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.
Category Archives: Culture
Hark, what’s that noise, out by the porch door?
Dear Granny, there’s mummers, there’s twenty or more.
Her old weathered face lightens up with a grin.
“Any mummers, nice mummers ‘lowed in?”
It’s Christmas time in Newfoundland and I’m home for the holidays, which means drinking lots of Newfoundland Christmas beer.
Fortunately for craft beer drinkers, two of Newfoundland’s craft breweries have recently started producing seasonal ales for the holidays. Quidi Vidi began producing their Mummer’s Brew (an rich Amber Ale) several years ago.
Originally featuring a Newfoundland Mummer’s party – a night of dressing up and touring around the community dancing, drinking, and playing music – the label has now been modernized to fit in with their new streamlined packing design. Its available on tap at a few places in the city (I’ve had it at Christian’s on George and the Duke of Duckworth so far) and it’s also in 6-packs at NLC locations and at the brewery (which is also beautifully decorated for Christmas)!
The other seasonal beer brewed up for Christmas is Yellowbelly’s Mummer’s Brew. I know – I know – there are only three craft breweries in Newfoundland and two of those three have made a Christmas seasonal with the same name… Go figure!
Yellowbelly’s Mummer’s Brew first appeared in 2011 when it was a quite tasty spiced Winter Ale. This year (2012) it has changed to a 7% Chocolate Porter. Its available down at the brewery on tap and in bottles, which you can also find at NLC locations.
I should mention that Storm’s Coffee Porter has long been a Christmas tradition for me. It’s their Winter seasonal! (See my post on Storm for more about them!)
Oh, I suppose you fine mummers would turn down a drop,
Of homebrew or alky, whatever you got.
Sure the one with his rubber boots on the wrong feet,
needs enough for to do him all week.
As the first year comes to a close for the Newfoundland Beer History Project, I’d like to say thank you for everyone that’s shown encouragement for this project and who has shared in my interest in learning about Newfoundland’s beer history! Over 10,000 people have checked out this blog in this first year and I’ve got a lot more planned for the future. I hope the holidays treat everyone well and that good beer can find you where ever you are!
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Today, a few more advertisements of beers by the Newfoundland Brewery Limited, India Beer and India Pale Ale.
Bennett Brewing was one of the most powerful and popular breweries in Newfoundland in the 1950s. In the 1950s there were many advertisements claiming that the “big three” beers in Newfoundland were Dominion Pale Ale, Dominon Stout, and Rainbow Beer. Here are a few examples:
The connection between Newfoundland music and Bennett Brewing is one I plan to explore in a future post. The Newfoundland Songbook in it’s many volumes was presented by Bennett Brewing and/or Dominion Ale is a major part of Newfoundland’s Brewing Heritage. I’ll be reviewing an article by Paul Mercer and Mac Swackhammer “`The singing of old Newfoundland Ballads and a cool glass of good beer go hand and hand’: Folklore and `Tradition’ in Newfoundland Advertising” Culture and Tradition 3 (1978) 36-45.
Watching the Republic of Doyle last night (season 3, episode 9, “Mirror Mirror”) I noticed something: beer advertisements for a fake beer! Posted all around the walls of the bar (not the Duke set, another bar that I’ve only seen in this episode) were signs for a beer brand called “Gallows,” with the line (from what I can tell) “Get Sent to the Gallows” as its tag. [Update: see below, it says “Get Thee to the Gallows”]
Another poster was on a different wall, but it’s even harder to make out the text.
So, it looks to be a well-headed amber ale that you can get nice pints of on draft. But, to make it even more appealing, you can get a six pack of Gallows in cans as seen scattered about a hungover Doyle in episode 3 (“Hot Package”) of the same season.
Until the DVD’s come out I won’t be able to grab any higher quality images of the cans/adverts. It would be really great if they ended up in some of the extras, as I think they are new to this season (other seasons have had subtle Quidi Vidi labels).
One more thing. In the background of the bar (again, not the Duke) there was a lineup of some of the NL-marco brews. Nice to see India beer getting screen time. Again, note the beer on the far right (next to the hula dancer) looks to be a Gallows too. (An amber ale in a green bottle! Preposterous! So much for reality on the television!)
I’d love to find out some more about the branding because even though it’s a fake beer, the Republic of Doyle is a pretty iconic show so it’s interesting that they’ve created a new brand rather than borrowing one from Quidi Vidi, Storm, or Yellowbelly. Couldn’t these all just be 1892 adverts? Maybe Allan Hawco is planning to make a foray into the craft beer business after the show? I doubt it! It’s probably just less paperwork for legal if they make up a brand.
Update: I found an old tweet from @republicofdoyle where there is a nice large picture of the sign! All that work for nothing! It’s a premium pilsner, so I’m imagining it’s like the Barking Squirrel by Hop City because of the similar darker than expected for a pilsner color.
Major Update (March 15, 2012): So, the week after I made this post a whole episode of the Republic of Doyle was focused on the murder of the owner of the (apparently quite affluent) Gallows Brewery (season 3, episode 10). I might update with a few of the other advertisements when I can.