“…some cooling and strengthening beverage…”

“During the hot weather some cooling and strengthening beverage is much required by men who have to work out in the heat of the sun; and the want of [beer] is often supplied by whisky diluted with water, or by cold water, which when drunk in large quantities, is dangerous to the health, and should, if possible, be avoided.”

-Catherine Parr Traill, The Female Emigrants’s Guide, and Hints on Canadian Housekeeping, 1869, p. 136-7.

Couldn’t agree more! Indeed, beer should be enjoyed by everyone and no matter the weather. To help us along in our own efforts to produce good, sustainable and homemade foods today, Catherine Parr Traill offers three recipes for beer that might be brewed with “small expenditure of time and trouble.” These are treacle beer, maple beer, and beet beer. Hops, she notes, were grown by many families in their gardens for use in bread and for the shade these  plants provided in summer. Hops are still easily grown at home and because they can easily be made to climb lattice or string with really do provide good shade. Barley, in the 19th century, could be had from local “maltsters” or from the farmer’s own garden. Today it can be had from local farmers or the local home brew store (along with a great variety of hops and all manner of necessities for brewing).

“To a five gallon cask add four pounds of maple syrup (or treacle); boil a large handful of hops in a gallon of water, for an hour: strain thew liquor off your hops and into the cask; add the maple: fill up with water to which add one pint of yeast: in two days bottle, but do not cork until the third. It will be fit for drinking two days after corking.”

With this sage, if somewhat vague, advice in mind I visited a home-brewer friend of mine and set out to brew some maple beer. We settled on maple, not having any treacle at hand and, to be honest, fearing what beet beer might taste like.

The first step was to find barley and hops that might have been used in mid-nineteenth century Ontario to try to create a brew that resembled in some way what Catherine’s readers might have produced. We settled on a mixture of 2 pounds of brown malt and 7 pounds of English pale malt for the barley, and clusters and fuggles for the hops.

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For a mash turn, we used a converted 3 gallon cooler with an added spigot and mesh screen. Boil water to 160 degrees f and add to the barley mix in the mash turn. One hour with the grain takes the sugars out of the grain and leaves the wort, which can then be drained off and saved in a large kettle.

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Repeat this process until the liquid runs clear or until you have collected six gallons of wort.

We then left the wort to boil for 60 minutes. At 30 minutes we added the clusters. At 15 minutes we added a clarifier (Irish moss, which can be bought at a home brew store) and the maple syrup so that it would mix nicely into the wort. Finally at 10 minutes we added the fuggles to the brew.

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The malt then needed to cool. We did this using a contraption of copper tubing through which we passed cold water. The cooled mixture can then be added to a carboy (large jug) where the yeast and maple syrup are added. For yeast, we used a pre-made starter of  Wyeast #1098 (“British ale” yeast) mixed with dry malt extract and water, boiled and cooled and allowed to sit for a day. The maple syrup provides additional sugars for the yeast to feed on and ferment.

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The beer then needs to sit to allow the yeast to do it’s work.

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After several days, Catherine suggests two, the beer needs  to be transferred to a second carboy and corked. A tasting at this point revealed a nutty darker brew with a distinct maple flavour. Before we did the transfer, however, we then added a 2 cup mixture of corn syrup and water (boiled and cooled). This extra bit of fermentable sugar sets off whatever yeast is still in the beer, creating CO2 for carbonation. The beer will sit for awhile more before bottling and final tasting.

Maple Beer Sample

In all, making the beer was not difficult. Once we had collected all the ingredients and settled on a process, we did it in an evening. It helped having an experienced home brewer to provide equipment and wisdom. Catherine’s recipe is vague and requires a good deal of interpretation, but the end result is a flavourful beer that could have been brewed in the homes of early homesteaders in Ontario, and with not too much difficulty can be made using local ingredients.

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