Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Atlantic Brewery

Throughout this site I’ve covered a great number of Newfoundland’s former breweries. One that I’ve really neglected  has been the Atlantic Brewery in Stephenville. On the overview I link to this page which gives a good overview of the brewery’s history, so here I want to write a few interesting points from that article and include a few pictures from my collection.

The Atlantic Brewery, a high-budget ($2.5 million, that’s almost $4 million using a rough inflation calculation – that’s a lot for any brewery) project, opened in 1968 with a staff of 50 people. Within a year the brewery reduced its workforce and then shutdown. Why it failed doesn’t seem to be obvious. It might be a case of “too big, too quick,” but until I hit the archives for some old newspapers I can only speculate.

The Brewery produced, to my knowledge, two primary beers. Their flagship was Atlantic Lager.

Atlantic Lager, my collection, 2012.

It came in a pretty simply stubby with the Atlantic Brewery’s logo, which looks a bit like Poseidon to me. The bottles I have, I have two (the better condition one is pictured), both still have beer in them. According to the person at Livyers Antiques, who I purchased the bottles from, many of the bottles were left over as unsold surplus after the brewery closed and ended up not being drank. So, if you find a bottle it’ll likely be full! This might also account for why the brewery closed. How bad does a beer have to be that most of the old bottles you find aren’t opened?

Atlantic Cap (Red), my collection, 2012.

Atlantic Cap (Blue), my collection, 2012.

The brewery also made another, apparently less popular product called “Atlantic Draft.”

Atlantic Draft, my collection, 2012.

According to the person I bought this one from Draft bottles are considerably more rare. Considering the short lifespan of the brewery, it’s remarkable that any survive at all!

Once the brewery closed in 1969 it was purchased by the Bison Petroleum and Minerals Ltd. from the government. The brewery appears to have gone bankrupt and into receivership, so most of the $1.1 million purchase price was paid to creditors and the rest paid in bonds to the government of Newfoundland. Bison rebranded the brewery and increased production (from 200,000 cases to 400,000 cases) and invested new money to enter the export market.

Bison Brew Beer (Bison Brewing) see this post for more on this label.

The rest is pretty well put by the article linked above, so here is what they say:

By 1973, the Bison Brewing Company was on the way out of Stephenville. The brewery started laying off workers in the winter of the same year due to a slow period in the brewing industry. By the end of 1973 Bison Petroleum had left Stephenville. This was also due to a major flood that caused more than $1 million in damages to the facilities. However, at this time Stephenville Brewery started up and became a successful operation. Even though Bison Petroleum was only in Stephenville for three years, that three years was enough to get the area’s economy back up and running again. The brewery gave life back to the town after the base closed down. In 1974 Labatt Breweries began operations at the site. This establishment operated until the fall of 1981. At that time personnel were laid off and the Stephenville brewerie’s responsibilities were transferred to St. John’s.

So that’s the brief history of the rise and fall of the Atlantic Brewery. It’s useful to note for dating bottles that if a Labatt brand (like Blue Star or Jockey) says “St. John’s and Stephenville” then it’s likely from between 1974-1981. It’s too bad about the Atlantic Brewery, it’d be nice to have breweries outside of the Avalon today, even a small one making local craft beer (though the scope of the Atlantic Brewery certainly wasn’t to be a craft brewery like we’d recognize today). I also wonder how many more unopened bottles of Atlantic Lager are out there. Anyone want to drink 50 year old beer with me?

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The Evolution of Blue Star

I have been going through some pictures I took (well, had taken) of my NL beer bottle collection and I noticed that I had a great lineage of Blue Star bottles. So, why not take a look at how they’ve changed over the years?

The oldest one I have is from the 1960s:

1960s Blue Star Bottle, my collection

It’s a heavy bottomed glass bottle (thicker than today’s vintage, unless you drink Steamwhistle) with a shiny gold label. It’s the same label I have over on the overview, but this one is still attached to the bottle, which is a plus! It’s still from the Bavarian Brewing era, so it’s likely from sometime prior to, or just slightly after, 1962.

1970s Blue Star Stubby, my collection

This bottle is likely from the 1970s, the era of the stubby. The label hasn’t changed too much, but the red strip has moved into the background and the tag line “The Star of Newfoundland” has been added. It still has the iconic “Gold Medal of Leadership” from Munich in 1954 which is now, as it was then, a pretty cheesy thing to put on a beer bottle.

Blue Star (early 1980s) at the Duke of Duckworth, St. John’s. (2012)

In a longer post I discussed this Blue Star bottle, still full of beer, that’s at the Duke of Duckworth in St. John’s. I dated it from the early 1980s, near the end of the stubby era, because it was kept at the bar (I figured they kept it as a novelty once stubbys became more rare). My dating here is guesswork, so I’m not sure when the phrase “The Sportsman’s Friend” came into use. Was “The Star of Newfoundland” first, or was it “The Sportsman’s Friend?” Right now, I’m not sure. I sure do wish I had a copy that said “The Sportsman’s Friend” though!

Three 1980s Blue Star bottles, my collection.

Continuing into the 1980s we see that Blue Star, out of the stubby phase, is now into more common looking Newfoundland short necks. These are embossed with “Labatt” and were found in a shed in New Chelsea in the Summer of 2012 (thanks to Keith Cooke!). They’re in rough shape, but they show the same kind of label design as before, with the red strip and the bright blue star. They do look very 80s though, don’t they?

2012 Blue Star bottle, my collection.

Which brings us to today. The 2012 version of the bottle, which uses a design from the early 1990s,  has the red stripe from the background transformed into Christopher Pratt’s Newfoundland provincial flag. The gold border has been replaced with the gold of the arrow in the flag (pointing to a “brighter future“) and the star has received some stylistic shading.

There is an interesting study on the rebranding of Blue Star in the early nineties which states that:

At that time, there was only one other product that had positioned itself as an indigenous brand of beer and that was Molson’s Black Horse. Its advertising focused on young beer drinkers and their lifestyles as students, partygoers, nightlife enthusiasts and so on – it was the Molson Canadian of Newfoundland. It should be noted that while Black Horse was known to be local in origin, the advertising was seen by many to be an imitation of mainstream North American beer advertising. As a result, this gave Labatt an opportunity to reposition Blue Star as the true local brew, with a positioning statement for Blue Star best expressed as: ‘Blue Star is the ultimate Newfoundland beer, for Newfoundlanders, by Newfoundlanders’.

Employing advertising firm Vaughn Whelan & Partners Advertising Inc,

Blue Star was positioned as ‘The Shining Star Of The Granite Planet’, a copy line that embraces the beers’ quality, its local origins, and stresses the ironic sense of humour. Tactically, we wanted to be as different from Black Horse as possible: humour versus music, radio versus TV, local versus mainland imagery. Creatively, the radio spots played up the local sense of humour and downplayed the beverage qualities. The commercials had the tag line ‘Blue Star, The Shining Star Of The Granite Planet’.

They conclude:

Together, Blue Star and Blue Star Glacier Cold are now slowly but surely chipping away at Molson’s  dominance in Newfoundland’s young adult market, while spending only a fraction of what the competition  does, and not cannibalizing other Labatt brands.

Blue Star Glacier Cold? It was one of those “ice” early-90s fad beers. What did it look like? This website has an image, but, from what I understand, it was a short lived product (really, any beer advertising itself as pasteurized has lost my confidence).

That brings us through the aesthetic changes to Blue Star over the last 50 years. Did the taste change? Did the quality? Those are much harder questions to answer. A diehard Blue Star drinker might not notice subtle changes over many years, while other might just say it always wasn’t very good (non-Blue Star drinkers, obviously). That’s the tricky thing about beer history, it’s a temporary product which leaves little trace. Even bottles rarely survive. Remember to enjoy the beers you enjoy now, for who knows how history will treat them.

Blue Star Evolution, 1960s to 2012. My collection.

Bonus! From youtube user lambchops71, a radio add from the early 1990s “shining star” series.

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