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: Newfoundland Brewery
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.”
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!
I was looking though some photos of old Newfoundland beer bottles I took on my trip back home in June of 2012 and noticed that I haven’t posted all of them! In particular, I had missed posting some old Bennett Dominion Ale and India Beer bottles.
First, a pretty sad specimen that I found in my parents garage. It wasn’t really preserved with care!
The next is a collection that I picked up from a collector in Grand Falls. It has an old India (1960s), a Jockey (1960s), a Blue Star (discussed here), and a much older Dominion (1960s).
Here is a bit of a close up of the Dominion “Brewed exclusively from the finest malt and hops” and the old blue India label.
The blue India label is, of course, not the original parallelogram-style label that you can see on the main overview. Speaking of that design, however, reminds me of an odd bit of internet reflexivity.
The Obsolescence Project that takes beautiful pictures of old objects recently featured an old india beer bottle. It’s one of the old parallelogram-labels and they even link to nlbeerhistory.com as a useful and “incredibly comprehensive site” for finding out about Newfoundland’s beer history. That’s little ol’ me! So, please do check out their fantastic photos.
They have also featured an old Dominion Ale stubby that is also well worth checking out!
This blog was started with the intention of unravelling the histories of some of the corner store favorites of Newfoundland beer drinkers. The thing is, I’ve been looking at the traffic that I’ve been getting on this site and I’ve noticed something: there are a lot of non-Newfoundlanders interested in our beer brands. That’s great news, but, unless they have access to a Marie’s Mini-Mart, they don’t really know what the beer scene here is all about. (Update: I’ve made this post a permanent page with larger images and a nice layout.)
Before I talk about these beers I should note that this is just about the brands made by Molson and Labatt. If you are interested in the other brewers in Newfoundland, the craft brewers and brew-pubs, then check out Quidi Vidi Brewing, Storm Brewing, and Yellowbelly. That’s all the craft beer in the provence! If you’re looking for “real ale” (cask ale) or anything that keeps up with North American Craft beer (or even a year-round IPA), you’re going to have to wait a few years.
This post is intended as an introduction to the old Newfoundland Beer Brands, what I like to call “nostalgia marcos.” They are beers brewed by the big brewers (Molson and Labatt) but that throw back to an older brewery or brand. This is not unusual in the brewing world. Latrobe Brewing, known for their Rolling Rock lager, is a brand belonging to Anheuser-Busch InBev. Alexander Keith’s is Labatt’s. Even Labatt’s beer (like Blue) are really a brand of Anheuser–Busch InBev, so there are a lot of what historians call “invented traditions” in the beer industry. Brewers, big and small alike, like to connect their beer drinkers with the long history of beer brewing.
In Newfoundland these nostalgia marcos are legendary. There are five remaining brands (two beloning to Labatt and three belonging to Molson) and almost every Newfoundlander you will ever meet will have one that they champion over the others. If your here visiting it might be worth trying some of these beers, but if your a visiting beer geek I doubt you’ll be impressed (these are brewed by the big brewers). On to the beers!
There are five traditional Newfoundland brands still being brewed: Bennett Dominion Ale, India Beer, Black Horse, Blue Star, and Jockey Club. In terms of taste and apparence they are pretty close and they are all, pretty much, fizzy yellow lagers. They come in 6 and 12 packs of semi-longneck bottles (about in inch shorter than mainland longneck bottles) which are all twist off. Blue Star, Jockey, and Black Horse all have their own printed caps, with Jockey having two different logos on the cap (either the Horse or the beer name), while India and Dominion simply have Molson caps.
Lets talk about Bennett Dominion Ale first.
Bennett Dominion Ale is a Molson product, brewed out of their St. John’s brewery. While it is listed as an ale, there is little of the ale taste that an American or Brit might expect. Ales are usually fermented at a warmer temperature than lagers, giving them a bigger taste, but, and this is speculation on my part, as Molson only produces lagers at the Newfoundland brewery, I suspect that this brewed at only slightly warmer temperatures than any other beer they produce. Bennett, as discussed on the main page of this project, was bought by Carling-O’Keefe and when Molson took over Carling the Bennett brands came with them. It’s really nice to see that the name lives on in this beer “for Newfoundlanders only.”
Molson also brews the beer that was all the rage in the downtown music scene a few years back, India Beer. This beer, which is NOT an India Pale Ale, was brewed by the Newfoundland Brewing Company alongside their India Pale Ale. Both existed, but, as I understand, this was the lighter version. Generally people I’ve talked to describe it as a sweeter lager.
Labatt bought the Bavarian Brewing company and still brew two of their brands, Blue Star and Jockey Club. These are the two that I find the most distinct. As a lager, Blue Star is light and clean tasting, while Jockey Club (which is still a lager or, if it is an ale, a lagered or very light one) is slightly more flavour-full. Jockey Club was advertised as the “champagne of beers” back in the Bavarian days, and, if you look really hard, you might pick up notes of cheap sparkling wine. Blue Star has a big dedicated following, particularly vocal since it was rebranded with the Newfoundland Flag in the early 1990s, while Jockey Club is often considered a bit of a joke. In two rounds of blind taste tests between these five beers I ended up preferring Jockey over the others (I usually drink double IPAs and Imperial Stouts), so take that for what it’s worth!
The best for last. Not that it’s the best beer, but the 2010 redesign of Black Horse is really interesting for a historical point of view (the horse, which is the iconic part and on many labels on this site, now has a Newfoundland and Labrador shaped shadow on its body right before the hind legs). I mean, Black Horse Ale, as a brand, was one of the biggest in North America. It’d put Molson Canadian to shame. The Newfoundland version (which came with Carling-O’Keefe in 1962) has changed from an ale to a “premium” lager (more on this here), but the iconic black horse is still proudly on the label. It’s one of the most interesting to me, especially as they proudly say “Brewed only in Newfoundland and Labrador” when really it’s a mainlander who came here in the 1960s. There is no way you know his grandfather.
Those are the five current Newfoundland Beer Brands made by Labatt and Molson. I should note that O-Keefe Extra Old Stock was discontinued here in 2009 (it’s another beer of mainland origin), so that’s not included. These beers are great reminders of the brewing heritage in Newfoundland that was deeply rooted in independent brewers. While they might not be exciting to beer-geek tastes they are something to try when your here. If you do see them anywhere else in Canada it’s likely because of a high concentration of Newfoundlanders (like in Alberta) who still swear by their favorite brands. Will they ever get wider distribution? It’s doubtful, but then again, Labatt’s nostalgia brand in Nova Scotia, Alexander Keiths, is now a North American faux-craft beer, so anythings possible. But if you are here and looking for beers to drink be sure not to forget our craft brewers! They are writing the future of beer in Newfoundland.
I was re-watching a youtube compilation of old Newfoundland beer labels this morning and I realized that searching for them online didn’t bring up any results. Anyone looking for a history of Bavarian Brewing’s Bulldog beer would be totally out of luck. Here, I’m going to list a few of the brands highlighted in the video.
The original video can be watched here on YouTube. It’s not my content and I did not make the video, so don’t blame me if you don’t like the song they use!
From Bavarian Brewing Company we have Bulldog Newfoundland Style Beer, the Silver Doctor Summer Special, an Irish Style Porter, and their Three Star Lager. I’m guessing the Bulldog would be an ale, but I have no idea about the Silver Doctor. Sounds good!
From Newfoundland Brewing we have Moose Pale Ale, their Old Stock India Pale Ale, “India’s Holiday Bock Beer,” and a Red Top Golden Amber. These all sound amazing. Moose Pale Ale! How Newfoundland is that? Plus another India Pale Ale, an amazing 8% bock (a dark German spring beer), and an amber ale! What a line up!
From Bennett Brewing we’re just missing Bennett’s beer. I love that green-and-black colour combination.
From the short lived Bison Brewing (in Stephenville) we have their flagship beer, Bison Beer.
While they are harder to find, it’s important to remember that these old breweries didn’t just produce the scattered few brands that the big Canadian Breweries kept after 1962. They had a full line of beers for all sorts of different preferences. Plus, they are really beautiful labels!
I was poking through some old issues of The Newfoundland Quarterly from WWII this morning and I found a really great advertisement for Newfoundland Breweries’ India Pale Ale. It boasts that 90% of the malts and hops used in the India Pale Ale are still from Brittan and that drinking IPA is your patriotic duty. Demand it!
Today, a few more advertisements of beers by the Newfoundland Brewery Limited, India Beer and India Pale Ale.