Category Archives: Labels

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

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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Filed under Advertisement, Bennett Brewing, Black Horse, Dominion Ale, Labels, Material Culture

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

Red Top Golden Amber Beer

Occasionally I find a beer that I don’t know too much about, so I don’t really know what to write when I want to post a picture. Case and point: Newfoundland Brewery’s “Red Top Golden Amber Beer.”

Newfoundland Brewery’s Red Top Golden Amber Beer, my collection.

I found this bottle down at Livyers’ Antiques on Duckworth Street in St. John’s in June of 2012. All I really know about it is that it was brewed by Newfoundland Brewery, probably before 1962, though the stubby makes me question that. Stubbys were usually a little later into the 1960s, but it could be that the Newfoundland Brewery was ahead of the curve.

It’s a very heavy stubby and the corners feel more well rounded than many more modern examples. It feels very solid even compared to the 1970s bottles from the Atlantic Brewery.

So that’s it. A bottle that I know very little about other than from inference. Well, at least it’s a looker!

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Filed under Labels, Newfoundland Brewery

The Scoop on Storm Brewing in Newfoundland

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:

Storm Free Newfoundland Stubby, c. mid-2000s, my collection.

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.

Storm Bombers, c. 2011-2012, my collection.

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.

Storm Hemp Ale, c. mid-2000s, photo credit Colin Power.

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.

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Filed under Culture, Labels, Overview, Storm Brewing

The Atlantic Brewery

Throughout this site I’ve covered a great number of Newfoundland’s former breweries. One that I’ve really neglected  has been the Atlantic Brewery in Stephenville. On the overview I link to this page which gives a good overview of the brewery’s history, so here I want to write a few interesting points from that article and include a few pictures from my collection.

The Atlantic Brewery, a high-budget ($2.5 million, that’s almost $4 million using a rough inflation calculation – that’s a lot for any brewery) project, opened in 1968 with a staff of 50 people. Within a year the brewery reduced its workforce and then shutdown. Why it failed doesn’t seem to be obvious. It might be a case of “too big, too quick,” but until I hit the archives for some old newspapers I can only speculate.

The Brewery produced, to my knowledge, two primary beers. Their flagship was Atlantic Lager.

Atlantic Lager, my collection, 2012.

It came in a pretty simply stubby with the Atlantic Brewery’s logo, which looks a bit like Poseidon to me. The bottles I have, I have two (the better condition one is pictured), both still have beer in them. According to the person at Livyers Antiques, who I purchased the bottles from, many of the bottles were left over as unsold surplus after the brewery closed and ended up not being drank. So, if you find a bottle it’ll likely be full! This might also account for why the brewery closed. How bad does a beer have to be that most of the old bottles you find aren’t opened?

Atlantic Cap (Red), my collection, 2012.

Atlantic Cap (Blue), my collection, 2012.

The brewery also made another, apparently less popular product called “Atlantic Draft.”

Atlantic Draft, my collection, 2012.

According to the person I bought this one from Draft bottles are considerably more rare. Considering the short lifespan of the brewery, it’s remarkable that any survive at all!

Once the brewery closed in 1969 it was purchased by the Bison Petroleum and Minerals Ltd. from the government. The brewery appears to have gone bankrupt and into receivership, so most of the $1.1 million purchase price was paid to creditors and the rest paid in bonds to the government of Newfoundland. Bison rebranded the brewery and increased production (from 200,000 cases to 400,000 cases) and invested new money to enter the export market.

Bison Brew Beer (Bison Brewing) see this post for more on this label.

The rest is pretty well put by the article linked above, so here is what they say:

By 1973, the Bison Brewing Company was on the way out of Stephenville. The brewery started laying off workers in the winter of the same year due to a slow period in the brewing industry. By the end of 1973 Bison Petroleum had left Stephenville. This was also due to a major flood that caused more than $1 million in damages to the facilities. However, at this time Stephenville Brewery started up and became a successful operation. Even though Bison Petroleum was only in Stephenville for three years, that three years was enough to get the area’s economy back up and running again. The brewery gave life back to the town after the base closed down. In 1974 Labatt Breweries began operations at the site. This establishment operated until the fall of 1981. At that time personnel were laid off and the Stephenville brewerie’s responsibilities were transferred to St. John’s.

So that’s the brief history of the rise and fall of the Atlantic Brewery. It’s useful to note for dating bottles that if a Labatt brand (like Blue Star or Jockey) says “St. John’s and Stephenville” then it’s likely from between 1974-1981. It’s too bad about the Atlantic Brewery, it’d be nice to have breweries outside of the Avalon today, even a small one making local craft beer (though the scope of the Atlantic Brewery certainly wasn’t to be a craft brewery like we’d recognize today). I also wonder how many more unopened bottles of Atlantic Lager are out there. Anyone want to drink 50 year old beer with me?

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Filed under Atlantic Brewery, Labels, Other Brewers