Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Newfoundland Short Neck: Bob-21

A lot of the traffic I get on this blog comes from people looking for an answer to some variety of the question “why does Newfoundland have short neck beer bottles?” It’s a good question, but one for which the internet is not rife with answers.

One of the first things that most people notice when they first come to Newfoundland (or when they first go away) is that Newfoundland beer bottles are a little shorter, just about an inch off the neck, than most beer bottles you’ll find almost anywhere else in North America. Even for big breweries like Labatt and Molson, though the beer inside and the labels are identical, the bottles are different.

Bob-21 (Quidi Vidi Brewing 1892) vs. Long Neck (Dieu du Ciel Péché Mortel).

The best answer I’ve found to this historical question was published in The Telegram (St. John’s biggest local newspaper) by Russell Wangersky in November of 1999. Wangersky, reporting on a bottle shortage of the bottles in the provence, provides a good bit of insight into why the little bottle, known in the industry as Bob-21, has stuck around in the provence. Wangersky is a better source if you can access newspaper archives, but as googling does not yield his article and most people don’t have easy access to newspaper archives, I’m going to go over the story here.

The short history goes like this. When the industry moved away from stubby bottles in the mid-1980s (due to pressure from more attractive looking long necks from the import and American markets) each brewery was left to its own devices to figure out what kind of bottle they should use. (The rise of the stubby as an industry standard is, in itself, an interesting historical development which is covered well in both Brew North by Ian Coutts and Cheers! A History of Beer in Canada by Nick Pashley.) On the mainland the big three breweries (Carling-O’Keefe, Molson, and Labatt), likely due to the proximity of the more aesthetically pleasing taller bottles coming from American imports like Miller, settled on the long neck (see page 120 of Coutts for more on the American influence).

The story differs on the island in part due to Carling-O’Keefe’s dominance in the market. Having control of the old Bennett brands and the popular Black Horse beer, the interim bottle used by Carling-O’Keefe became standard in Newfoundland. Why? Well, there were simply too many Bob-21 bottles kicking around the provence to warrant the economic cost, which Wangersky quotes to be around $10 million, of switching. That’s largely what keeps the bottle around too, as switching would require the whole old stock of bottles to be trashed rather than be reused some 15 to 20 times as they normally are.

That’s it. That’s the story. I’ll admit, it’s not very romantic or exciting! The name Bob-21 doesn’t even have a very interesting story. Wangersky explains, “No one seems to know for sure how the Bob-21 got its handle, except that Carling-O’Keefe picked it.”

The bottle might not have a great backstory, but the cultural value of the little guy stands for more than the odd economic lock-in that keeps it in circulation. Everyone hears the stories of a Newfoundlander hitting the clubs in Toronto for the first time, only to chip their front teeth on those longer-than-expected necks. There is something very tacit about the cute little bottles that makes them feel, well, homey somehow. Anyway, Internet, there is the answer to the question. I’d love to hear about what folks think about the Newfoundland Short Neck bottles, so do leave a comment or pop me an e-mail if you’ve got any strong feelings towards the little Bob-21 bottle.

For more information see Russell Wangersky “Calling all empties: Breweries short on bottles asking beer drinkers to turn them in” The Telegram, November 12, 1999, p. 27.


Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, History, Material Culture

Red Top Golden Amber Beer

Occasionally I find a beer that I don’t know too much about, so I don’t really know what to write when I want to post a picture. Case and point: Newfoundland Brewery’s “Red Top Golden Amber Beer.”

Newfoundland Brewery’s Red Top Golden Amber Beer, my collection.

I found this bottle down at Livyers’ Antiques on Duckworth Street in St. John’s in June of 2012. All I really know about it is that it was brewed by Newfoundland Brewery, probably before 1962, though the stubby makes me question that. Stubbys were usually a little later into the 1960s, but it could be that the Newfoundland Brewery was ahead of the curve.

It’s a very heavy stubby and the corners feel more well rounded than many more modern examples. It feels very solid even compared to the 1970s bottles from the Atlantic Brewery.

So that’s it. A bottle that I know very little about other than from inference. Well, at least it’s a looker!

Leave a comment

Filed under Labels, Newfoundland Brewery

The Scoop on Storm Brewing in Newfoundland

Storm Brewing Newfoundland, as I discuss in my overview, was one of Newfoundland’s first microbreweries. In this post, I’d like to speculate a little on the current situation of Storm Brewing and to post a few pictures of the wonderful beers they have made over the years.

My understanding of Storm’s current production situation is that it is basically a part-time job for the owners. As far as I can tell, they run at capacity right now and, because of high demand, their beer sells out of the few NLC and corner stores where they retail in short order. I get no inclination that an expansion or new product is on the way, so I’m guessing that right now it is a pretty happy self-sustaining cottage industry. Their demand excedes their supply, so they seem to be pretty economically stable.

Let me put my bais out there: I love Storm. They were one of the first craft breweries I developed a deep loyalty too. In the mid-2000s they had a “Free Newfoundland” stubby bottle of their Irish Red that I was particularly attached to:

Storm Free Newfoundland Stubby, c. mid-2000s, my collection.

Now, they switched out of stubbys a couple of years back (2008, if memory serves – but check that date) and they use “mainland long-necks” (i.e. not the semi-necks Newfoundland is famous for).

Storm was also the first brewery that introduced me to the “bomber” bottle. Used pretty much religiously throughout the United States craft beer scene,  a bomber was unheard of in Newfoundland before Storm. All of their current four beers are available in the very industry standard bomber.

Storm Bombers, c. 2011-2012, my collection.

In the above photo we can see their winter seasonal Coffee Porter, their all year-round Island Gold and Irish Red, and their summer seasonal Raspberry Wheat.

What’s also great about Storm is their dating system. What’s great about it? Well, (a) they have one – something which beer geeks in the United States lament not having even on some top-shelf beers, and (b) it’s clear and uncomplicated. In the dating system, Storm is, well, best kind.

Storm used to be a little more adventurous too. Take, for example, this beer.

Storm Hemp Ale, c. mid-2000s, photo credit Colin Power.

Aside from their lovely old logo (that lives on in their coffee porter symbol), it was a hemp ale! In Newfoundland! I remember really liking this beer and being quite sad when it was discontinued. Hemp ales are pretty rare, even on the mainland, so it was nice to have something pretty unique front-and-center in Newfoundland.

I suspect Storm’s solid economic situation is not pressing them to innovate too much anymore. I mean, if you’re at capacity and constantly in demand then you can take a “if it’s not broke don’t fix it attitude” with impunity. Something in my heart, deep down, however, really wishes they’d kick out a hoppy West Coast IPA or a high gravity Imperial Stout – just something that the drooling beer geeks and home-brewers of Newfoundland could point to and say “look Canada, Newfoundland is not so far behind.”

Will Newfoundland ever start to catch up to Canada, or even to the maritime provinces, in craft beer and modern beer styles? I’m not really sure. But one thing is for sure, in Newfoundland’s Beer History Storm wrote the chapter on making a modern North American style craft brewery, with recognizable craft beer styles, work in Newfoundland.


Filed under Culture, Labels, Overview, Storm Brewing

Dominion Ale and India Beer Bottles

I was looking though some photos of old Newfoundland beer bottles I took on my trip back home in June of 2012 and noticed that I haven’t posted all of them! In particular, I had missed posting some old Bennett Dominion Ale and India Beer bottles.

First, a pretty sad specimen that I found in my parents garage. It wasn’t really preserved with care!

A pretty sad specimen of the 1980s Bennett Dominion Ale stubby, my collection.

The next is a collection that I picked up from a collector in Grand Falls. It has an old India (1960s), a Jockey (1960s), a Blue Star (discussed here), and a much older Dominion (1960s).

Here is a bit of a close up of the Dominion “Brewed exclusively from the finest malt and hops” and the old blue India label.

Dominion Ale, c. 1970s, my collection.

India Beer c. 1970s, my collection.
















The blue India label is, of course, not the original parallelogram-style label that you can see on the main overview. Speaking of that design, however, reminds me of an odd bit of internet reflexivity.

The Obsolescence Project that takes beautiful pictures of old objects recently featured an old india beer bottle. It’s one of the old  parallelogram-labels and they even link to as a useful and “incredibly comprehensive site” for finding out about Newfoundland’s beer history. That’s little ol’ me! So, please do check out their fantastic photos.

They have also featured an old Dominion Ale stubby that is also well worth checking out!

1 Comment

Filed under Bennett Brewing, Dominion Ale, India Beer, Labatt, Material Culture, Newfoundland Brewery