Perhaps the Most Interesting Beer I’ve Had a Chance to Sample This Year…

…And getting to taste it has been a fiasco of comic proportions. Allow me to explain.

Earlier this year, the heritage park destination in northern Toronto, Black Creek Pioneer Village, announced plans to brew a literal “one-mile beer,” which is to say an ale brewed entirely from ingredients grown within a mile of the brewing site. This was to be a true estate beer, with the barley grown, harvested and threshed on-site – although malted elsewhere – and the hops grown and kilned also on-site. Adding to the allure of the ale, the brewing methods used are ones which emulate those used in the 19th century.

And they did it, too! In late September, I received word that the oh-so-very-cool project was going ahead, and in early November, a press release arrive announcing that the beer would be soon available, although in very limited quantities of about 35 two-litre growlers.

Being brutally busy at the time, I asked if there might be some way to try the beer without having to make the trek north, and was informed that they would generously set aside one of the growlers for me. Thereafter began the comedy.

First, there was some miscommunication regarding whether or not I would be able to pick up the beer, which I was not. Then, right after the brewery’s p.r. people offered to drop it off at my office, I left the country for first Amsterdam, then San Diego and New Orleans. When finally I had it delivered, I was in the midst of a rather brutal cold that was debilitating my taste buds. More delays.

So now, after much ado, I finally get to sample this fascinating ale today. While I’m concerned about the lengthy time it has spent in a growler, I take heart in the fact that it has been held in near-constant refrigerated conditions.

First, the basics. The beer is fashioned as a simple brown ale, according to brewer Ed Koren (pictured above), the kind of ale that “pioneers would have drank to quench their thirst.” The alcohol content is 3.5% by volume.

There is little sound when I open the growler and almost no apparent carbonation, which does give me some cause for concern. Checking the brewer’s tasting notes, however, I see that it never did have much in the way of carbonation, so perhaps all is well.

It’s a muddy brown colour with a strong yeastiness on the nose, sort of like a light rye bread or mild-mannered pumpernickel. Red apple notes are also present, along with hints of over-cooked toffee.

The body is as light as its strength would have one expect, which is to say mild but not at all watery. Without carbonation to fill the mouth, the maltiness of the beer comes to the fore with more breadiness, some light toasted walnut notes, a slight fruitiness – which interestingly fades as the beer grows warmer – and roasted and burnt grain flavours. The hops show themselves only in the second half and finish, primarily as drying rather than bittering entities, although with a slightly piney-grassy bitterness on the finish, along with a lingering yeasty tang.

Is this a great beer? No, I’m afraid it is not. Is it a great and laudable project? Absolutely, and one which yielded an altogether quaffable ale, to boot. Congratulations to both Ed Koren and those with the foresight to back him in this endeavor! I look forward to your next one-miler.

8 Replies to “Perhaps the Most Interesting Beer I’ve Had a Chance to Sample This Year…”

  1. What hops did they use? Hard to find one that would be from the pioneer era in that part of Ontario – other than Cluster from CNY. And their class of pioneer would have been rather reserved. Most beer sold – which was not lower strength lager -available in the area from all information I see would have been stronger ale. Who made a 3.5% beer then?

  2. I’m looking into it, Alan. Nothing really stood out for me in terms of specific hop character.

    I’m not going to get into the issue of strength and authenticity, since it’s not at all something I’m schooled in. Wouldn’t it make sense that some farmer-brewers might have parti-gyled a second running beer of that strength, though?

  3. Not in the 1860s. I see no reference to that sort of activity that late. Beer was small scale industrial well before then. Even earlier, it was a fairly benign authoritarian system in early Upper Canada with the government setting up regularly spaced taverns, ensuring supplies, etc. Plus I see most of the extra grain on the true frontier (again speaking of earlier decades) would have gone for moonshine due to easier transportation. Plus, were hard assed rural Presbyterians really up to this? See “In Mixed Company” by Julia Roberts on the culture. But I should look at The Scots by JK Galbraith again. It’s not like they weren’t drinkin’.

    Never understood this presentation and haven’t found their precedent in history. But that is, as they say, heritage.

    1. I think some of the confusion id that the term part-gyle is being using incorrectly. Parti-gyling would be mashing the same grain three or four times and blending the worts to achieve the correct gravity in a single final beer. No sparge, just single runnings. Part-gyling is not making three separate beers from three separate runnings.

  4. Goldings: 1790 – but commercial cultivation later. Theoretically would have been available to the pioneer of the 1860s oddly living the life of the pioneer of maybe 1820. But at that point central NY is exporting masses of local Cluster into the British empire and, note in the Albany Ale article below from the time that the “Golding hop of England had been tried but did not succeed well, being liable to rust.”
    Cascade: 1971
    Nugget: 1981
    Hallertauer: ancient but massively hybridized and extremely unlikely to be accessible to the pioneer of the 1860s oddly living the life of the pioneer of maybe 1820.

    See:
    Oxford Companion to Beer entries for each hop
    http://zythophile.wordpress.com/2008/01/01/will-the-real-mr-golding-please-step-forward/
    http://beerblog.genx40.com/archive/2010/august/albanyalewhat

    1. You’re assuming the intent was to replicate a beer of that era, Alan. I don’t think it was. Sure, the methods harken back to the pioneer days because that’s the mandate of the Village, but I don’t believe they ever had it in mind to do an historic recreation. The one-mile aspect was the more important, and for me, pivotal, point.

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