Category Archives: Bennett Brewing

Bennett Brewing’s ‘Newfoundland Songs’

During the period that followed the Second World War, beer advertising became big business. Across North America, brewers jockeyed for the beer dollars of the rapidly growing cohort of baby boomers by illustrating how their beers were part of a healthy image of domesticity or a youthful and active product. In Newfoundland, however, one of the most successful kinds of advertising was the songbook. Newfoundland Songs, published in ten editions between 1950 and 1977, showcased the songs of Newfoundland to sell cases of Dominion Ale. Found within cases of Bennett Brewing and later (after 1962) Carling O’Keefe products, the songbook played with nostalgia write the Bennett brand deeper into Newfoundland’s history.

Cover of Newfoundland Songs (9th Edition).

Cover of Newfoundland Songs (9th Edition).

A match book from the Bennett Brewing Company (1960s)

A match book from the Bennett Brewing Company (1960s) showing their short-lived Rainbow Beer.

In their 1978 article in the journal Culture and Tradition, folklorists Paul Mercer and Mac Swackhammer provide a good cultural history of the songbook. They argue, not unlike today’s nostalgia macros, songbooks were the continuation of a long process of appealing to “the present ‘modern’ generation to participate with pride in these aspects of the good-old-days” (36). Songbooks have long been a useful way for marketers to make their advertisements last longer. Publish an advertisement in a paper and you’ll likely be seen for a day, make your advertisement a part of a culture of singing and ensure your book is valuable and circulated around rural outports, and you’ll be seen for generations. Ask around a well-kept outport home where music was a part of their tradition and you’ll likely find a well worn Dominion or Bennett Songbook.

Mercer and Swackhammer outline a long history of these songbooks, where advertisements were even included as songs, however, since they have well covered the evolution of this art in Newfoundland, I’ll leave that aspect for them. We’ll pick up the story with Gerald S. Doyle. Doyle was a travelling salesman who circulated almanacs and songbooks advertising for the A. W. Chase medicine company. But Doyle was also a collector of Newfoundland songs who published his collection in free books found at his drug outlets throughout the island.

An older (pre-1962) label for Bennett Haig Ale. At the time of the songbooks, it would have been switched to the iconic blue label.

An older (pre-1962) label for Bennett Haig Ale. At the time of the songbooks, it would have been switched to the iconic blue label.

The Bennett Brewing Company aimed to emulate Doyle’s success and “began to publish its own books, modelled on and copied from Doyle’s” (39). Bennett Brewing extended upon Doyle’s advertising rhetoric by making their beer more deeply implicated within the traditional material they were transmitting. They also played upon their history within the province as “The oldest manufacturing industry in Newfoundland” by putting their own history as the frontispiece or centrepiece of the songbook. Adorned with lines like “A Newfoundland Tradition, HAIG ALE” and “A rainbow at night… A sailor’s Delight, Not only at night, Rainbow Beer is always a delight,” Mercer and Swackhammer argue that Bennett carefully aligned the good times and singing offered by the songs in the book with the product they were selling.

Interestingly, they note that when Bennett Brewing was purchased by Carling O’Keefe in 1962 there was a change in the style of the songbooks. After the purchase, they argue, the songbooks “no longer reflected a Newfoundland self-consciousness, but a mainland conception of Newfie-ism designed to sell beer.” The songbooks I have from 1974 and 1977 (an partially aimed at tourists visiting Newfoundland for the 1977 Canadian Summer Games), show some of the characters and distinctions Mercer and Swackhammer point out, but I think they are perhaps a little too strong in their “mainland conception” argument, as we will now see.

Cover of the Eighth Edition of Newfoundland Songs

Cover of the Eighth Edition of Newfoundland Songs

The Eighth Edition from the early 1970s sticks more to the “wrapper ads” style, with advertisements for Domion Ale, “A great Newfoundland tradition,” O’Keefe’s Extra Old Stock (an O’Keefe brand that lasted in Newfoundland until the 2000s), Old Vienna (another O’Keefe brand no longer found in Newfoundland), and Black Horse (yet another O’Keefe brand which made no allusions to being from Newfoundland). The Domion Ale ad is particularly interesting:

Dominion Ad from Newfoundland Songs (8th Edition)

Dominion Ad from Newfoundland Songs (8th Edition)

The copy reads:

There’s something really different about the first time you sit down to enjoy a Dominion. One look at it tells you to get ready for a satisfying, ‘all male’ taste.

Dominion’s brewed high on the hops to give you a true, distinctive, ‘for men only’ flavour. It’s the proud product of over 140 years brewing skill. A great Newfoundland tradition.

That’s why the men who know beer best consider Dominion an old friend. It you haven’t uncapped a Dominion in a while, why not make a new friend out of an old friend?

Enjoy a Dominion Ale. You’ll know you’re having one.

Besides being overtly masculine, “You’ll know you’re having one” has to be the worst tag line in any beer advertisement ever. Though perhaps it’s better than some modern beers where you almost don’t know if you’re having one. The foreword and acknowledgement outline a little more of what was outlined above. It reads:

Foreword
The colourful history and tradition of Newfoundland are perpetuated in the songs of her people. In this collection of favourites we glimpse the daily lives of the hardy, happy folk who tackled heavy seas and rocky soil with a rich sense of humour.
Today their songs are sung with pride by Newfoundlanders who delight in fond recollection of the days gone by and by others simply for fun and amusement.
The Bennett Brewing Company takes great pleasure in presenting this eighth edition of our little songbook. Like our products, it is purely for your pleasure.

Acknowledgement
We gratefully thank Gerald S. Doyle Limited for the use of their publication “The Gerald S. Doyle Song Book” from which we obtained the words to the songs in this book.
In doing so, we salute the memory of that great Newfoundlander, Gerald S. Doyle, who devoted so much of his time to collecting and perpetuating the songs of his beloved island home.

The songs featured included:

Table of Contents, Newfoundland Songbook (8th Edition)

Table of Contents, Newfoundland Songbook (8th Edition)

The illustrations in the eighth edition are minimal. Directly in the middle of the book there is an account of the history of the Bennett Brewing Company which I plan to transcribe elsewhere. The following edition, the ninth edition from 1974, was printed on heavy stock paper and remembered with nostalgia Newfoundland’s entry into confederation 25 years earlier.

Cover of Newfoundland Songs (9th Edition).

Cover of Newfoundland Songs (9th Edition)

George Tilley, the provincial general manager of Bennett Brewing (then a subsidiary of Carling-O’Keefe) welcomed readers:

Introduction to Newfoundland Songs (9th Edition)

Introduction to Newfoundland Songs (9th Edition)

The song-list had indeed been updated to reflect the new songs by Dick Nolan. The contents now included:

Contents of Newfoundland Songs (9th Edition)

Contents of Newfoundland Songs (9th Edition)

The “Dominion Coaster Offer” discusses the set of coasters I talk about elsewhere. Surprisingly, the book itself has little to do with selling beer and there is little brand-tie-in, even in Dick Nolan’s “Liquor Book” where only screech is mentioned by name. I find that Mercer’s and Swackhammer’s accusations of these being overtly mainland interpretations of Newfoundland in this edition to be a little strong. The only proper beer advertisement in the book is the below one for Black Horse (perhaps because it was a national brand, so the book could be sold on the mainland), but there is little about the ad which references Newfoundland. Even the cartoon, one of the many done by Ted Michener for Carling-O’Keefe at this time, is more Canadian than Newfoundland-focused.

Black Horse Ad in Newfoundland Songs (9th Edition)

Black Horse Ad in Newfoundland Songs (9th Edition)

The 1977 tenth edition of Newfoundland Songs was the last and is also one of the more common examples to still find around Newfoundland today. They, like the ninth edition, can sometimes still be found at used book stores for somewhere under $15.

Cover of Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition)

Cover of Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition)

While in a slightly slimmer format than the previous editions, it was still found in cases of beer and featured some of the most detailed illustrations of any version of the songbook.

Illustrations from Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition)

Illustrations from Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition)

 

Back cover of Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition)

Back cover of Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition)

It’s hard to choose just a few of these pages to reproduce here, since they all have at least some kind of illustration. (If you are interested in higher quality images, I have copies of the original songbooks.) There is very little to do with beer advertising in this final version. Except for the “A bit of our past to put under your glass” coaster advertisement, there was almost nothing else to show the products of Carling O’Keefe as responsible for the songbook. The final page included a simple ad for “Dominion Ale: A Newfoundland Tradition” and the final pages included, as always, a little historical snippet of the history of the Bennett Brewery.

Coaster offer in Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition)

Coaster offer in Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition). These coasters now cost much more!

 

Last pages and Bennett History in Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition)

Last pages and Bennett History in Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition)

Of the songbooks, I think this final tenth edition is the one with the most character. It contains most of the songs found in previous editions (including the Dick Nolan ones introduced in the ninth edition), but because of its pocket size and really wonderful illustrations, it’s really something special. Some of the songs even include music notion, which was not found in many of the older editions.

Some songs featured musical notion in the 10th Edition of Newfoundland Songs.

Some songs featured musical notion in the 10th Edition of Newfoundland Songs. Nice bell-bottoms!

Mercer’s and Swackhammer’s article was published in 1978 which is almost as far away from us today (almost 40 years) as Doyle’s first songbooks were from them. Their work, as folklorists, aimed to unmask the “simplistic view of the past” as presented in these songbooks, to uncover how “a living tradition has been made iconic, reduced to jargon, and put to work for commercial purposes” (45). 1977 was the last year the Bennett Songbook was published and it is worth reflecting now on what has been lost in the absence of even this “potentially harmful symbolization of folklore.” The songbooks, while their content and presentation may have been invented, are an important part of the folklore of beer in Newfoundland. The traditions they carry as material culture being passed around and as items representing breweries now gone (both Bennett, Carling O’Keefe, and the physical Sudbury Street brewery), has real meaning beyond their “symbol and jargon.” These songbooks, beyond their value as trinkets or artifacts of a commercial culture, are important documents in Newfoundland’s Beer History.

Image from Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition)

Image from Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition)

References: Paul Mercer and Mac Swackhammer, “’The singing of old Newfoundland Ballads and a cool glass of good beer go hand in hand’: Folklore and ‘tradition’ in Newfoundland Advertising,” Culture & Tradition 3 (1978) 36-45.

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Notes on Some Beermats

Beermats are an under appreciated art form. So under appreciated, in fact, that I had almost forgotten I had been working on collecting together a few Newfoundland Beermats. Sitting down last night with Nicholas Pashley’s Notes on a Beermat finally jogged my memory and, well, here we are. Apologies to Mr. Pashley for the title.

In this post I have two sets of Beermats to share. One is a great set of Black Horse mats produced for the 500th anniversary of John Cabot’s “discovery” of Newfoundland in 1997 shared with me by Steve Shorlin and the other is an older set from Bennett Brewing which I purchased last summer. Both sets partake in something that is quite common in beer advertising, but worth noting again here. They both try to build themselves into Newfoundland’s history and sense of place.

The historians E. J. Hobsbawm and T. O. Ranger have called this kind of marketing (for the lack of a better work) move as an “invented tradition.” A tradition is invented, they argue, when something seeks to come off as very old – something that tries to write itself into the past – without actually being very old at all. They cite the kilt as a primary example, which, they argue, was built into Scottish culture in the 1800s by English fabric merchants. That’s their argument, not mine! For a less controversial point, let’s look at some Black Horse Coasters.

Photo from Steve Shorlin, newfoundlandsteve on Flickr, 2013.

“The Unofficial Brew of Cabot’s Crew” series of coasters snuck the iconic Black Horse into various Newfoundland scenes like (above) in Bonavista and (below) on top of Cabot Tower on Signal Hill.

Steve Shorlin, 2013.

The Black Horse, it seems, has been everywhere in Newfoundland! From an iceberg in Twillingate to playing coxswain in the St. John’s Regatta.

Steve Shorlin, 2013.

Steve Shorlin, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This series was accompanied with a slogan “500 Years of Horsin’ Around” where Black Horse did its part to provide Newfoundland pub trivia and language lessons.

Steve Shorlin, 2013

Steve Shorlin, 2013.

Steve has more of these over on his Flickr, so if you like them you can find a few more there. Now, back to what I was saying about “invented traditions.” As readers of this blog know, Black Horse was a major mainland brand for many years, so having a brand so associated with Newfoundland’s past strikes me as inventing the tradition of Newfoundland Black Horse. Black Horse was, as these beermats attempt to prove, not just another brand: it was a Newfoundland brand, through and through. (The Thoroughbred!)

These pictures were also on Black Horse bottles. Steve Shorlin, 2013.

The idea of an “invented tradition” works better when we get to the Bennett Brewing coasters. I’m just going to post all 6 coasters now and we’ll get back to talking about them after.

Coaster_Cover

This is the image on the back of each beermat. Chris Conway, 2013.

Coaster_5

For more, see here.

Coaster_4

For more see here.

Coaster_3

I maintain he was out there geocaching.

Coaster_6 Coaster_2 Coaster_1

With all the talk of “Newfoundland tradition” in the coasters, and the line “Bennett relives Newfoundland’s past,” it’s a little easier to see what I’m trying to get at with the “invented tradition” thing. I doubt many of the stories actually ended with a Bennett Beer or that Bennet Beer was that widely available at the time. Most of the stories seem to be based off the ones found in the The Treasury of Newfoundland Stories, which itself was produced by Maple Leaf Mills Limited (now just Maple Leaf). The coasters were sold in a pack of 6, as we can see from the advertisement below from the Dominion Ale Songbook (of which I have more to say on in another post).

Coasters (10)

If I ever make an NL Beer History beermat, it will steal that line: “A bit of our past to put under your glass.”

“A real collector’s item” indeed! I picked my set up, still in their plastic wrap, in St. John’s last summer. I sadly had to open the pack to scan them, which I guess is for the greater good. It seems, since we don’t have the stories listed in the advertisement, that there is another set, or at least another few, coasters out there which I’d love to track down. Either way, the stories and the images (by cartoonist Ted Michener) are pretty fantastic.

Beer seems to be one of those things that always wants to make itself more familiar to its drinker. Breweries strive to make their beer one that has a sense of place even if it’s owned by Carling O’Keefe (as Dominion was in the 1970s) or Molson (as Black Horse was in the late 1990s). Where Dominion’s advertisements seemed aimed at regaining local confidence and their Newfoundland identity after their takeover by a multi-national, Black Horse’s seem to represent a beer trying to become the icon of Newfoundland. Both worked to etch themselves into the culture of Newfoundland through carefully purveying history alongside with their beer. Of course, the result of tradition-inventing are brands which did take on real meaning – and which already had real meaning – to many drinkers. For me, a big part of the fun of history is finding out how these meanings came into being.

 

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German Brewmasters and “British Traditions” in Newfoundland Brewing

If you’ve been to Newfoundland you’ve likely taken note of a fairly strong connection to British and Irish traditions within the province’s music, culture, and perhaps even in its beer. Popular places to grab a pint are regularly decked out in Irish garb – places like Bridie Molloys, The Republic, or Christians to name a few – or, like the famous Duke of Duckworth, more grounded in the British pub experience. But what about Newfoundland beer? In this post, a reappraisal of Webb and Beaumont’s classification of Newfoundland as having weak “British Traditions” in the light of the history of German-Newfoundland brewmasters.

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Filed under Bavarian Brewing, Bennett Brewing, Blue Star, Culture, History, Newfoundland Brewery, Other Brewers

Interview and Upcoming Posts

The Atlantic Canada Beer Blog is a great resource for keeping up with brewery news, beer releases, and other important information about the brewing scene throughout Atlantic Canada. They recently contacted me to do an interview on both this project and to talk about the current brewing scene in Newfoundland. If you’re interested you should check it out here.

You should be reading the Atlantic Canada Beer Blog anyway!

Over the last few weeks I have been doing lots of little pieces of research that I’m working on putting together into posts. Some of the topics I’ve noticed people looking for on the blog, while other’s I just cannot find anywhere else on the Internet. Here are a few of the things that I have in progress right now.

Apologies for the Instagram.

  • New Labels! I recently tracked down a Bennett’s Haig Ale label along with others including a Dominion Stout label and a Bennett Brewing matchbook from the 1960s. Expect some high resolution scans. The Haig Ale label is really great.
  • There are legal implications around beer brands and branding. They are something breweries own. But when did this ownership transfer to the macros and what brands were important enough to have Canadian copyrights? I’ve got the answer… I just need to write it up!

Black Horse Ale advertisement in the New York Times. June 7, 1948. A scotty and a smoke.

  • Black Horse was brewed in the United States for a long time, for a while under contact from Dawes (see the Dawes brand on the above label?) and later, after a court case, an independent American brand, so there are some Black Horse advertisement from the New York Times and the Washington Post that I’ve got my hands on that I want to post.
  • I have six Dominion Ale coasters from the 1970s that I’ve been meeting to digitize. The problem is that they are still in their original cellophane package, so I’ve been having trouble committing to opening it!

From the Acts of the Privy Council (Colonial) 1702.

  • I posted this on the NL Beer History Facebook a while back showing some provisions sent to Newfoundland back in 1702 from the American colonies. It included included around 250 pounds of Hops, likely meaning that beer was being brewed in, rather than imported to, the colony at that time! I have some other academic articles (mostly from people like Peter Pope and John Wicks who have done some historical and archeological work at Ferryland) which discuss early, pre-20th century, brewing in Newfoundland which I am working on putting together into an post.
  • I’m working on a very detailed post about the Bennett Brewing Newfoundland Song book collection. This has actually attracted some folklorists from Memorial Newfoundland in the past (though I’m not a big fan of how they’ve approached the subject), so I’m hoping to include some more academic work into the article. I’ve also got some great pictures from the two editions that I’ve got.

The original most interesting man in the world, from the Bennett Brewing Songbook, won Movember before it existed.

So, I have no shortage of work to do! In the next month or so I’m hoping to get posts written up on these topics, so keep checking in with the Newfoundland Beer History project!

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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 nlbeerhistory.com 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!

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

Newfoundland Beer Brands

This blog was started with the intention of unravelling the histories of some of the corner store favorites of Newfoundland beer drinkers. The thing is, I’ve been looking at the traffic that I’ve been getting on this site and I’ve noticed something: there are a lot of non-Newfoundlanders interested in our beer brands. That’s great news, but, unless they have access to a Marie’s Mini-Mart, they don’t really know what the beer scene here is all about. (Update: I’ve made this post a permanent page with larger images and a nice layout.)

Before I talk about these beers I should note that this is just about the brands made by Molson and Labatt. If you are interested in the other brewers in Newfoundland, the craft brewers and brew-pubs, then check out Quidi Vidi Brewing, Storm Brewing, and Yellowbelly. That’s all the craft beer in the provence! If you’re looking for “real ale” (cask ale) or anything that keeps up with North American Craft beer (or even a year-round IPA), you’re going to have to wait a few years.

This post is intended as an introduction to the old Newfoundland Beer Brands, what I like to call “nostalgia marcos.” They are beers brewed by the big brewers (Molson and Labatt) but that throw back to an older brewery or brand. This is not unusual in the brewing world. Latrobe Brewing, known for their Rolling Rock lager, is a brand belonging to Anheuser-Busch InBev. Alexander Keith’s is Labatt’s. Even Labatt’s beer (like Blue) are really a brand of Anheuser–Busch InBev, so there are a lot of what historians call “invented traditions” in the beer industry. Brewers, big and small alike, like to connect their beer drinkers with the long history of beer brewing.

In Newfoundland these nostalgia marcos are legendary. There are five remaining brands (two beloning to Labatt and three belonging to Molson) and almost every Newfoundlander you will ever meet will have one that they champion over the others. If your here visiting it might be worth trying some of these beers, but if your a visiting beer geek I doubt you’ll be impressed (these are brewed by the big brewers). On to the beers!

The Nostalgia Macros

There are five traditional Newfoundland brands still being brewed: Bennett Dominion Ale, India Beer, Black Horse, Blue Star, and Jockey Club. In terms of taste and apparence they are pretty close and they are all, pretty much, fizzy yellow lagers. They come in 6 and 12 packs of semi-longneck bottles (about in inch shorter than mainland longneck bottles) which are all twist off. Blue Star, Jockey, and Black Horse all have their own printed caps, with Jockey having two different logos on the cap (either the Horse or the beer name), while India and Dominion simply have Molson caps.

From my blind taste test.

Lets talk about Bennett Dominion Ale first.

Dominion Ale Box Art circa 2012

Bennett Dominion Ale is a Molson product, brewed out of their St. John’s brewery. While it is listed as an ale, there is little of the ale taste that an American or Brit might expect. Ales are usually fermented at a warmer temperature than lagers, giving them a bigger taste, but, and this is speculation on my part, as Molson only produces lagers at the Newfoundland brewery, I suspect that this brewed at only slightly warmer temperatures than any other beer they produce. Bennett, as discussed on the main page of this project, was bought by Carling-O’Keefe and when Molson took over Carling the Bennett brands came with them. It’s really nice to see that the name lives on in this beer “for Newfoundlanders only.”

India Beer Box Art circa 2012.

Molson also brews the beer that was all the rage in the downtown music scene a few years back, India Beer. This beer, which is NOT an India Pale Ale, was brewed by the Newfoundland Brewing Company alongside their India Pale Ale. Both existed, but, as I understand, this was the lighter version. Generally people I’ve talked to describe it as a sweeter lager.

Blue Star Box Art circa 2012.

Jockey Club Box Art circa 2012.

Labatt bought the Bavarian Brewing company and still brew two of their brands, Blue Star and Jockey Club. These are the two that I find the most distinct. As a lager, Blue Star is light and clean tasting, while Jockey Club (which is still a lager or, if it is an ale, a lagered or very light one) is slightly more flavour-full. Jockey Club was advertised as the “champagne of beers” back in the Bavarian days, and, if you look really hard, you might pick up notes of cheap sparkling wine. Blue Star has a big dedicated following, particularly vocal since it was rebranded with the Newfoundland Flag in the early 1990s, while Jockey Club is often considered a bit of a joke. In two rounds of blind taste tests between these five beers I ended up preferring Jockey over the others (I usually drink double IPAs and Imperial Stouts), so take that for what it’s worth!

Black Horse Lager Box Art circa 2012.

The best for last. Not that it’s the best beer, but the 2010 redesign of Black Horse is really interesting for a historical point of view (the horse, which is the iconic part and on many labels on this site, now has a Newfoundland and Labrador shaped shadow on its body right before the hind legs). I mean, Black Horse Ale, as a brand, was one of the biggest in North America. It’d put Molson Canadian to shame. The Newfoundland version (which came with Carling-O’Keefe in 1962) has changed from an ale to a “premium” lager (more on this here), but the iconic black horse is still proudly on the label. It’s one of the most interesting to me, especially as they proudly say “Brewed only in Newfoundland and Labrador” when really it’s a mainlander who came here in the 1960s. There is no way you know his grandfather.

The Nostalgia Macros, 2012.

Those are the five current Newfoundland Beer Brands made by Labatt and Molson. I should note that O-Keefe Extra Old Stock was discontinued here in 2009 (it’s another beer of mainland origin), so that’s not included. These beers are great reminders of the brewing heritage in Newfoundland that was deeply rooted in independent brewers. While they might not be exciting to beer-geek tastes they are something to try when your here. If you do see them anywhere else in Canada it’s likely because of a high concentration of Newfoundlanders (like in Alberta) who still swear by their favorite brands. Will they ever get wider distribution? It’s doubtful, but then again, Labatt’s nostalgia brand in Nova Scotia, Alexander Keiths, is now a North American faux-craft beer, so anythings possible. But if you are here and looking for beers to drink be sure not to forget our craft brewers! They are writing the future of beer in Newfoundland.

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Filed under Bavarian Brewing, Bennett Brewing, Black Horse, Blue Star, Contemporary Beer, Dominion Ale, India Beer, Jockey Club, Labels, Newfoundland Brewery, Overview

Black Horse Beer. The Thoroughbred?

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.”

Black Horse Ale - 1972

Black Horse circa 1972

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.

Present-day Black Horse logo, from my well-worn baseball cap.

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.

 

 

 

Oh well!

1942 french newspaper advert for Black Horse Ale, framed as art in the Beer Bistro mens washroom in downtown Toronto.

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