Category Archives: Blue Star

The Rooms Showcases Newfoundland Beer

I was flicking through the latest issues of Occasions Magazine from the NLC and noticed that The Rooms, a Newfoundland cultural centre which combines art and museum displays, was featuring a collection of Newfoundland consumer and popular items. The collection, “Here, We Made a Home,” is currently running in the Elinor Gill Rarcliffe Gallery on the fourth level and features a small collection of Newfoundland Breweriana.

Here is quick photo of the main exhibit’s feature of Newfoundland beer bottles, “An Honest Uncomplicated Brew.”

Taken at The Rooms, 2013.

Taken at The Rooms, 2013.

Readers of this blog will likely get the reference made by the title of the collection, which refers to a Jockey Club label from the 1970s/80s. It’s a subtle reference, but a nice one.

Jockey Club, circa late 1960s

Jockey Club, circa late 1960s

The collection features both a recent bottle of Quidi Vidi Light and Yellowbelly Pale Ale (I joke that both could have come from the NLC location visible from The Rooms upper floors) and two old India Beer Bottles, as well as a Dominion Ale bottle. They date both the larger bottles to early-1900s and the stubby to mid-1900s.

Advertisement for The Rooms, Occasions Magazine, Fall 2013.

Advertisement for The Rooms, Occasions Magazine, Fall 2013.

Not to be outdone, when I got home I decided to stage up a few bottles of my own in the same ordering. Can you spot the differences?

NLBeerHistory Colleciton

NLBeerHistory Collection

A few differences are obvious, the big one being I don’t have a India Beer stubby though I think the Blue Star is a nice substitute. The India Beer bottle featured here in our photo is a new one from the collection of Capt. Don Winsor which was donated by Matthew Beverley. I’ll have a longer post on a few others he donated soon!

The is clearly much more Newfoundland history on display in the “Here, We Made a Home,” collection which is very much worth discussing and viewing. If you’re in town, it’s very much worth checking out!

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Filed under Advertisement, Blue Star, Dominion Ale, India Beer, Labels, Material Culture

Stealing Fire(Water): The BeerThief and Newfoundland Beer

Admittedly a historical view on beer in Newfoundland is not the place to talk about beer news or contemporary beer events. For something like that, well, see the excellent Atlantic Canada Beer Blog. This one development, however, merits a little note. The creation of a specialty order beer club in Newfoundland, called Beer Thief, is something pretty special. While most readers of this blog have likely read the number of news reports about the club, here I’d like to point to the beer community which the club has fostered.

Black Horse Can, Steve Shorlin 2013.

In short, the Beer Thief club was founded by Mike Buhler, a Newfoundland-based level-2 Cicerone, and Tom Beckett, an important figure in the better drinking world in Newfoundland. They work to connect breweries to Newfoundlanders who normally cannot access things outside the NLC’s limited selection. Thus far they have facilitated private orders from breweries like Dupont, Dieu Di Ciel, Les Trois Mousquetaires, and Propeller, bringing styles like IPAs, Saisons, Imperial Stouts, Kellerbier, and Triples into the province for the first time – maybe ever – without a suitcase. As a fan of Newfoundland beer, this is pretty amazing stuff.

Blue Star Can, Steve Shorlin 2013.

One of the key developments has also been the community which has developed around the club on their forum, where Newfoundlanders meet to discuss better beer, homebrewing, and ways to improve the province’s beer scene. All I want to do here is point you, dear reader, towards them. If you are reading this, you likely care something for beer in Newfoundland or are planning a trip to Newfoundland. The BeerThief forums are perhaps your best resource to ask questions about where to drink or what to do related to beer. Plus, now that Muskoka Brewing has started distributing to NL, it’s a great time to be a beer enthusiast in Newfoundland. So get involved!

Dominion Ale Can, Steve Shorlin 2013.

As you’ve been reading you’ve likely noticed some of these really wonderful images of classic Newfoundland cans, which have never been featured on this blog before. In fact, I have rarely ever seen a picture of a beer can from Newfoundland on the Internet before I was introduced to these ones. They are a set of photos and artifacts owned by Steve Shorlin, who you can check out here on Flickr (they’ve been used here with his permission). He’s one of the many great people over on the BeerThief forums. In some upcoming posts you’ll likely see a few more images from his amazing collection that he’s been nice enough to share with me. He’s recently sent along a few pictures of some great Newfoundland beer coasters, so maybe it’s time for a little post on Newfoundland beer mats…

Newfoundland Beer Cans, Steve Shorlin 2013.

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Filed under Black Horse, Blue Star, Contemporary Beer, Dominion Ale, Material Culture

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

CSI: NL, Blue Star Labels

Blue Star is perhaps the most iconic of all Newfoundland beers. Still atop the top selling beer list at the Newfoundland Liquor Corporation (at least as of this writing), Blue Star is rivalled only by Black Horse as the nostalgia macro most recognized by Newfoundlanders as their very own. Blue Star has had not shortage of coverage on this blog either. My evolution of Blue Star is one of the most popular posts and brings us through its many changes since the 1960s.

Writing a blog about history is a tricky thing because you are really tied to your sources. Sometimes you find a bunch, sometimes months go by without anything coming up. Well, recently I repatriated, to Canada at least, a bunch of Blue Star labels from a collection over in Hull, England. So, in this post: six more Blue Star labels and my best attempts at putting them in correct order.

Blue Star, over 4%

Blue Star, over 4%

I’ll start with the label I think is the oldest. It has to be newer than 1974, when Labatt took over the Bison Brewery in Stephenville, and older than 1981. If you have a Blue Star label which lists both locations it’s likely from somewhere inside that window of time. I think this might be the oldest because it lists “Over 4% alcohol by volume,” which was the norm until the 1970s. I would estimate this one is from around 1975.

Blue Star, 5%

Blue Star, 5%

The only differences between this one and the last is the text color and, as noted above, the change in how the alc/vol is listed.

Blue Star, A.

Blue Star, A.

Blue Star, B.

Blue Star, B.

Spot the differences! In the 1970s the slogan “The Star of Newfoundland” replaced “The Premium Quality Newfoundland Beer” line. The only difference I can spot between these to examples is the reverse of the text on the sides.

Blue Star, "The Sportsman's Friend."

Blue Star, “The Sportsman’s Friend.”

I’m going to go out on a limb and argue that the slogan “The Sportsman’s Friend” came after “The Star of Newfoundland.” Why? Well, in the above label Stephenville has been dropped from the brewery’s locations. Everything else though, seems to remain the same.

Blue Star Brewing Company

Blue Star Brewing Company

Ok, I want to finish up with a tough one. First, here is the second part of the label, the tie:

Blue Star, tie.

Blue Star, tie.

Both of these have the slogan “Newfoundland’s Premium” which I think was used in the 1980s. Stephenville is not listed, so it’s outside of the 1974-1981 window. Since it’s listed as 5%, it’s likely past 1981. In order to have a tie around its neck, it needed to have a neck, so this was also post-stubbie. Here’s the odd thing. It lists “Blue Star Brewing Company” as the brewery. Now, checking the trademark database shows that Labatt has owned the trademark “Blue Star” since 1967, so this company was clearly Labatt trying to distance its name from the brand (see the trademark database here). Why they might do this, I don’t know. It might be a move predating Rickards, Shocktop, Blue Moon, Alexander Keiths, and other “crafty” beers brewed by big brewers without much reference to their main brand. Why they’d do it in 1980s Newfoundland is unknown.

It’s my guess that this was the label used until the label change to the very-1980s labels I have in scruffy condition below.

Blue Star, 1980s - group

1980s Blue Star

Note that it’s listed as a “Bavarian Lager” again on these labels. So, a few more steps along the way of Blue Star evolution have been found and documented! 

Photo by Curtis Wiest, 2013.

Photo by Curtis Wiest, 2013.

On another note, reader Curtis Wiest recently send me in this picture of a few stubbies he has tracked down. He’s trying to put together enough to recreate Sean Hammond’s famous “Newfoundland Stubbies” painting (see the painting here) and he’s a few short. He contacted me to let me know he found an O’Keefes Extra Old Stock one already, but he’s still short a Jockey and a India Beer. Can anyone help him out? Come to think of it, since I’ve never seen an India or a Jockey stubby, if you have one could you send along a picture?

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Filed under Black Horse, Blue Star, Dominion Ale, Labatt, Labels, Material Culture

Classic Newfoundland Beer Bottles

Just a little update post to let you folks know that I’ve post a set of Classic Newfoundland Beer Bottle pictures over on the Newfoundland Beer History facebook page. They’re pretty grainy in quality, so I’m not intending to host all of them here. Most of the bottles are ones that I have posted elsewhere on this blog, but there are a few new ones which will be featured in upcoming posts.

Familia

Familia

Can you honestly say that if you had 1960-80s bottles and contemporary ones you wouldn’t snap a quick pic with your phone camera?

The Old and The New

The Old and The New

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Filed under Black Horse, Blue Star, Dominion Ale, India Beer, Jockey Club, Labels

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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Filed under Advertisement, Bavarian Brewing, Blue Star, Labatt, Labels

The Duke of Duckworth and Blue Star

The Duke of Duckworth is one of my favorite places to drink when I’m in St. John’s, not only because they have a killer fish and chips, but because they have a great selection of local taps and a great collection of beer history memorabilia.

The Duke’s Own Sign, 2012

If you’re new to Newfoundland beer, the Duke is a must visit. They’ve usually got everything that’s currently being brewed by Storm Brewing, a few Quidi Vidi (in particular 1892), and – and this is special – the Duke’s Own. The Duke’s Own, advertised as a “private collection of uniquely brewed beer” and “Newfoundland’s Pioneer Brewpub,” is the closest to an English Ale you’re going to find being brewed in Newfoundland. While the signs seem to indicate there used to be a range of Duke’s beer, today there is only one: The Duke’s Own (an English Ale).

Here’s the deal to the best of my knowledge. The Duke used to have a very small (nano) brewery in their basement but were forced to close it to either expand their kitchen or install a women’s bathroom (accounts differ). Either way, if you ask the bartenders today they’ll tell you it’s contract brewed out of Storm brewing in Mount Pearl. They are very clear though, it’s not a Storm beer – it’s their recipe and ingredients – Storm is just the contract brewer.

The Duke of Duckworth is great for local beer selection, but they also have a great collection of beer memorabilia. They have old Tetley’s beer signs and signs for Upper Canada Dark prior to Upper Canada selling their brewery to Sleeman and converting their brands into discout beers (the brewers from Upper Canada ended up being fired and started up 3 Fired Guys brewing, better known as Steamwhistle in downtown Toronto). One piece of memorabilia that’s important for me is this fine specimen:

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

Behind the bar (pretty much behind the Storm taps) stands this old Blue Star “The Sportsmans Friend” bottle. As I was looking at it to find the vintage, it says Labatt on the side and the stubby was phased out in the mid-1980s so it’s likely from the early 1980s, I noticed that the cap was with it.

Blue Star Cap

Then I noticed something, the cap wasn’t just replaced on the top of the bottle: it was an unopened bottle of Blue Star! You can see the beer line in the above photo. Now, they didn’t seem ready to part with it, but this is an amazing find. A bottle of Newfoundland beer that’s likely over 30 years old. I’d have to fight to urge to drink it! Anyway, if you’re in town and interested in Newfoundland’s beer history, ask to see this lovely bottle.

There is also an (opened) stubby of O’Keefe’s Extra Old Stock, but that’s a mainland brand and not really my focus here. I’m sure there are other NL beer history treasures at the Duke, so be sure to search them out when you’re there!

Below, as a closing note, is the Duke’s account of their microbrewery and the brewing process. You can see this poster yourself on your way to the Duke’s downstairs bathrooms.

The Duke’s Own Microbrew History

The Duke’s Own Process

The Brewing Process

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