Mid-Atlantic Brewing News October/November 2011
Drafting History: Nineteenth Century Brewing Demos
By Rich Wagner
Last fall during a “show and tell” with my own colonial brewing system, someone asked me if I had heard of Pioneer Village in Toronto, an extensive living history site with many buildings that were moved there from other places. The Half Way House Tavern, which houses the brewery, was relocated from nearby Scarborough, and so-named because its location was half way from country to market. Their website says they began brewing in the summer of 2009 and contains a video showing the process.
Two months later I came across an old pamphlet describing a brewery at Genesee Village near Rochester, NY. Their website includes photographs of the brewery and indicated they had started brewing there last summer!
Needless to say, my summer vacation plans became obvious, although it was surprising to learn I would need a passport, not to enter Canada, but to return to the States! I contacted both sites ahead of time and was afforded the opportunity to witness the brewing process, speak with the brewers and take lots of photographs.
In Toronto our tour began in the tavern, conducted by a costumed “villager” who engaged those assembled in a lively discussion on the history of brewing, distilling and prohibitionist sentiments of Ontario. We walked down the road to see a working grist mill where malt could be ground for the brewery and saw a cooper shop where barrels were made. We returned and saw the hop poles loaded with vines in a plot adjacent to the tavern. Downstairs, Ed Koren was in the process of brewing a porter and we got to sample three or four of his brews. His costumed assistant, a local homebrewer, had paid to spend the day brewing at Black Creek.
The brewing system is small but efficient and includes a mash tun and kettle along one wall. Along another wall there is a rack that holds two tiers of barrels, the top row being used for fermenters and the bottom for aging and dispensing. Above that is a surface cooler or “coolship” which is used to chill the wort after it has been boiled. The hot wort is poured through a cheesecloth-lined “hop back” from which it drains into the cooler. Once chilled, it is transferred by a moveable trough through an ingenious arrangement that directs the wort to one of four fermenters. When fermentation is complete the beer is transferred to an ageing cask below from which it can be served.
Growlers are available to the public and sometimes you can get beer brewed on site, but most of the beer comes from Trafalgar Brewing Company in Oakville and Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery in Barrie.
When we were finished visiting Toronto, we traveled back down across the border by way of Niagara Falls, and headed for the other site, Genesee Village, located on 600 acres about twenty miles outside of Rochester, NY, in the village of Mumford. It was conceived and endowed in 1966 by John Wehle, whose family owned the Genesee Brewing Company. Since 1976 the site has operated as a living history museum and contains many buildings that were brought in from the surrounding countryside to have a new lease on life. The carriage house even has the wagon which was drawn by Genesse’s famed “twelve horse team” for which their Twelve Horse Ale was named.
My guide was Brian Nagel, Director of Interpretation at the site. He was familiar with my work and anxious to show me their process and get my reactions. There had always been a brewery on the site but it burned down in 1988. It was rebuilt and outfitted with everything necessary to brew beer. The classic small barn style building is two stories tall with a basement made of stone. A great deal of research went into the reproduction and arrangement of the equipment, in particular by Charles LeCount, Senior Director of Programs and Collections at Genesee Village. Brian has spent most of his career as an archeologist and cultural anthropologist, and between the two of them and many craftsmen, they have created a masterpiece!
Two costumed volunteers were in the process of grinding malt and heating water in the copper for the mash when we arrived. On the first floor to the right of the door are three large wooden “working tuns” (fermenters). On the other side of the room is a firebox which one of the workers was feeding with wood to heat the brick-clad copper in the floor above.
The year being represented is 1803 and brewers use a thermometer to tell when the water is hot enough to strike the mash. Then it is hand-pumped from the copper via a wooden trough to the mash tun where it is stirred before resting. The mash tun is situated below the mill and copper between the first and second floors. The wort drains into a receiving tun below, after which it is hand-pumped to the copper for boiling. The batch size is just over five barrels.
To accommodate the village’s hours, brewing is done over a two day period with the boiling and hop additions taking place the following day. Following the boil, wort is pumped to a magnificent coolship on the third floor, where three broad, shallow copper-lined reservoirs permit cooling by transferring heat away from the wort. Brian told me that the coolship works most efficiently during the colder months when the wort can be chilled down sufficiently to achieve pitching temperature.
When sufficiently cooled, the wort is transferred by gravity to the fermenters on the first floor. The fermenters have wooden lids which can be removed to show visitors the “working beer” in the days which follow. In the basement there is a row of six aging barrels that can be filled with green beer, drained from the fermenters through riveted leather hoses. They haven’t done this last step in the process and generally sewer the beer as the summer temperatures do not lend themselves to proper fermentation. To supply beer to the Village, Custom Brew Crafters in nearby Honeoye Falls has created an amber unfiltered “1803 Fat Ox Ale” which is served at the food concessions.
Adjacent to the brewery is the hop yard with vines growing up poles as was the practice in upstate New York in the nineteenth century. A hop barn has been relocated to the site which contains room to process and store hops as well as a working kiln or “oest” for drying. Brian told me they were growing barley as well and wanted to experiment with making malt. Down the road a short piece is the cooper shop where the tub and barrel makers’ trade is demonstrated.
The only thing that could make this better would be to brew in winter and put the beer up in ceramic bottles made by the village potter and sold as a high end specialty beer to visitors in the months when they are open.
MABN01 At the Walter Grieve brewery at Genesee Village, Director of Interpretation, Brian Nagel, demonstrates the mash rake to a visitor. Photo by Rich Wagner August 2011. (This was the only pic that appeared in print).
MABN02 Costumed volunteers welcome visitors to Walter Greive’s 1803 brewery. Shown are the “working tuns” where beer is fermented. Photo by Rich Wagner August 2011.
MABN03 . Walter Grieve’s 1803 brewery at Genesee Village in Mumford, NY. Milled malt is added to the mash tun. Photo by Rich Wagner August 2011.
MABN04 Brewer Ed Koren speaks to visitors at the end of the mashing process at the Black Creek brewery in Pioneer Village in Toronto, ON. Photo by Rich Wagner August 2011.
MABN05 A rack supports the coolship where wort is poured through a cheesecloth lined "hop back. When chilled, the wort is transferred to one of the fermenters below by means of a moveable trough. At the completion of fermentation, the resulting beer is tranferred to an aging cask below. Photo by Rich Wagner August 2011.