Category Archives: Microbreweries

What to Expect in Newfoundland Beer in 2018

Happy New Year! And what a year it’s shaping up to be for Newfoundland beer. We’ve got so many new breweries in the works and many of our existing breweries are turning a corner or expanding to offer more beer and ways to get it. Let’s run down through the projects and see what’s happening.

Oh, and if you haven’t already, check out the East Coast Crafted book by Whitney Moran and Christopher Reynolds. It puts a lot of this recent growth in context and shows just how much there is left to do even with this recent boom of breweries. While all the breweries coming up in Newfoundland might feel like a lot, for other provinces with similar populations we’re still playing a lot of catch up.

Let’s start with the first wave breweries. The legal dispute that seemed endless has finally settled for Quidi Vidi Brewing. With the end of the stalemate that held the brewery to business as usual there is a new sense of excitement that Quidi Vidi can pivot to a more craft-driven model with new beers alongside their classics like Iceberg. Yellowbelly Brewpub has opened a separate retail shop for their beers and pizzas a little further down Water Street and have also announced that they will be opening a full service restaurant at the airport in St. John’s. Meanwhile, Storm Brewing seems to be holding with their current lineup and availability of beers.

The opening of Port Rexton Brewing ushered in a more modern, mainland facing and connected, era of craft brewing in Newfoundland. With co-owners Alicia McDonald and Sonja Mills pushing for a new school of craft breweries to open on the island, a wave of new breweries have announced their intention to open in the next year or two. Look out for their beer now in St. John’s at their retail location on Torbay Road.

Both Western Newfoundland Brewing Company is Pasadena and Split Rock Brewing in Twillingate opened and started pouring beer in 2017, so expect to see their products roll out to more places like Jack Axes who seems to be gunning for the mantle of best place in Newfoundland to try beer from here.  Both breweries (along with Port Rexton) were featured at Stillwell in Halifax for the launch of East Coast Crafted, which is perhaps the most beer from Newfoundland breweries ever poured off the island.

As for new breweries opening soon, Scudrunner Brewing in Gander is expected to open in early 2018, with Dildo Brewing in Dildo and Secret Cove Brewing in Port au Port East are seemingly under development enough to be open in the coming year. Rough Waters Brewing Company in Burin is also targeting a spring release. The unnamed Firehall Brewery project on Duckworth Street (lead by Phil Maloney of Hey Rosetta! fame) in St. John’s might also be ready to pour beer this year.

In planning stages, Motion Bay in Petty Harbour, Ninepenny in Conception Bay South, and an upcoming Brewery Project in Mount Pearl are also looking to build up this year with either a late 2018 or early 2019 pouring date. Additionally, Crooked Feeder Brewing in Cormack and Bootleg Brew Co in Corner Brook are also still in the planning stages. As is Boomstick Brewing, also in Corner Brook, who have begun the stages of an environmental assessment. Additionally, Baccalieu Trail Brewing Company in Bay Roberts and the Brigus Brewing Company in Brigus have begun their environmental assessments. And RagnaRöck Northern Brewing Company is hoping to have beer by 2019, too.

For those keeping track, the operating list includes Quidi Vidi, Yellowbelly, Storm, Port Rexton, Western Newfoundland, and Split Rock (6). The “in planning” list includes Scudrunner, Dildo, Secret Cove, Rough Waters, the Firehall project, Motion Bay, Ninepenny, the Brewery Project in Mount Pearl, Crooked Feeder, Boomstick Brewing, Baccalieu Trail Brewing Company, Brigus Brewing, RagnaRöck Northern Brewing Company, and Bootleg Brewing (14). That’s potentially 20 breweries operating in the province by the end of 2018 or in early 2019.

At this development pace, Newfoundland could potentially have 20 breweries by 2020. For a province which for so many years was seeming locked at three craft breweries, these are exciting times. Which one are you most excited about? Something new or are you excited about more things from a brewery you’ve loved for years? With so many options about to come around, drinking good beer in Newfoundland is about to be much easier.


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Filed under Contemporary Beer, Microbreweries, news

NL Brewery News, August 2017

Let’s check in on the status of some brewery projects around the island. Here are a few news stories you should check out from the last few weeks.

If you’re interested in a great weekly update about all of Atlantic Canada, check out the Atlantic Canada Beer Blog which is updated every Friday with all of the news.

Western Newfoundland Brewing Company

The Atlantic Canada Beer Blog reports that WNBC will be releasing some new beers, one of which is a spruce beer inspired by James Cook, as per the CBC.

Split Rock Brewing Co.

Out in Twillingate, The Overcast reports that Split Rock will be operational soon  with seven, more English-inspired beers on tap. See page 11 of the July issue for more information.

Dildo Brewing Company

The Overcast also reports that the Dildo Brewing Company has won the  $12,500 Albedo Grant, which will help them get their interesting brewery and museum on the way to operating. See the cover story (pages 14-15) of the July issue of The Overcast for full details.

Port Rexton Brewing

Finally, Port Rexton was in Halifax pouring beer at the Seaport Beer Festival and got a chance to brew with the folks at 2 Crows Brewing Co  while they were out there. Looks like a fun time!

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Filed under Contemporary Beer, Microbreweries, news

The Newfoundland Beer Strike of 1985

In 1985 the three major breweries in Newfoundland, Labatt, Carling O’Keefe, and Molson, stopped producing beer. For most of the year, from April until mid-November, there was no commercial beer produced in Newfoundland. Those who lived through the beer strike seem to remember it as a shared trauma or as what the poet and storyteller Ben Ploughman called a collective “hangover,” but for many of us from a younger generation these stories are not at all clear.1

The story of the 1985 beer strike lives on in local legend, but there isn’t really any clear account of what actually happened in 1985. I’ve heard the basic chronology from my father: the breweries went on strike, the liquor board imported American beer – which everyone hated – and, once the strike was resolved, all the American beer was discounted to a ludicrous degree. This isn’t actually too far from what happened, however, I’d like to iron our a few details.

The strike started at the Labatt brewery where unionized workers, protesting the introduction of aluminum cans which they felt threatened their job security, went on strike on April 1.2 The following day O’Keefe and Molson locked out their workers (O’Keefe had about 70 and Molson had about 60) in accordance with an agreement between the three breweries. So, because of this agreement, workers at all three major Newfoundland breweries were either locked out or officially on strike by April 2, 1985.

"Glass is Class, Ban the Can," Union Badge

“Glass is Class, Ban the Can,” Union Badge

The other unions, the ones who were locked out due to covert corporate agreements, were actively frustrated by this action. Kevin Walsh, the president of Local 354 of the United Brewery, Flour, Cereal, Soft­drink and Distillery Workers union, took part in an occupation of the Carling O’Keefe plant in downtown St. John’s in early May. He stated, upset at the lack of official reasoning for the lockout, ”We want to sit down at the negotiating table and work out an agreement.”3 The cause of the strike was not simply a union issue, it had to do with the limited competition in the Newfoundland brewery market and corporate solidarity.

By May many local pubs and taverns were running low on beer supplies. Steve Sparkes, the president of Hospitality Newfoundland, told the Globe and Mail on May 11 that within ” maybe 12 or 14 days… every bar will be out of beer,” and that “[p]eople just haven’t switched to liquor as we had hoped.”4 The solution to the beer shortage was one which many Newfoundlander’s came to abhor: importing larger quantities of American beer.

Ben Ploughman, in his poem “The Beer Strike of ’85,” calls the beer alternatives provided by the Newfoundland Liquor Corporation (NLC), canned beers like Lone Star, Old Milwaukee and Pabts Blue Ribbon, “American froth.” He laments that beers, even Canadian and Dutch ones, like Heineken, Mooshead, and Schooner, just could not “satisfy the thirst / That had plagued this Newfoundland.” Nothing it seems, was as good as Dominion or Blue, his preferred two brands. (I’m uncertain if “blue” is referring to Blue Star or Labatt Blue, but, given the nationalistic context, it would likely be Blue Star.)

In the first four months of the strike/lockout overall beer sales dipped 20 per cent from the previous year and the NLC imported “36 million bottles or cans of beer from the United States and 8.4 million cans or bottles from Europe.”5 Newfoundland was not the only provence struggling with brewing industry labour problems in 1985. There was also a lockout of Ontario’s three major breweries in March of 1985 because of similar union fears that cans would both displace workers and allow for greater beer mobility and centralization.6 These fears of greater brewery centralization also appeared in the Newfoundland strike. Fraser March, president of the Newfoundland Association of Public Employees, stated in a 1985 press conference that: “I believe that the brewing industry has a secret agenda in this province and that secret agenda is to pull all breweries out of Newfoundland and have beer brewed in large regional breweries, one in Halifax and one in Montreal for sure, and have all beer sold in non­returnable cans.”7

The portability of cans seemed to offer a greater ability for breweries to centralize and streamline their production. Because cans could be shipped long distances, unions feared that breweries would move out of a small, regional production model and towards a larger centralized one. In many cases this seems to have happened in the years since 1985, however, notably Labatt and Molson both still operate breweries in Newfoundland and still mostly use the regional Newfoundland semi-short-neck bottles.

Aside from impacting our ideas of canned beer, the strike also raises an interesting point about beer brewing in Newfoundland. Ploughman, in his poem about the strike, writes: “And such the likes were never seen / Of homebrew that was brewed, / From herring barrels and plastics pails / So thick as Irish stew.” It’s interesting to think about what a beer strike and an influx of cheep, poorly received American beer did for the homebrewing movement in Newfoundland. It’s also interesting to think about how almost a year of American imports might have shaped Newfoundland beer tastes, which still tend to favour lighter beers.

The strike/lockout ended in November when the union and Labatt came to an agreement after a 22 hour bargaining season.8 Beer sales had plummeted 15% over the previous year – a drop of almost $15 million dollars. The remaining American beer was discounted to, according to Ploughman, nine-sixty, but apparently sales were still slow. Ploughman continues:

Now what was the government to do
With thousands of leftover froth,
It was decided to hit rock bottom
Six dollars for the rest of the lot.

So us Newfies gave in once more
One final crack at those can of beer,
It was cheeper than a pepsi or coke
We called it `hangover beer of the year.’

The beer strike/lockout of 1985 is an important historical event in the history of Newfoundland. It deals with corporate collusion and market control in the beer industry, union responses to changing labour practices and technologies, beer preferences and brand loyalties, and perhaps even played a part in the growth of a homebrewing tradition in Newfoundland. For those of us too young to remember the strike, let’s be thankful that there are more local options now than ever before and hope that a drought of local beer in Newfoundland will never happen again.

1 Ben J. Ploughman, Born and Bred on `The Rock’: Original Newfoundland Stories, Recitations and Poetry (Creative Publishers, 1988).

2 “Across Canada: Lounge Owners Seek More Beer,” The Globe and Mail, May 31, 1985.

3 “Brewery Workers Impatient,” The Globe and Mail, May 3, 1985.

4 “Across Canada: Newfoundland taverns are running short of beer,” The Globe and Mail, May 11, 1985.

5 “Breweries deny union charges,” The Globe and Mail, August 27, 1985.

6 “Beer flow should resume Monday,” The Globe and Mail, March 16, 1985.

7 “Breweries deny union charges,” opt. cit..

8 “Contract ends Newfoundland beer strike,” The Ottawa Citizen, November 15, 1985.


Filed under Beer Strike, History, Microbreweries

Newfoundland Quarterly

Today, some old adverts from old issues of the Newfoundland Quarterly.

A Bennett Brewing Advert from volume 46, issue 2 (page 41) of the Newfoundland Quarterly (1946)

I also found another beer brewed by the Bavarian Brewing Company from 1946:

Bavarian Brewing advert from volume 46, issue 2 of the Newfoundland Quarterly (1946)

And this advert for the hipster stand-by Pabst (which was imported):

Pabst Advert... Blended, yum...

From the 1955 (volume 4) of the Quarterly I found this one:

India Beer advert, NQ 1955, Volume 4.

I think they should bring back that slogan!

And, as further evidence everything was rainbows in Newfoundland in the 1950’s:

Rainbow Tea?

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Filed under Advertisement, Bavarian Brewing, Bennett Brewing, India Beer, Microbreweries, Rainbow Beer

Budweiser in Newfoundland

Thus far I have really only been posting about old breweries and beer brands that were brewed in Newfoundland. Of course, that’s not the full story. Many breweries, just as they do now, were brewing big name brands under licence in Newfoundland. Others beers were imported and distributed by local companies (like the Lindberg Beer Company, who distributed Bass and Guinness). This advert, from the June 20, 1914, Evening Telegram (found in the Memorial University of Newfoundland’s digitized collection), is evidence of Budweiser’s early history in Newfoundland as distributed by J.D. Ryan.

Budweiser Advert. Evening telegram (St. John's, NL), June 20, 1914. (From MUN's digitized collection of the Evening Telegram)

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