Benson's Strong Ale
In the 1830s, a man named Thomas Benson sat down and recorded in his notebook a recipe for a beer flavoured with cinnamon, licorice root and cayenne pepper. Almost 200 years later, an archivist discovered this handwritten beer recipe in records kept by the Archives of Ontario. Being a homebrewer himself, the archivist copied down the recipe and brewed up a batch. Liking what he tasted, he contacted Black Creek Historic Brewery located at Black Creek Pioneer Village, just down the street from the Archives of Ontario.
Thomas Benson's Notebook
Credit: Thomas Benson Senior - notebook, 1827-1837, Business and legal records of Thomas Benson, F 507-3, B225496, Archives of Ontario
Always on the lookout for historical beer recipes, we described this lucky find in the Black Creek Historic Brewery blog and then earlier this year decided to give the recipe a go on a larger scale. The recipe provides clues about both the brewing styles of yesteryear and the spices and flavours that at least one homebrewer, Thomas Benson, enjoyed.
Photo of Thomas Benson
Credit: Thomas Benson, first mayor of Peterborough, [ca. 1850], Verschoyle Benson Blake collection, C 123-1-0-0-1, I0019513, Archives of Ontario
Benson was born in Ireland in 1804 and immigrated first to the US as a child and then to Upper Canada when he was a teenager. Through the 1830s he lived in Port Hope – which is where he probably penned the beer recipe – and then in 1845 moved on to Peterborough where he became the town’s first mayor in 1850. When he tragically passed away in an 1857 train accident, he was survived by a large family whose members went on to become prominent in Ontario legal and business circles– and to leave behind a collection of papers which are housed at the Archives of Ontario.
Luckily for us, in the midst of their business files, diaries, account books, and letters is a beer recipe. Written down without comment almost two centuries ago, it has produced a unique ale for the 21st century beer-lover.
Photo by James Bowers
To dig deeper into Ontario’s history, check out the Archives of Ontario. To explore Ontario’s 19th century brewing heritage, visit Black Creek Historic Brewery. To enjoy a pint of history, try Benson’s Strong Ale, widely available at the LCBO.