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 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.
1942 french newspaper advert for Black Horse Ale, framed as art in the Beer Bistro mens washroom in downtown Toronto.
Ok, so the Burger Bar is a great beer/burger bar in Kensington Market, Toronto. They have a large collection of vintage and craft beer bottles lining the walls of the restaurant. I was there for lunch today (drinking a new Ontario craft IPA called Hops and Robbers) and I found this old Black Horse stubby wedged in-between the Kenyan beer Tusker and Duggan’s Number 9 (another local IPA):
Picture taken at the Burger Bar, Toronto. March 7, 2012.
I can only guess at the age of the bottle, but it seems older than the labels that I have. The outside is brown (not golden as it was in the 60’s) but it’s still a square label (not round like up until 1952-ish). My guess is that this was the Ontario version of the label (it doesn’t say “Brasserie Dow” it says “Dow Brewery,” see below) sometime between 1950 and 1970. Also note the difference between the crown in this 1969 label and the older one at the Burger Bar.
1969 Black Horse Label, note the crown and the squaring.
Dawes Black Horse Ale label circa 1939-1952, with a round label.
This might have something to do with the Dow/Dawes connection (see the main page for the history), as the newer crown looks like two D’s. It’s in a stubby too, so, aside from the nice condition, it’s a pretty beautiful thing. Now, if only Burger Bar would put it on the menu!
No date or information, but this is a really cute old Black Horse commercial:
Emily Urquhart has an article on the United Nations of Beer website (check it out here) which discusses the longing many Newfoundlanders (including myself) feel for Black Horse when living away. It’s a great piece which, unlike many of the more critical taste/aroma/colour/mouthfeel reviews (Beer Advocate or Rate Beer) really brings out the sentimental connection many people share with the brand.
Black Horse is not, technically, a Newfoundland beer, but since it’s only brewed there now and it’s a big part of the culture it counts! It actually dates back to around 1811. Black Horse was first owned by Dawes Brewing in Lachine, Quebec, who merged with Dow (a bigger brewer, bigger than Molson at the time) to form National Breweries Limited (1909). This was bought by Canadian Breweries Limited in 1952, which changed the name back to Dow’s Brewing (as seen on this bottle). Carling O’Keefe bought them out in the 1960s and Carling O’Keefe was bought by Molson in the 1980s. The brand was national throughout Canada in the 1980s under the name Dow brewing, but as of 1997 the name Dow was dropped.
Black Horse label, 1969
Black Horse label, 1970
Black Horse label, 1972