A strange thing happened to Black Horse over the years. Most people in the United States and Canada who remember the brand (from anytime before the mid-1970s) will remember the beer as an ale. The picture I use on the main page, a Canadian Dow’s label from 1972, plainly states “Black Horse Ale.”
But there is somethings fishy with the Newfoundland product: it was rebranded to “Black Horse Beer” and made into a lager. This is pretty much the trend in North American beer at the time, everyone was mimicking the lighter tastes of American Beer and the big three Canadian brands wanted to follow suit. (See Ian Coutts, Brew North: How Canadians Made Beer and Beer Made Canada, Greystone, 2010, for a well researched and beautifully illustrated overview.)
When did Black Horse Ale and Black Horse Beer (the lager) part ways? Well, for sometime both must have existed. Check out this full page advertisement for Black Horse from a 1971 issue of the MUSE (the student newspaper for Memorial University of Newfoundland):
It’s a great advertisement, not only because it’s full of great copy about Black Horse, but also because it gives us a close up of the label. It still says it’s brewed by Bennett Brewing, which at the time was under the ownership of Canadian Breweries Limited (who gained control over the prestigious Black Horse brand after their 1952 purchase of National Breweries – which they renamed Dow Breweries). In all other ways the label is identical to the Canadian Black Horse Ale label.
I wonder if the flavour of the two beers were similar and if the brewing of ales and lagers was starting to converge (ales becoming more watery and lagers becoming more bland) so that all beer just tasted like “beer.” Either way, the Newfoundland Black Horse, since at least the early 1970’s, has been a lager. While now it’s marketed as a “premium lager,” its interesting to think how far it’s come from it’s ale heritage. Thoroughbred? I think not.