Brewing Industry Advances In The Jazz Era


1920s Innovations in Packaging Beer Echo Down The Ages

Some may wonder why the 1908 Molson Pale Ale, or that style of “real ale”, was out of production for so long.

Increasingly after WW I, bottled ales, in areas influenced by British beer traditions, became clear, fizzy and well-filtered. In Canada they tended to resemble lagers. In England they retained a more traditional character but were still different from beer naturally-matured in the bottle.

The technological pace quickened after WW I. The brewers claimed that is what the public wanted, which is at least partly true. There were complaints before the war that beer with a yeast deposit required discarding a portion of it – in those years people liked to pour their drink clear – to decant it.  Another reason was to ensure better stability in the bottle. To further this end, a lot of this new type of beer was pasteurized.

The new style was variously called sparkling ale, dinner ale, gem ale. In Canada and the U.S., draft beer took this form too. In England, the draft beers were still for another 40-50 years cask-conditioned and reasonably traditional in nature, albeit somewhat altered too, being weaker and less hopped than before.

Molson Export Ale, first released in 1903, was a harbinger of this new style. Today, beers such as Labatt 50 and Keith’s India Pale Ale best exemplify the type.

In 1908, one can infer that Molson still made some of the older style. The recreation is 6.8% abv and accords pretty much with known characteristics of pale ale before 1900: placed in the bottle unfiltered; light amber in hue; 6-7% abv; aged in cask and then the bottle before being released to the market.

IMG_20160211_213351One could infer all this history from the product types known to be in the market at different times and from English brewing sources. But as it happens, confirmation comes from Molson itself, in the form of a speech a fourth generation member of the family gave in 1922 to a group of British brewing experts. The presentation was called, The Brewing Industry In Canada and given by Col. H. Molson who had scientific and legal credentials. It was published in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Vol. 28, Issue 7. The account provides a clear and authoritative short history of Canadian brewing (not just Molson’s) from inception to 1922 and contains much of interest.

When discussing the kind of beer Molson’s had fixed on for the future, it is clear this beer was 5% abw or less (a law enacted a year earlier in Quebec required that, it should be noted), filtered and carbonated, aged mid-50sF*, and with characteristics of both ale and lager. Molson said the “stock” beers of the 1800s, strong, aged nine to 12 months in wood and then bottled and aged again, were a memory. Indeed this proved accurate for the next 95 years, but this 1908 pale ale is a rare return to the past, one which proves that Canadian brewing in its early years had the hallmarks of craft brewing.


*In an earlier draft, I stated “aged cold” but changed it to the phrasing stated as, re-reading Molson’s remarks, I see he states the beer was held at 52-56F for eight to 16 weeks, and dropped to freezing (32F) only before bottling. Clearly, in 1922, the beers (ales) were processed in a way to retain some traditional character including still being all-malt. This changed in later decades with increasingly shorter storage times, colder storage, and introduction of grain adjuncts, generally in the Canadian industry that is.

Note re first image used: the image above is called Art Deco Border by Dawn Hudson, and is in the public domain. It was sourced here.

Molson Digs In The Archives – Finally


Molson Coors Takes A Look In Its Old Books, To Our Benefit

I was always puzzled why large breweries didn’t make beers from their own archives. Why buy craft brewers when you have all the history in your own file cabinet? For years I have been on this theme, on beer websites, others’ blogs, finally my own.

Pabst did release in the last couple of years Ballantine India Pale Ale and Burton Ale. With good results even though not every beer inevitably will please every punter. Coors released a supposed pre-1919 lager recipe a few years ago (so-so, in my eyes). Fuller has done stellar work in London with super-fine stout and strong ale releases from c. 1900.

In Canada, nothing – until today. John H.R. Molson & Bros. 1908 Historic Pale Ale is in the local Beer Stores, just out this week they told me. Well, what do you know…

The ad copy on the case states that a recipe of that year was used to brew it, of which I have no doubt. Molson isn’t going to fib about this. And the results show the authenticity: it has the true orangey colour of Victorian-into-1900s pale ale, a firm, mineral hop character with light orange notes, definite (non-DMS) yeast character, and a pleasant, light malty taste. Pale ale was not a rich, sweet beer traditionally, it was on the dry side and did not satiate. This beer is exactly like that.  It is 6.8% abv, and unfiltered by which I take it, it is unpasteurized.

Ron Pattinson has a spec for a J.H.R. Molson 1897 pale ale here (at p.241), and there it is about 1% lower in alcohol than this recreation. But close enough certainly, and numerous IPAs in the table from other brewers, including Boswell which I discussed here recently, are much closer in strength to the Molson 1908. Even from the same brewer, beers varied more then than today for a number of reasons, long storage alone could add a point of ABV.

In other words, that table just confirms the authenticity of what’s in this bottle, IMO.

All in all it tastes English, it reminds me of many fine bitters – pre-the craft penetration of the U.K. – from the 80s and 90s.  It’s sort of like Orval too without the brett, and Michael Jackson always said Orval was an English pale ale style. Or like John Martin’s Pale Ale actually, for those who know it.

Good on Molson Coors. Now, as Alan said in a tweet today, let’s see a 1808. 🙂

Creemore Springs urBock


I will return to the subject of beer in 1800s Quebec City, but for now a straight-up beer review.

This is Creemore Bock, and is very similar to what it always was, i.e., before Molson Coors scooped up the brewery just over ten years ago.

It is milk chocolate malty, lightly bitter, withal an accurate rendition of the Einbeck, Germany strongish beer style that gained favour centuries ago in Bavaria.

This particular canning impressed more than some as the yeast background, generally prominent in the Creemore line, hangs back here. Long aging in the old days (1800s-1950s) would have removed most of the grassy, loamy volatiles associated with a fresh young beer. Perhaps this batch was longer-aged – we are later in the winter now – than others I’ve tried.

Anyway, it’s all good.

Quebec City’s Boswell Brewery: History, India Ale, Archeology


Boswell Brewery in Quebec City (1852-1968)

An extraordinary story is the tale of Boswell and its beer in Quebec City or La Vieille Capitale, founded in 1608. Quebec City is one of the oldest urban settlements in North America.

Joseph Knight Boswell (1812-1890) was an Irish immigrant from Dublin. He came to Quebec City in the 1830s (some say in 1844) to work with John Racey. Racey owned two breweries. One, Cape Diamond Brewery, was acquired in 1830 from an earlier operator and continued in business through the 1800s. The other, on Rue Saint-Paul in Quebec, ended in Boswell’s hands. In 1852 Boswell bought land at the foot of Côte du Palais, or Palace Hill, on Saint-Valliers Street, to expand this brewery. Even by then the area was known for a storied history, but after a period of abandonment and fires was revived as a commercial area. A brewery fit well among the tanners, bakers, and other businesses in Palace Hill.


On part of the land Boswell purchased there had been a much earlier brewery, famously the first in Canada, the Brasserie du Roi, or King’s Brewery. This brewery was established in 1668 by the Intendant Jean Talon, when Quebec counted only 1000 people.

The Intendants were the chief administrators of French colonies and required to see to their economic and moral development. Between the first French presence in Quebec and 1759 when the English prevailed on the Plains of Abraham, a dozen Intendants had administered Quebec. Talon was considered the best and most enlightened, according to a National Breweries Ltd. 25th Anniversary commemorative booklet published in 1934 which reviewed the history of its component breweries.

It seems spirits of bad quality were being abused by the colonists. Jean Talon sought to substitute a more healthful drink and keep the money in the community. Prior to establishing a brewery, Jean Talon tried his hand at potash which was used to make soap and glass in France, but this was short-lived.

The brewery did not last long, either. By 1675, brewing had ceased; the brewery had lasted only seven years. It seems the product cost too much and people continued to buy imported spirits, or brewed at home. Other accounts say the next Intendant, Count Frontenac, didn’t have Talon’s foresight and closed the brewery hastily. The brewery building was, in the last quarter of the 17th century, used as a military prison and then for the Intendant’s residence – the palace – and judicial centre. It was progressively enlarged and modified for these purposes.

In 1713, a devastating fire burned down the brewery-turned-palace. A new palace, only 50 metres to the northwest, was built. Beneath the second palace a series of arched stone vaults were built. There were stone cavities under the first palace, too – vestiges remain today – but I am not clear whether they were built for the brewery of Jean Talon or later, when the property was a prison. (I’ve made inquiries in Quebec amongst people who may know and will report further any useful information). After the 1713 fire, the first palace location was used as the King’s storehouse, it henceforth comprised small buildings which never had the prestige of the first palace – after 1713, that transferred to the second palace.


The second palace was an expensively built, substantial building, as it served to administer French interests in North America which stretched to what is now the southern U.S. and western Canada. It burned too, in 1726, but was promptly rebuilt. The second palace was largely destroyed in 1775 by British fusillades when invading American troops led by Benedict Arnold had taken refuge there. The site remained abandoned and desolate for many decades.

When Boswell bought his land in 1852, it is not clear if he used its underground chambers to store beer. Some accounts state that, variously in the 1850s or 1860s, he rented from the War Department stone cellars under the second palace site nearby to store beer. At some point, he acquired long-term rights to build on this second emplacement, one source refers to a 99 year lease. Effectively, this was ownership, for that period. Hence, Boswell ended by controlling both former palace sites but only one had formerly housed the royal brewery, the one he bought in 1852.

After building his brewery Boswell continually expanded it, finally to four stories. After 1875 he erected a brick building on the ruins of the second palace which was destroyed in the 1775 Siege of Quebec. The new building was used for storage and a maltings. Boswell’s ceased making its own malt by the 1920s.

In 1930 National Breweries Ltd., owner of Boswell’s Brewery from 1909, opened the “Talon Vaults” in the cellars under the former maltings. These were used as a reception centre and for tourist visits. As Boswell had ceased making its own malt it made sense that the vaults were re-purposed. This marketing move can be viewed as embellishing an undeniable link between Boswell’s business and Jean Talon’s brewery, since the vaults were built in the early 1700s for use by the second palace: Jean Talon had never used them to store his beer, that is.

Archaeological work since the 1980s has confirmed the true facts, although it seems the history was known early in the 1900s, too. Perhaps, therefore, there was commercial puffery as the 25th anniversary booklet of National Breweries Ltd. refers to one palace only and assuming the distinction between the two was known, the document doesn’t say.

Between 1930 and the early 1970s when all use of the Boswell complex for brewing had ceased, some 2,000,000 people had visited the vaults. They are now more properly termed the Palace Vaults (les Voûtes du Palais) and house an interpretation centre, that is museum run by the City of Quebec.

But did Jean Talon build cellars in 1668 under his brewery site to store beer? And if he did, did Boswell use these chambers to store his beer from 1852? Certainly there are surviving cellars or tunnels under the first palace site. They are described in archeological studies conducted since the 1980s, e.g., Marcel Moussette’s excellent study cited below. The brewery used one of these chambers to funnel an aqueduct pipe through, at least in later years.  If I learn anything further I will discuss it here, as stated earlier.

In 1965-66 heavy drinkers in Quebec City of Dow Ale, made in the Boswell plant, perished in a clustered case of apparent alcohol cardiomyopathy. By 1968 all brewing onsite permanently ended. Some use of the site continued as a distribution centre for Dow Ale made in Montreal, but by 1974, the main brewery was torn down. A few buildings survive, including an art deco garage built in the 1930s.


A Picture of Boswell Brewery Not Long After Its Founding On Saint-Valliers Street

Remarkably, only five years after the brewery was built on Saint-Valliers Street, a travel guide to Quebec, by Willis Russell, gave a favourable review of Boswell’s beers with a detailed description of the activity. Several brands were mentioned: an XXX ale, India Pale Ale, and an amber, sparkling beer the writer termed “Burton”. The brewery sounds well-laid out and reflected experience Boswell had picked up on his sojourn in Edinburgh (for training) before leaving for the New World. An example is sparging, the sprinkling of water on the mash to drain the last usable extract from the grains.

Interestingly, there is mention of cellars, the author states they are shaped like the letter H on its side. It’s not clear to me if these cellars were under his property or the site of the second palace, then leased from another party. Second, if they were entirely under the land which formed the first palace, by their shape they sound like a jail built to hold prisoners, i.e., square rooms with a partition. This may suggest the rooms were built after 1668 when the property was adapted for a prison.

Boswell’s Brewery in the Mid-1940s

By the war years Boswell was making a red label Export Ale, green label India Ale, and a Cream Porter. A fine collection of Boswell labels from the Thomas Fisher Library of the University of Toronto can be seen here. These beers were likely fairly similar to Boswell’s beers in the later 1800s except that the export ale was surely a newer development, probably a lager-ale hybrid. Another change from the Victorian era was that the beers in the 1940s were probably 5% abv, whereas they were rather higher c. 1900. Nonetheless, Boswell was still using open wooden fermentation tanks during the war years and probably until later in the 1950s. The company, too, was still using wood barrels in the 40s, coated with a clear tar of some kind. Later in the 50s this changed to metal.

Somme toute, the British heritage in the beers’ make-up was still strong which did not prevent a predominantly French city, Quebec, from enjoying and indeed taking pride in them.


Boswell Brewery’s Beers in the 1940s-1950s

Brewing information about Boswell and Dow beers is set out in Nicole Dorion’s ethnological study of Boswell history, see Table 1 which appears to date from the late 1940s-early 1950s. While an outline only, it states that Boswell’s beers used barley malt and some sugar in the boil, and were matured in both wood and glass-lined metal tanks for three months. In contrast, Dow Ale was aged for four weeks. Three months is a very long time to store ale and porter in 1950, even by British standards. Also, Boswell’s ale, at least the IPA green label, was dry-hopped. Yet, Boswell also wanted its beers well-filtered and carbonated. They were a real hybrid of 1800s and 1900s techniques.

By the 1960s, the Boswell brands were history. As a result of Canadian Breweries Ltd. – E.P. Taylor’s – purchase of National Breweries Ltd. in 1952, Dow Ale became the focal point of its business in Quebec Province. The component breweries of National Breweries were amalgamated and re-named Dow Breweries.

What did Boswell’s India Ale, aged three months and dry-hopped, using its special yeast, taste like? There would be men in Quebec City, in their mid-80s, who still remember. If anyone is reading who knows such a gentleman, or Madame, pray ask and tell me what they say.


Note re images: The first image above is Breakneck Steps, Quebec City, c. 1870. Believed in public domain, sourced here. The second was sourced from a University of Laval, Quebec website, here. The third is titled A View of the Intendant’s Palace, Quebec, 1759 by William Elliot, also in the public domain and sourced from Toronto Public Libraries, here. The fourth image was sourced from Nicole Dorion’s 1991 article, L’industrie de la bière – Le Cas de la Brasserie Boswell (cited below in no. 3). The last image, a Boswell beer label, was sourced here. All are used for historical and educational purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Sources Used

  1. Le site du Palais de l’intendant à Québec: genèse et structuration d’un lieu urbain, Marcel Moussette (1994, Septentrion, Sillery, QC):           id=xJcToJ5_W0IC&pg=PA179&dq=palais+quebec+biere+Boswell&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=palais%20quebec%20biere%20Boswell&f=false
  2. Quebec Government website on Boswell Brewery:
  3. L’industrie de la bière – Le Cas de la Brasserie BoswellNicole Dorion, University of Laval (1991, article published in Material Cultural Review):
  4. Web site of L’îlot des Palais:
  5. Le Second Palais de l’Intendant à Québec (Robert Nadeau, 2008, dissertation submitted to University of Laval):
  6. University of Laval website on L’îlot des Palais:
  7. National Breweries Ltd. 25ième anniversaire: 
  8. Quebec: As It Was, And As It Is, Willis Russell (1857):
  9. National Breweries Ltd. Review, April, 1943 issue:
  10. Quebec independent historian Jérôme Ouellette’s blog post on the Boswell brewery site (note 1923 insurance map details):
  11. Interesting additional facts on the brewery from historian Luc Nicole-Labrie, e.g., Boswell had financial difficulties in the 1860s:
  12. Brewed in Canada: The Untold Story of Canada’s 350-year-old Brewing Industry, Allen W. Sneath (2001, The Dundurn Group, Toronto):


To Get A Drink You Have To Sell – “Pour Boire Il Faut Vendre”

Fascinating Brewery History: Dawes Brewery, Mid-century in Montreal


An online publication is the virtual counterpart to a permanent exhibition by a museum in Lachine, Quebec. It’s a great resource for those interested in Canadian brewing history. The subject is advertising in the 20th century viewed through the lens of Dawes Black Horse Ale. The exhibition is entitled “To Get a Drink you Have to Sell Pour Boire Il Faut Vendre“.

The name is from an old French drinking song, meaning it seems that one must sell off one’s butin (worldly goods) to get money to drink. The line inspired the designers of the exhibition in a different way, in that brewery production is based on effectives sales. The exhibition is first rate, both the physical exhibit (which I’ve attended) and the online version.

In many ways, the virtual version is superior since hundreds of documents and objects can be magnified and easily viewed, provided (in many cases though) that you read French. There is an optional English version as well, although less complete.

Black Horse Ale was the top-selling brand of Dawes Brewery, founded early in 1811 in the Montreal suburb of Lachine by an English immigrant. It grew out of farming operations conducted by the founder, and his progeny developed the business through the 19th century with increasing success.

In 1909 all Montreal breweries but one, including Dawes, merged to form National Breweries Ltd., a typical combine of the era. It was formed to compete against Molson Brewery, in particular. Molson had been invited to join but declined. Molson had the last laugh though: it bought out National Brewery’s successor in 1989.

In 1952 National Breweries was bought out by Ontario industrialist E.P. Taylor’s Canadian Breweries Ltd., but before that National Breweries functioned for 40 years with a core of five breweries.

The five in the “family”, as often called in the employees’ house magazine, were:

– The Dawes Black Horse Brewery, by the 1920s relocated to a new plant in downtown Montreal

– The Dawes Draft Beer Brewery, which occupied the former Ekers plant on St-Laurent Blvd. further north in the city. Ekers was one of the smaller concerns absorbed into the National group

– Dow Brewery in Montreal, founded in the early 1800s

– Frontenac Brewery in Montreal, notable for having been francophone-owned, unlike the others

– Boswell’s Brewery in Quebec City, founded on the site of a brewery established in the 1600s by Jean Talon, the Intendant of Quebec sent by the French king.

In the late 1940s a sixth was added to the group, Champlain Brewery in Quebec City, well-known for its Champlain Porter. The porter was still being sold by National’s successor, Carling O’Keefe, in the 1970s in Quebec, it was sweet and licorice-tasting. Champlain Brewery too, I should add, had been francophone-owned.

A review of the employees’ magazines made available in the virtual exhibition reveals that each plant ran fairly autonomously. Of course there was central purchasing of malt and hops and other inputs, but each plant had its brands and, if I read the exhibition right, each brand had its own yeast, a single-cell type. The magazines reflect a decorous quality we have lost since those times. One plant would host visiting personnel of another, and the plants would engage in sports and other social activities as a unit.

When any plant acquired new trucks or brewing equipment, this was proudly described in the magazine. Some people worked for these units for decades, one retired in the mid-1940s who had started in 1898.

Reading the magazines gives a real sense how the “family” functioned. The personnel had a mix of English and French names with the odd European one appearing. The magazine came out in English and French but almost all those currently online (over 80 of them) are in French, as are many of the advertising objects and other materials.

Some of these objects are in English though and, crucially to students of brewing history, two detailed brewing recipes appear.

One is for Dawes’ Kingsbeer Export Lager, the other for a draught special ale, both from the 1930s. Probably the draft ale was sent to the taverns and bars of Quebec Province. There are numerous interesting black and white photographs of some of the taverns. The interiors look very similar to taverns as I recall them in Montreal in the 1970s.

The brewing recipes are very detailed, in a format I have not seen before. Notable points include all-malt production for Kingsbeer and use of all-Bohemian (Czech) hops. There is even a taste-note: the beer smelled and tasted “mildly hoppy”. I hope so, by my reckoning it used 3/4 lb hops per barrel of finished beer – that’s a lot by today’s standards  even for craft beer. The draught ale also was all-malt and used even more hops, just under 1 lb per barrel.

At various periods, according to the magazines, English, Californian, and Canadian hops were used in the group’s beers. During the war it just North American though. Hops up to three years age were stored and blended with newer hops for production.

The Kingsbeer brand, which I always thought had a British connotation, was originally called Konigsbeer and dates from before 1914; it probably was a Dortmund-style due to the descriptor “export”.

In the mid-40s the Dawes line was Dawes Black Horse Ale, which seems a derivative of IPA; Dawes Export Ale, probably a newer (post-1900) lager-ale hybrid; Kingsbeer Lager; and Dawes’ Porter. Filled bottles still exist of some of these and can be viewed in the virtual exhibition.

There are great photos of the different plants in the group and of a pilot brewery at Dawes in Montreal in 1943 which calls to mind a modern craft brewery.

I didn’t see much discussion of beer characteristics in the magazines. Mostly they deal with employee matters: bowling tournaments with Boswell’s in Quebec City (they played to win a turkey), marriages and retirements, congratulations on a new birth. (“It’s a boy – good work Jim!”).

There is lots in the early 1940s issues on the war effort. One of the Dawes family had been wounded fighting in Europe but apparently recovered. Bond drives, blood donations, sending beer and cigarettes to the troops: lots of course on those subjects.

One magazine, though, describes beer production at Boswell’s in Quebec City. Boswell later became the Dow plant in Quebec that made the fateful beer in the 1960s that probably caused the death of heavy drinkers in the city; I wrote about this earlier here.

The two beer recipes, running three or four pages each, are at the bottom of this link.

Note re image above: the image was sourced from this Canadian government archive collection and is believed in the public domain. All feedback solicited.


A Bridge To The Beery Past

The label below is another from the fine collection of Montreal’s McCord Museum. Once again we see the term “stout porter”, which shows that the black roasty beer, porter, had different qualities. One way to express a strong, superior quality was to call porter, stout. Another, older term for the same thing was brown stout.

J.W. Bridges doesn’t come to mind as one of the classic porter breweries of London. It wasn’t, it was a bottler and exporter of beer, based in London, as confirmed in The Encyclopedia of Ephemera by Maurice Rickards and Michael Twyman (Routledge, 2000, NY), specifically here.


There are numerous references in commercial publications from New Zealand to California and beyond that Bridges’ beers were actively being exported through the world. This company selected porter, stout and pale ale from its sources in England and used its own label to supply the goods. In the form we see above, it was a kind of contract brewing really, a practice very modern and one sees it too in the whiskey world, particularly in the United States. This is where the brewer is not identified on the label although the importer might have been told the source.

Some of Bridges’ main suppliers were the high-quality Guinness and Bass concerns, as show in this 1901 advertisement from the New Zealand Daily Telegraph.

I don’t know whose beer went into bottles for the label above, but would think they were reputed sources to get the name Bridges had around the English-speaking world.

Bottling of beer was once a specialized business. People would buy beer in bulk and sometimes age it until the right conditions for bottling were achieved, and then bottle and sell the beer to its customers. Stout could be kept in cask nine months before bottling. Guinness used independent bottlers for much of its history until it finally took in the business after WW II. Dog’s Head was a famous bottler’s brand of Guinness, and there were many others. Different bottlers achieved their own reputations for stability in particular (beer not going sour or becoming infected), or the beer having other particular qualities.

This fine collection of Guinness labels, from The International Society of Label Collectors & British Brewery Research, shows some of the many concerns which bottled Guinness at one time for the market.

Some exported beer certainly was dosed with preservative in the days before pasteurization. The quality of much of the exported beer may be doubted and although I can’t find it readily, I recall reading a comment of a Victorian beer fancier who said no bottle of Bass Ale he had drunk on the Continent approached the same article back home. Still, a local market – one not familiar necessarily with home conditions – could easily form a particular taste, which may be at the origin of the famed India Pale Ale.

Note re image: Commercial label of J. W. Bridges, Best Stout Porter, John Henry Walker (1831-1899), 1850-1885, 19th century, Ink on paper on supporting paper – Wood engraving 6 x 6 cm, Gift of Mr. David Ross McCordM930.51.1.490 © McCord Museum. Link back to source of image:


Porter, Stout, What’s It About?


It’s All The Black Stuff, Me Currant Buns**

As this evocative label from the 1800s shows, the term “stout porter” has been used for a long time, and didn’t result from the fevers of a craft beer writer. Beer historians seem unanimous – anyway they should be – that there is no essential difference between porter and stout. First there was dark brown beer, and the strong kind was sometimes called brown stout. This was a bitter, somewhat roasty drink of beer but otherwise made from the materials all beer is. The regular kind, of lower strength and lighter body, ended by being called porter. Arguably, porter is the genus: all stout is porter, not all porter is stout.

Even this understanding of it breaks down in the sense that some strong brown beer was always called porter, or double porter or Imperial porter, and some stout was sold on the weak side and could be another brewer’s porter.

The British never laid down statutory rules for such matters, one of their strengths. There can be two words or yet more for the same thing – it’s a free country (still).

One of the few negative consequences of the great beer writer, Michael Jackson, was that in noting Guinness stout uses – today – a measure of unmalted barley, people got the notion stout must be so mashed (except Imperial stout), and porter should be all-malt. Not so. All porter and stout were all-malt by law in Britain until first sugar was allowed in brewing, in 1845, and finally any fermentable grains malted or no.

This is why many stouts, especially on draft, have the dry, acerbic taste characteristic of modern Guinness and many porters are richer in character. There is nothing wrong with this modern schema, but it has no historical basis.

One can cite many 1800s proofs that at best, stout was simply a stronger porter but otherwise both were the same. If you ask, I’ll show you.

The conjoined term, “stout porter”, proves the proposition, were more convincing needed.

*London rhyming slang for “son”.

Note re image: Commercial label of Extra Stout Porter, Dow & Co., John Henry Walker (1831-1899), 1850-1885, 19th century, Ink on paper on supporting paper – Wood engraving 5.2 x 5.2 cm Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord, M930.51.1.500 © McCord Museum. Image source is








Old English Brewing’s Lingering Echoes in Canada



Old Beer Styles Are New Again

This handsome label appears to date from the 1920s and belonged to Brading Breweries Limited, a smaller Ontario brewery with its main facility in Canada’s capital of Ottawa. Brading was the cornerstone of Canadian Breweries Ltd., the brewery conglomerate forged by legendary industrialist Edward Plunkett (E.P.) Taylor. CBL became Carling O’Keefe which was absorbed in 1989 into what is now Molson Coors.

The history of Brading in Ottawa is set out in this well-paced story from 2014 in the Ottawa Citizen by Ian Macleod.

Brown stout was a term used in 1700s England to denote the strong version of porter, itself around 6% abv in its heyday. Brown stout was about 7.5% but this varied with producer and the batch in the days before accurate measurement of beer gravity and the real extent of fermentation (attenuation). Stout was any strong beer, and pale stout was known along with the brown version.

Brown stout beer, later brown stout porter or stout porter, became finally just stout. In the 1800s, adjectives other than “brown” were often used for brewhouse or sales purposes such as double stout, Imperial stout, export stout, XX stout, and so on. Still, brown stout as a term had some currency in England throughout the 1800s and even into the 1900s.

For this reason, breweries in North America implanted by British incomers or influenced by British brewing culture continued also to use the old term into the 20th century. The American breweriana specialist Jess Kidden (apparently a pseudonym) has collected some fine examples, here.

The term finally disappeared from North America, and Britain, after the 1950s only to come back – the original term or one of its 19th century alternates – in the guise of the craft or indie beer movement. Thus, for 30 years or so, craft breweries in North America and elsewhere make dark brown or black stout with characteristics very similar to the classic brown stout of 1700s-1800s. They are usually called just stout, or Baltic stout (which may be bottom-fermented), or yet Imperial Stout.

The point is, the taste of Brading Brown Stout, certainly as it was in the late 1800s, was likely very similar to numerous strong stouts again being made.

In Ron Pattinson’s Bitter!, an analysis is included of Brading brown stout in 1898. It’s derived from a Canadian government study of that year which analyzed beer and various foods for purity. It shows that Brading was 7.38% abv and Ron concluded that final gravity was about 1010. Thus, the stout was strong, similar in strength to Guinness’s stouts of the time, and fairly dry. Today, the typical mass market brew is about 1008 final gravity. This means the solid fermentable content was reduced by fermentation to 8 parts if 1000 is held as pure water.

Looking at Ron’s table, it can be seen some stouts and porters finished higher than 1010, and thus were richer in taste, all things being equal. Dawes’ stout, from Lachine, Quebec, was an example. Yet some of the black beers finished even lower than 1010. Then, as today again, consumers were offered a range of options.

By the 1920s or 30s when the Brading label above appeared, the beer had probably changed in character, certainly the alcohol was down since 9% proof spirit equates to about 5% abv (alcohol by volume). Perhaps too the beer used some corn or rice in the mash by this time. I’d bet dollars to donuts the original Brading brown stout was all-barley malt and pretty well-hopped, too, but maybe it held its essential character until the end. Surprisingly, Brading Brown Stout was still being sold until about 1950, and more modern examples of the above label can be found online.

Numerous Ontario craft stouts might be similar to the Brading original certainly, such as Wellington Brewery’s Russian Imperial Stout and Grand River’s Russian Gun Imperial Stout. Both of these are about the same alcohol content, and pleasing without being super-rich on the palate.


Note re image above: it was sourced from this Ottawa Citizen article, which obtained it courtesy Molson Coors. We include it here for historical and educational purposes. All feedback welcomed.


Dow Ale – A Great Beer Name With a Sad Ending


Dow Ale was a legend in Quebec brewing until a strange event in the late 1960s spelled the end of the brand as a force. Quebec City, the old capital of the Province of Quebec, was a stronghold of the Dow brand. William Dow had started brewing in the 1800s in the Province. By the 1960s and after various mergers and takeovers, Dow, formerly named National Breweries, had four main brands: Dow Ale, Kingsbeer (a lager), Champlain Porter, and Dow Porter. Dow Ale was the big seller.

In 1966, hospitals in Quebec City started to notice that a spate of men in their 40s-60s, known to be heavy beer drinkers, were suffering from cardiomyopathy. It’s an ailment often manifested by irregularity of heart rhythm. Many died, something like 20-25 persons. Not all these men consumed the Dow brand but most did. Dow in Quebec City – it had a brewery there and in Montreal –  made the fateful decision to dump its inventory of Dow Ale, a good faith gesture meant to reassure people. However, the population viewed the action as an admission of culpability. The beer forever became known as “la bière qui tue“, or the beer which kills.

Medical studies conducted by Quebec authorities never established a direct link between Dow’s beer and the deaths. Nevertheless, many experts felt that cobalt sulphate, then used in some brewing to improve head or foam retention, probably caused or exacerbated the medical issue. To be sure, these men were heavy drinkers, they consumed a dozen beers each day or more. Also, the malady seemed to be concentrated in Quebec City, yet Montreal was a large market too for the brand.

But while many breweries in Quebec added cobalt sulphate to their beer at the time, Dow apparently used an unusually large amount, some accounts state ten times the normal quantity. Hence the feeling on the part of many doctors that cobalt was probably responsible, but it was never conclusively proved. Still, Dow stopped using the chemical after the debâcle and the deaths did not recur, at least not in the concentrations that had been noticed.

Needless to say Dow beer fell sharply in sales after the disaster. In 1972 the brand was sold to another brewery, Molson Breweries in Montreal, which continued to brew the beer until the early 1990s. In 1987 Molson merged with Carling O’Keefe, the final successor to National Breweries (itself a combination of 14 breweries formed after WW I of which Dow was a key component).

Online there are numerous examinations of this unique incident in both Canadian and international brewing history. Here is a good place to start, for those interested in more information.

In recent posts, I was discussing the great Quebec and Canadian culinary authority Jehane Benoit, and it turns out she had a connection to Dow.

Benoit had studied food science in Paris in the 1920s under a master nutrition expert, Edouard de Pomiane. I was discussing beer cuisine in various francophone areas in the world, and noted that Quebec cuisine appeared to have only a few recipes using beer.

But Dow Brewery was a client of Mme Benoit in the 1950s, she did promotions for them and this led to a book of recipes called, in English, Cooking With Dow. While the origin of the recipes in the book is diverse and some were probably invented by Mme Benoit, this book must be considered to enlarge the number of Quebec dishes which employ beer in cooking. It is not, therefore, just in the last 20 years or so that books have appeared in Quebec proposing a beer-based gastronomy. The creative and enterprising Mme Benoit was doing it in the 1950s.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

In a later post, I will discuss some interesting recipes proposed by this great food authority.

Note re image: The image above was sourced from the Thomas Fisher Library beer label collection at University of Toronto via Flickr, here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.