Early Brewery in Quebec Leaves a Recipe, c. 1800


The Harts of Trois-Rivières, QC, or Three Rivers as it was often called, were a founding family of Quebec under the new British Regime. Three Rivers is a small city on the St. Lawrence River half-way between Montreal and Quebec City.

The Harts are notable in Canadian history for another reason: their Jewish faith. They were the first Jews to settle in Quebec. Under the French regime, Jews were not permitted entry as the territory was barred to non-Catholics. It’s not part of the story here, but their Judaism continually impacted the Harts in various areas of public affairs. In the wake of British rule and the Quebec Act (1774), many British incomers, or others speaking English associated with them, established businesses in Quebec. The first Hart, Aaron Hart, came to Quebec c. 1760 with Jeffery Amherst’s forces and was a commissary officer, or possibly a civilian sutler (purveyor of goods to the Army on expedition).

Aaron’s business affairs were very successful, he was a retail goods merchant (hardware and other staples) who also imported and exported goods. He ended by acquiring extensive landholdings, including some lands formerly belonging to the French colonial aristocracy.

One of his sons was Ezekiel Hart who was born in Three Rivers in 1770. The Harts were Ashkenazi Jews, not Sephardic ones. Typically in this period, Jewish merchants coming to the New World under British auspices were Sephards because most Jews residing in England were. Aaron Hart was born either in Germany, or England to a father from Bavaria, accounts vary. But being Ashkenazi, he came to Quebec as a minority within a minority within a minority, one might say.

In December, 1796, Ezekiel and two brothers set up a maltings and a brewery in Three Rivers called M & E Hart Company. There is a reasonably detailed account of the brewery in this biographical entry on Ezekiel Hart. (My account is indebted to that entry, and others in the same Dictionary of Canadian Biography, for some of the information here). Ezekiel left the partnership some years later to focus on other businesses and it seems the brewery went out of business by the mid-1800s: information on its fate is sparse.*

Rather improbably, a recipe for their beer survives. You can read it here, preserved in the archives of the Quebec government. (Click where it states “voir les image(s)“). Various sources attribute a c.1800 to it, although the exact year is not known. In the historiography of early Quebec breweries, very little is said of this brewery, leading me to think it did not last more than ten or 20 years.* That, and the way manuscript is written – it appears scribbled on the reverse side of an invoice or ledger document – suggests to me it was written very soon after the brewery was established.

While more a series of simple directions, the document may constitute the oldest surviving North American commercial recipe for beer. One recipe known to be older is George Washington’s for “small beer” from the 1770s, however, that recipe is a domestic one I believe. John Molson in Montreal had been brewing for 10 years or so, so perhaps recipes exist in the Molson family archive, but I am not aware of any that have been published.

Returning to the Harts’ beer, we can draw at least the following from the recipe:

– it was all-barley malt, no sugar was used or other grains

– the malt was steeped for 2-3 days and turned regularly before being dried

– malt was kilned like this: “for pale malt, slow fire, for porter, a high fire”

– the malt was mashed with water at 176-180 F for 30 minutes

– it was allowed to stand for two and a half hours

– it was boiled for 50 minutes

– 1/2-1 lb hops were added per minot. (A pre-metric French measure, a minot was about 39 liters. I calculate this as about two to four lbs hops per English barrel of finished beer, certainly in the range for common ale and porter of the day).

I’d infer the ale was “mild” – probably not long-stored and got the lesser amount of hops, while the porter was kept longer and got the larger amount, but this is speculative, and possibly the different additions depended on quality of the hops, or other factors.

There are directions for placing the beer in the “working tub” when cooled to 52 F, and then further directions for the cleansing which mention temperatures again.

The Hart Bros grew their own hops – quite successfully, it seems. Another source (see my recent entries) from later in the 1800s confirms that hops were grown in the Three Rivers area mid-century.


What has happened to the Harts, I mean the descendants? I don’t know other than that some moved to New York City at some point. The family had long had connections in New York State and Ezekiel was partly educated there. A Henry Hart, brother of Aaron, was established at Albany, NY, for example. One source suggests some Harts who stayed in Quebec intermarried and became assimilated into French Canadian society. Yet, another says that most of the descendants retained their Jewish faith to this day.

Ezekiel helped found a historic Sephardic synagogue in Montreal, so I’d guess some people there might know what happened to the clan. (Sephardic is not a typo, most Jews in town were Sephards then, so he went with the flow, to use our vernacular).

The descendants didn’t continue the brewing side for very long – perhaps other businesses were more profitable, or the English tour de main with beer trumped the Harts’. Another Hart had notable success though with rum. Lehman Hart, another brother of Aaron, founded a rum business in Penzance, Cornwall which later moved to London. It is famous to this day under the more familiar name Lemon Hart. (No, I didn’t make it up, it’s true).

But points to Ezekiel and his brothers for trying their hand at the more temperate beer. Their recipe, rude and hastily written as it surely was, shows they made something of value, it was real beer, not some factitious knock-off.

Note re images used: The image of Ezekiel Hart is available from Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec, and was sourced here. The second image, of a handsome Victorian manse in Trois Rivières, QC, was sourced from this Quebec tourist site. Both are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*Subsequent to writing the above, I noted that a 2012 book by Denis Vaugeois on the early history of the Hart family states that Dow Brewery of Montreal purchased the Hart Brewery from Moses Hart in the “1830s”. Moses was one of the brothers who had founded the business in 1796. The brewery lasted, therefore, at least a generation. It is possible hop culture was continued in the area after the sale, at least for a time. See this link for further details (in French) on the book mentioned and its author.


Gambrinus in the Cookpot

“The Use of Beer in Cooking is a Very Ancient Custom…”

[From Cooking With Dow by Jehane Benoit, 1958]

Beer cuisine can mean two things: beer as an ingredient in recipes, and beers selected to match well with food at table.

Both are legitimate sections of gastronomy. Before the craft beer era beer was thought suitable to pair with a limited group of foods. These included salty meats like ham, cured or smoked fish, potato chips, oysters, cheese, and sandwiches.

Today, nuanced advice is offered to pair specific types or brands of beer with food. Sometimes it makes sense but my view is, if you like the beer a lot and the food a lot, there is no reason not to pair them. Trappist Ale alongside mint ice cream, sure. Imperial stout with chicken Tetrazzini, why not. It’s all good if one likes the taste of each.

The “what with what” of wine comes to mind, its strictures increasingly relaxed in recent decades.

Cooking with beer is the more interesting area in my view, and has an old history. It’s easy to find 14th century recipes using ale, for example, see The Forme of Cury. The malty or herbal taste of beer adds flavour just as wine adds a quality although the result differs in each case.

Cooking with beer breaks down into two aspects: recipes handed down by tradition, and a contemporary, creative cookery where new combinations and ideas are evolved. Both are valid and can interrelate. A Belgian carbonnades de boeuf (beef and beer stew) can be made with the newer, American-type IPA, or substituting another meat for the beef.

And someone somewhere in the last 30 years stuck a can of beer up a chicken once, probably as a joke, and roasted it. Novelty it may be, but the fad endures.

My own interest is recipes handed down in a national or regional cuisine. These at least have some permanence, which I find appealing. When I read recently that the great Canadian food author Jehane Benoit wrote on beer cookery, I obtained the book without delay.

Mme or Mrs. Benoit, as she was called in her heyday, was a superb chef and cookery teacher. She was that rare example of deft cook and trained food scientist. She wrote Cooking With Dow in 1958, when Dow Ale was a major brand in Quebec Province.

The book resulted from her spokesman role with the brewery. (Dow later had a crashing fall from grace due to an additives scandal, which perhaps consigned the book to minor status).

The book offers recipes from many different countries, not all associated with a beer heritage. Mme Benoit states in the introduction that the recipes are, “for the most part traditional and belong to the everyday cooking of many lands: Germany, Spain, China, England, France, Belgium, Italy and even America”.

Some may doubt this assertion; did people really add beer to the Spanish/Latin American punchero, for example? The dish is a soup, usually spelled, puchero.

I sought examples online of such usage, and actually found a number similar to Mrs. Benoit’s description; she did not gild the lily. Beer has been known for at least a millennium in parts of southern Europe albeit commercial production is more recent. Mrs. Benoit wrote that wherever grain was raised a form of beer likely was made. It makes sense, and there is some historical basis for the statement.

Some Ancient Greek writers mention beer, and after all beer was in common use thousands of years ago in warm Egypt.

Her introduction does make clear though that some recipes are hers. These likely included the vegetarian group, as she operated a vegetarian restaurant in Montreal in the 1930s, typically ahead of her time.


She gives a recipe for Quebec partridge with beer. This probably descends from France as there are similar dishes in Picardy and the Ardenne. Beer features in her Normandy pork chops, Austrian backhendl, Danish kidneys, Hungarian red cabbage, and ginger snaps. The book has over 100 recipes, from the proverbial soup to nuts.

As to which beer in the food, Mme Benoit had only one suggestion: Dow Ale!

Dow was probably as good a choice as any for her dishes. Somewhat as with wine brand is secondary, although specific recipes may qualify this.

Years ago a restaurant on Mount Pleasant Avenue in Toronto was run by a chef from Roubaix, in France. Roubaix, on the northern fringe of France, is a classic beer region, it shares this with Belgium nearby. Beer finds its way into numerous dishes of the frontier.

He made for us coq à la bière, a well-known dish in the northern tip of France.* It was covered with cream and tarragon in a white porcelain tureen, as described in my French books. Piping hot french fries came alongside, also a specialty of the North.

I had made the dish in my kitchen using boutique beers, but his easily bettered mine. Asked what beer he used, he replied, Labatt Blue, a standard mass market lager. Voilà.


*A similar preparation with rabbit is known.





Beer in Victorian French Canada


Image Attribution: By Smudge 9000 (originally posted to Flickr as The City Wall) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Quebec’s John Bull Character in the 1800s

Saying “Victoria” and “Quebec City” in the same breath may seem contradictory. Quebec City, or Ville de Québec, is the historic capital of Quebec Province, French Canada’s heartland. It was founded in 1608 and has always been predominantly French (although the population was for a time nearing 50-50 French and English in the mid-1800s).

Yet, from many points of view, the city was indeed British Victorian, at one time. Quebec province was ceded to Britain by the 1763 Treaty of Paris. This followed the fateful defeat of General Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham by General Wolfe of the British Army. Certainly the Quebec Act of 1774 enabled the survival of French civil and religious society by recognizing the French language, the Catholic faith, and French civil law. But British rule in Quebec was consequential, to say the least.

One result was major areas of the economy became the preserve of incomers from Britain or the United States. A good example is the brewer John Molson who came to Montreal in the 1780s and established what is the oldest surviving brewery in North America, now called Molson-Coors. Fortunes like Molson’s were created in many sectors including sugar refining, mining, furs, forestry, shipbuilding, insurance, and banking.

English-speakers seeking business opportunities settled in Quebec City from the 1770s, not just the larger centre of Montreal. Quebec City is about 150 miles downriver of Montreal, east along the St. Lawrence River. Quebec City was and is the spiritual centre of the St. Lawrence Valley, the historic destination of French settlement in Quebec. Indeed a 1940s projects for Quebec independence envisaged the new country as “Laurentia”.

While modern Quebec is a huge territory and has been settled well beyond this heartland, its Laurentian core always expressed its French character most completely. Still, the arrival of English commerce changed Quebec City, and Quebec province, considerably. At one point later in the 1800s Quebec City’s population was 40% anglophone. The “English” side was in fact a mix of citizens of Scots, English, Irish, and American background.

The large, influential anglophone group declined precipitously in the 1900s, and today is hardly perceptible although not quite forgotten. The Scottish-derived Simons have been in Quebec City for hundreds of years and still run what must be Canada’s oldest department store controlled by the same family.

Brewing fit in well with the new régime because under French rule beer had been brewed continuously since the earliest arrivals. The first commercial manifestation was 1668 when the Intendant Jean Talon set up a brewery on the site of what was later the Intendant’s palace. Finally (in 1852) the site became a brewery again, the Anchor Brewery of Joseph K. Boswell, a Dublin-born settler. The brewery had been operated earlier by different English speakers.

In Quebec City in the 1800s the larger breweries were owned by Paul Lepper, James McCallum, and not least Joseph Boswell. Boswell’s sons continued to run the business until (and even after) the brewery became part of National Breweries in 1909.


The breweries of the Anglo-Saxon incomers reflected an organisation and technology similar to developments elsewhere in the English-speaking world. This extended quite naturally to beer styles. The sorts of beer made by early Quebec brewers were similar to those made in Britain at the time, hence porter, mild ale, pale ale, Burton ale, and Scotch ale.

Simply put, they were the beers the people knew who set up these breweries, by dint of homeland memory or via ongoing cultural connections. And these traditions were handed down to their Canadianised progeny.

Although it is another story the domination of the Quebec economy by English-speakers always rankled in Quebec. French-speakers after WW II were about 80% of the Quebec population, yet did not control the levers of  economic power (vs. political). This triggered a series of changes to Quebec society, some ultimately enforced by language or expropriation laws, the result of which was to transfer a good part of the economy to French hands. I am speaking here of the era up the current globalized economy, at least.

But this post addresses an earlier time, when those of English mother-tongue tended to dominate the business scene. It was a time for example when a brewery in Quebec could use English in advertising and signage without feeling obliged to include a French version. Today, that would be an anomaly, to say the least, in fact impossible under Quebec’s French language laws.

Our interest here can further be defined to know how residents of Quebec City who took more than an average interest in beer, viewed its palate and quality. Two sources, one in English and the other in French, shed light.

Willis Russell

Willis Russell was American-born, from New England. He came to Quebec at about 30 and soon was the best-known hotelier in the city. His career is summarized in this early Canadian biographical entry. Russell was active in numerous other businesses and investments, and also in civic government.

He wrote a history of Quebec City in 1857, no doubt to promote his hotel interests, and took notice of the brewing trade in town. Numerous pages laud the plant and products of Boswell brewery, in particular. Whether Boswell paid him money for this lavish attention, we shall never know.

Some of Russell’s comments reflect an imperfect knowledge of beer and brewing, but it is clear from the discussion that Boswell’s made India Pale Ale, porter, probably mild ale, and a strong, Burton-style ale.

Russell notes that the beers were never sour and were made without addition of – permit me the Victorianism – factitious ingredients. He stated that some hops were imported from Kent in England but some were obtained in Canada and that the barley malt was locally sourced as well. He considered local ingredients of excellent quality. While approving the beers made by other breweries in Quebec City, only Boswell’s came in for extended praise.

In his connoisseur’s estimation: “Indeed Quebec can produce the fine India Pale Ales of Edinburgh; the rich sparkling amber ale of Burton; the stingo of Dorchester; the entire or half and half of Barclay Perkins, London; and famous dark porters of Dublin”.

Hubert LaRue

Hubert LaRue was a French Canadian physician, a protean 19th century figure interested in literature, agriculture, politics and history. He mixed in the elite Victorian set of Quebec City, and had connections with the University of Laval of which he was the first medical graduate. Today, we would call him a public intellectual. This impressive figure – quite appropriately – took an interest in the topic of beer. In his 1881 Mélanges historiques: littéraires et d’économie politique, Volume II, he made observations of interest on the beer of his native city and “Canadian” beer in general.

These included that hop cultivation in Quebec generally did not succeed due to early frosts or other problems; hops were available from New York and Wisconsin but were variable in quality; none of these hops could equal the best from England and Bavaria; and imported hops were used for the finest beers. LaRue wrote that domestic hops reminded him of the nauseous quality of aloes. Aloe, or aloes, is a botanical often described as bitter, acidic, and just bad-tasting: one source states baby vomit! The poor opinion of North American hops accorded with professional brewing opinion in Britain, then.

Brewing was performed, he added, all year round, vs. the malting of barley, due to the availability of ice. Beeretseq remembers wood shed ice available in summer in the 1950s, sheathed in sawdust. An analysis of Canadian beers by LaRue showed they contained 7-8% alcohol, he specifically states “Gay Lussac”, which means alcohol by volume. This alcohol level accords with much historical data on the bottled beers of the day; stout and various ales all easily inhabited this range.


LaRue credits Montreal’s William Dow with bringing major improvements to Quebec brewing, inspired by English practice, and states that all Quebec-brewed beer improved considerably as a result.

Next, LaRue makes an interesting statement, that Canadian beers remind him a lot of beer in Bavaria on trip he took there in 1856. This statement can be parsed in different ways, but I believe he was referring to stability – Quebec beer wasn’t sour or infected. In good part, this was probably the result of the liberal use, even prior to mechanical refrigeration, of ice in brewing and  for storage. Ice of course was easily at hand, and storable, in Quebec. And in general, the Quebec climate is pretty cold much of the year.

Britain in this period, France as well, simply were not able to ensure long-keeping of beer without some acidification or wild yeast development. This was despite the use of heavy hopping for some styles and blending beers to obtain a drinkable product.

Bavarian beer was, by the 1850s, lager beer. It benefitted from good stability due to being being stored cold in deep cellars or Alpine caves and being kept chilled until dispense. The common climatic factor plus availability of ice as mentioned probably made Quebec ales and stouts seem similar to Bavarian beer in a way British beers were not, despite that is the difference in fermentation style.

N.B. (Added December 23, 2019). For a continuation of this post, see our post “Canadian IPA in 1867 – a Heady Brew” posted Dec. 23, 2019.

Note re second and third images: the McCallum Pale Ale label is from the collection of the McCord Museum in Montreal. Details on its full name and ownership can be found here. The third image was sourced from the Thomas Fisher Library of the University of Toronto, similar details in its regard are available here. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


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



This is Creemore Bock, and 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 bottom-fermented 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 a bit. Long aging in the old days (1800s-1950s) would have removed most of the grassy, loamy volatiles associated with a fresh, young lager. 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): https://books.google.ca/books?           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: http://www.patrimoine-culturel.gouv.qc.ca/rpcq/detail.do?methode=consulter&id=104017&type=bien#.VrZ5fsfPBH
  3. L’industrie de la bière – Le Cas de la Brasserie BoswellNicole Dorion, University of Laval (1991, article published in Material Cultural Review): https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/MCR/article/view/17465/22524
  4. Web site of L’îlot des Palais: http://ilotdespalais.ca/a-propos/
  5. Le Second Palais de l’Intendant à Québec (Robert Nadeau, 2008, dissertation submitted to University of Laval): www.theses.ulaval.ca/2008/25133/25133.pdf
  6. University of Laval website on L’îlot des Palais: http://www.laboarcheologie.ulaval.ca/chantiers-ecoles/historique/brasserie-boswell-dow/
  7. National Breweries Ltd. 25ième anniversaire: http://www.explorationurbaine.ca/abandonne/Mont%20Sinai%20Sanatorium/NBLtd/NBLtd%20copy.pdf 
  8. Quebec: As It Was, And As It Is, Willis Russell (1857): https://books.google.ca/books?id=o_QpAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA137&dq=boswell+brewery+amber+ale+quebec&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=boswell%20brewery%20amber%20ale%20quebec&f=false
  9. National Breweries Ltd. Review, April, 1943 issue: http://villedemtl.ca/pourboireilfautvendre/fr/fiche-item/rg-1999-452-1943-04
  10. Quebec independent historian Jérôme Ouellette’s blog post on the Boswell brewery site (note 1923 insurance map details): https://histoireurbaine.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/la-cote-du-palais-extra-muros-1921/
  11. Interesting additional facts on the brewery from historian Luc Nicole-Labrie, e.g., Boswell had financial difficulties in the 1860s: http://histoiresociete.blogspot.ca/2010/08/la-biere-quebec-2-la-brasserie-de.html
  12. Brewed in Canada: The Untold Story of Canada’s 350-year-old Brewing Industry, Allen W. Sneath (2001, The Dundurn Group, Toronto):https://books.google.ca/books?id=NVldNYzUMJAC&printsec=frontcover&dq=allen+sneath+brewed+in+canada&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=allen%20sneath%20brewed%20in%20canada&f=false


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: http://collection.mccord.mcgill.ca/scripts/imagedownload.php?accessNumber=M930.51.1.490&Lang=1&imageID=191052


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 http://collection.mccord.mcgill.ca/scripts/imagedownload.php?accessNumber=M930.51.1.500&Lang=1&imageID=191064