Category Archives: Overview

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

Newfoundland Beer Brands

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!

The Nostalgia Macros

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.

From my blind taste test.

Lets talk about Bennett Dominion Ale first.

Dominion Ale Box Art circa 2012

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.”

India Beer Box Art circa 2012.

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.

Blue Star Box Art circa 2012.

Jockey Club Box Art circa 2012.

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!

Black Horse Lager Box Art circa 2012.

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.

The Nostalgia Macros, 2012.

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.

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Filed under Bavarian Brewing, Bennett Brewing, Black Horse, Blue Star, Contemporary Beer, Dominion Ale, India Beer, Jockey Club, Labels, Newfoundland Brewery, Overview