A stock notion, firmly held by most people in the 1970’s-90’s whatever their interest in beer, was that Canadian beer was stronger, or better, than American. Or both. Indeed Americans, famously proud of their country and its multiform achievements, shared the opinion. It was one of the few areas they were willing to concede superiority to their Canuck neighbours.
How did it break down? The idea was that the typical Canadian beer, at 5% alcohol by volume, was stronger than the American beer norm. This was true, but the American standard was actually 4.7 or 4.8% ABV, a negligible difference. The real reason American beer was thought weaker was that its strength, when expressed not by volume of alcohol but by weight, came to 4%. (Alcohol is lighter than water). Even though beer strength wasn’t generally shown on the label stateside, somehow the idea formed that Canadian beer was a point stronger than American.
Also, at the time Canadian beer was thought to have a heavier body and more pronounced taste than American brews. The difference was real and due partly to the fact that a lot Canadian beer then was still ale while most American beer was lager. Second, Canadian ale probably on average used less starch adjunct than American lager. This was certainly so in the period leading up to WW I when much Canadian ale was still all-malt and most American beer, of any style, had 25-30% adjunct. Generally, adjunct beers are lighter in taste than all-malt beers. Canadian beer may have used more hops on average than American beers, another factor.
In a 1976 American book on beer can-collecting the theory was offered that after Prohibition U.S. consumers wanted beer that tasted like the pop they got used to in the 20’s, but Canadians still made good beer because many U.S. brewers left their homeland during Prohibition to take up the mashing fork in Canada! Now there’s an ingenious acknowledgement of Canadian brewing savvy – the Yanks still come out on top. 🙂
Be that as it may, all were agreed in the old days that Canuck brews had the edge, e.g., 1970’s beer books, American or Canadian, concur on this one way or another.
Until as late as last year, I still heard an expression of the old idea. It was on a radio show, someone being interviewed mentioned it incidentally. The interviewer, if he/she knew any different, let it pass.
Let’s be clear: the meme is as dead as the dodo in this era of strong and tasty craft brews. Indeed the Americans inaugurated the change in the 70’s via the path-breaking New Albion Brewing Co. and Anchor Brewing, as well as through the considerable achievements of the American Homebrewers Association. Even in the 1980’s and 90’s, Canadian mainstream beer had turned stylistically to lager, or light (in alcohol) beer, and adjunct use wasn’t getting any smaller; the beer traditions of both countries were in fact merging even before craft beer took hold in North America.
Cultural product units, as the sociologists call them, are essential to civilized living. The Canadian beer-is-stronger thing was one of them, a detail, even a standby, of the old North American beer culture. But its time is long past. This post can serve as its memorial.
For those to whom this comes as news, meet the new boss, and it’s not the same as the old boss.
Note re image used: the image is in the public domain, sourced here.