Category Archives: History

The Big Three of Bennett

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 "big three" as advertised in the Adelphian, the school magazine of St. Bonaventure's College in St. John's, in 1955.

A similar advert from volume 13 (page 23) of the Atlantic Guardian from 1956. They were celebrating Corner Brook's amalgamation.

A slightly more bland one from volume 31, issue 4, page 2, of the Newfoundland Quarterly from 1931.

This one, found on the cover of Burke's Ballads (compiled by Johnny White sometime near 1960) celebrates the milestones of Newfoundland's history.

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.

Another somewhat bland advert from the 1937 Newfoundland Who's Who, page 52

An advert for Haig Ale and Stout from 1926.

It’s interesting to note the medial sounding tone of the 1926 advertisement. This would be from only two short years after the end of Newfoundland’s bout with prohibition, so the medicinal aspect was still quite important, as that is how many of these breweries stayed in business during those years.
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The Atlantic Advocate

I was looking through some old copies of The Atlantic Advocate today and I found some great old advertisements. First, the one I was looking for, is this 1966 advert for the Newfoundland Brewery. Note the stubby bottles and the Molson Canadian beer. This was after the Molson takeover of 1962.

Newfoundland Brewery Advert from The Atlantic Advocate, September 1966 (page 57)

Close up of the 1966 India Pale Ale bottle.

Close up of the 1966 India Beer bottle.

Note that the label on the main page is older than the more contemporary looking version in this advert, which helps with the dating of the label and the more contemporary looking bottle.

More surprising to me was the cover of the June 1958 issue, which features a rainbow over Newfoundland as a “symbol of Newfoundland’s hopes in the Tenth Year of Confederation.” I have no evidence, only speculation, that this has something to do with Rainbow beer. Wouldn’t that be interesting?

The Cover of the June 1958 Atlantic Advocate

The Atlantic Advocate featured content from all of the Atlantic provinces and I found two other pretty interesting beer advertisements from Nova Scotia in the issues I was looking through. The first is this nice Moosehead (who are still independent) advert from the back of the 1958 issue of the Advocate.

A Cape Breton themed Moosehead Advertisement

The other was this much more provocative (read: sexist) advert for Oland’s export. Oland also made a Schooner Lager and is now caught up in the whole Labatt and Alexander Keith branding under Anheuser–Busch InBev. Either way, this advert is pretty visually stunning.

A racy advert for Nova Scotia's Oland's Export, The Atlantic Advocate, September 1966 (page 26)

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Filed under Advertisement, History, Labels, Maritimes, Newfoundland Brewery, Rainbow Beer

Overview: Bison Brewing

This is more of  a note than an overview, however, there was also a brewery in Stephenville under the names of both the Bison Brewing Co. (or Canadian Javelin Limited, 1972) and the Atlantic Brewing Co. (1967) which Labatt’s purchased in 1974. A little more about brewing in Stephenville can be found here.

I have a more detailed post on the Atlantic Brewery here.

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Spruce Beer / Callibogus

A few more notes about Spruce Beer.

First, the good people at Bidgood’s supermarket in the Goulds have published a recipe for making Spruce Beer at home. Click here to go to their page. 

I was also checking out [W J. Kirwin, G.M. Story, and J. D.A. Widdowson (editors)] The Dictionary of Newfoundland English (Toronto, 1990), which is online here (see the entry for spruce and spruce beer here) and I found some interesting usages of Spruce beer. From a savour from scurvy to starting fights and dances which “only the priest” was able to handle, Spruce beer has a distinguished, but often forgotten, role in Newfoundland’s history. Check out the entry for more!

What I found particularly interesting was the recipe for spruce beer from Sir Joseph Banks which appears in Sir Joseph Banks, Joseph Banks in Newfoundland and Labrador 1766: His Diary, Manuscripts and Collections, edited by A.M. Lysaght (University of California Press, 1971), pages 139-140.

Basically, his instructions were to take a 12 gallon copper kettle and “fill it as full of the Boughs of Black spruce as it will hold.” Then press them down, fill with water and boil it until the “rind” of the spruce will easily come off. This, he says, will “waste it about one third take them out.” To this spruce-infused water, he now says to add 1 gallon of molasses (“Melasses”) and boil until disolved. In a half hogshead (google tells me this is around 120 liters, so I’m guessing it’s just a big fermenter) combine 19 gallons of water and the mixture of spruce water and molasses. To finish “work it with Barm & Beergrounds & in Less than a week it is fit to Drink!” Barm is just the foam that forms on top of fermenting beverages, like beer and wine, so that’s the yeast source I’m guessing. That’s it!

He goes on to say (this is from the book, not the dictionary entry) that it’s a pretty weak liquor and that three kinds of “Flip Cald” can be made from it:” “Callibogus, Egg Calli & King Calli.” The term “Calibogus” is actually in Merriam Webster, but spelled with only one “l” (I’ll stick with Sir Joseph’s spelling). Callibogus, he states, is made from adding rum, brandy, or gin to the spruce beer. Egg Calli is made by heating Callibogus with egg and sugar, while King Calli is made by adding “spirit to the contents of the copper as soon as it is ready to put into the cask and drinking it hot.” I’m guessing the last one is just unfermented spruce beer combined with rum, brandy, or gin for those too impatient to wait a week. Can’t beat homemade Callibogus!

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More Black Horse Labels

The goal of this project is to consolidate as much Newfoundland beer/brewery history into one place as possible. The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, at the University of Toronto, has a large collection of old beer labels donated by Lawrence C. Sherk which have been scanned in very high quality. Since they are creative commons licensed for sharing, remixing, or commercializing with the condition that “[y]ou must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work),” here are a few of the older Black Horse ones:

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More Vintage Advertisements

A few more advertisements! These are from Patrick Kevin Devine, Ye olde St. John’s, 1750-1936 (Newfoundland Directories, 1936):

Advertisement for India Pale Ale, page 84.

Advertisement for Bennett Brewery, page 162.

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A Pre-History of Newfoundland Beer

The Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador (Joseph R. Smallwood and Robert D.W. Pitt (editors), Newfoundland Book Publishers, 1981), page 251, states the following:

Some of the earliest references to beer consumption in Newfoundland appear in reference to John Guy’s colonists at Cupids and in the papers of Sir Percival Willoughby, from 1610 to 1631. Beer was commonly used as an alternative to fresh water by most seafaring nations of the day, and as a result beer was included as a staple of amy fisherman’s and early colonists’ diets. “An inventory of what provisions is Left at the English Coloni [sic] in Cupis Cove in the New Founde Lande [sic]” dating from August 1611 mentions fourteen pipes of beer included in the Colony’s provisions. “A noate [sic] for the provition [sic] of 20 men for Newfoundland” dated April 3, 1613 recommended some fifty hogsheads of beer for the voyage. Another typical voyage of the period, made by Richard Whitborne in 1622, carried twenty-six tuns of beer and cider. Sir William Vaughan (cited in D.W. Prowse: 1895) advised that strong liquor was unhealthy in cold climates such as Newfoundland’s and said that barley water or spruce beer was better for the health.

The first locally brewed beer or cider was probably “beer brewed with molasses and spruce” which Sir Nicholas Trevanions mentions in article 27 of his Orders of the Fishery in 1712 (cited in Prowse). One of the earliest references to an established brewery on the Island appears in a letter from Governor Gambier to Alexander Caine, dated September 13, 1802. Caine was granted permission to establish a malt beer brewery on Mundy’s Brook, which feed Mundy Pond, St. John’s.

In spite of a rising organized Temperance Movement throughout Newfoundland in the mid-and late-1800s, several local firms established breweries or become involved in importing foreign stout, ales and porters, which are often regarded as a treatment for the invalided, feeble or sickly. By 1897 E. W. Bennett’s Riverhead Brewery was producing an Invalid Stout for those in “delicate health.” During this period several local companies became agents for European stouts and ales which were popular in the community. At least two local companies, J. Lindberg and James Baird Limited, became agents for Barr and Company Ale and Dogs Head Bass Bear, Guiness [sic] Stout and William McEwen Limited Beer, and several companies even exported beer products to England. As a result of a strong temperance sentiment throughout the Island most companies during the 1800s also produced Aerated Water (soft drinks) and syrups.

At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, however, public sentiment in favour of restrictions on alcohol consumption resulted in the passage of the Intoxicating Liquor Act (1 Geo. V, c. 1) in 1911, and a tavern-closing curfew of 9:00 pm. In 1917 the Prohibition Plebiscite Act (8 Geo. V. 1 & 2, c. 22) imposed total prohibition on alcohol consumption in Newfoundland. Most breweries simply reverted to their original production of aerated water or “near” beer (containing not more than 2% alcohol) until prohibition was ended in 1924.

What would a spruce and molasses beer taste like? Probably something like this one made by Garrison Brewing in Halifax. I should also note that one of the more popular accounts of Newfoundland’s beer history, from the Newfoundland Liquor Corporation’s Occasions Magazine from Fall 2008, seems to be largely based on this account from the Encyclopaedia.

Even more on Spruce Beer and Temperance in Newfoundland can be found in this article by Lara Maynard, “The National Temperance Drink of Newfoundland,” Oceanside Press Volume 4-Issue 5, page 3. Some one really needs to make a Newfoundland Spruce Beer called “callibogus.”

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