story of how beer was made, starting with how the ingredients are grown right through to sampling the beer. You can see where grain was milled and how barrels were made at the Cooperage. The cost is $4, which includes three samples in the brewery. Tickets are available at the Black Creek Pioneer Village admission desk. (Subject to availability. Village admission requires a separate ticket).

Special events are held through the season. To avoid disappointment, you can pre-purchase tickets to special Brewery events by calling 416-667-6295.

Field to Firkin: An Evening of Beer History
Every Friday evening in August and September
Enjoy an extended brewery tour with our lively staff.  Meet the Brewmaster and sample a variety of beers. Round out the evening in the Pub with homemade root chips. The first pint is on us.
Call 416-667-6295 for tickets

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