The second alcohol ad of interest in the October 15, 1941 issue of the Montreal Gazette was for Dawes Black Horse Ale.
I discussed the Dawes Brewery in an earlier post. In that article, I supposed Black Horse Ale evolved from an India Pale Ale. This is surely correct, as below is an 1890 listing for “Dawes I.P. Ale” – clearly an India Pale Ale. It’s from a menu of the Windsor Hotel in Montreal.
There was no India Pale Ale in Dawes’ product line by 1941. A chilled, well-carbonated “sparkling ale” type had replaced it, that was Black Horse Ale. In my article on American Musty Ale, I cite a statement from a director of the Molson Brewery 20 years earlier that the new type of ale had supplanted the strong, long-cellared ales of English tradition.
By the time I started to drink beer in the 1970s, Black Horse Ale was long off the market although you would still see old signs for it in groceries.
Black Horse Ale was probably pretty good. It would have been top-fermented in open vats, well-hopped, and given a reasonable period of cold-aging, or maybe a combination of cold and warm aging.
No beer available today in my view gets at this older Canadian palate, the closest are Labatt 50 and Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale.
On the craft side, Sleeman Cream Ale may recall mid-1900s Canadian sparkling ale, or one form of it. Some of the craft breweries claim to make a mid-1900s Canadian ale but it is hard to know how close these are. Some remind me of bottled and canned English pale ale from the 1970s and 80s. But maybe the earlier Canadian ales were like that. In my own memory by the 1970s certainly, the eastern Canadian ale brands were fairly anodyne. They were somewhat different to the lagers of the same companies, but not that different.
Black Horse was well-marketed in its heyday including among the francophone majority. Quebec used to be proud of its adherence to the ale tradition, inherited not just from the English who dominated business after the Conquest, but the earlier, French-derived brewing tradition. All this background was top-fermented brewing, so the ales, even in modified hybrid form, remained favourites into the 1970s.
O’Keefe Ale, Molson Export Ale, Laurentide Ale, and Labatt 50 Ale were the main brands. Molson was the home favourite, made on the St. Lawrence River in an old part of the city since the late 1700s. Labatt was an incomer from Ontario but making gains. O’Keefe Ale also came from Ontario, it vaunted its seedless hops method around this time. The ad copy said the ale was less bitter as a result – the writing was on the wall for Canadian ale even in its modified, sparkling ale form.
What remained of the old ale culture was swept aside largely by lager proper. First came Labatt Blue, then Budweiser and Miller. Molson Canadian Lager never was marketed actively in Quebec, the name and image were too “national Canadian”. Budweiser was brewed in Canada but quite close to the U.S. one (and had the apple-biscuit flavour it has since lost IMO).
So tastes started to change and with the dry and ice beer phenomenon of the 80s and 90s, the beer palate became altered in a fundamental way.
Despite the rise of the small breweries, most beer sold in Quebec and eastern Canada remains the generic, adjunct lager type. Still, in beer-aware circles, India Pale Ale is le dernier cri. And it has brought back not the Dawes taste of 1941, but 1890, more or less.
But in 1941, zesty Dawes Black Horse Ale was a local favourite. The Gazette ad shows an older man drinking it, probably in deference to the fact that an important demographic for beer was in uniform.
Still, it is interesting to see an older person in an ad like this. Older people are almost completely ignored in modern beer advertising, which is a serious omission as people are living longer. The superannuated like beer no less than the bright young things. They may not pound it, but they can make money for breweries who see the opportunity.