I uncovered a significant report on beer strengths from 1867 by a Quebec chemistry préparateur (probably what we call a TA today, or teacher’s assistant). It was written in French and published in Quebec province. It was also serialized in Quebec newspapers that year.
I searched carefully and could not locate an English version, I believe none was prepared. The author was A.C.P. R. (Phillipe) Landry, whose biography may be read in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, here. He wrote the study when at Laval University in Quebec City. He was trained in chemistry and agronomy, and was later a noted federal politician, surviving to 1919.
I’m not aware that his work has been previously cited in Canadian beer historiography. I have not read every single brewing history resource, so if anyone did raise Landry’s study, I’m happy to know of it.
I have made extensive searches on beer strengths in mid-1800s Canada, for practical purposes ale and porter at the time. Very little hard information is available. Based on a variety of sources, strength varied, including in the U.S., from five to nine percent abv. It depended on the region, the brewer, and the type of beer made.
Some of the Albany ales for example – relevant as New York is adjacent to parts of Quebec and Ontario – seem to have been at the higher end. I cited the references in my recent article in Brewery History, “Fleming’s Golden Ale“, including that the Golden Ale itself was likely 5%-6% abv.
Ale brewed at Helliwell in Toronto around 1830 may have been 9% abv according to this history of Toronto breweries by J. St. John, but there is little solid data (apart Landry) until the late 1890s. In that period, the federal Government reported assays on a wide range of India pale and pale ales.
By then, these beers were 5-6%, which are by weight in the summary linked, it appears, hence 6-7% abv.* The average in the 1867 study was by my calculation 8.4% abv, so 6-7% abv is about a 23% decline.
You may read the Landry report here, the full title is Boissons Alcooliques Et Leurs Falsifications. If you don’t read French, the numbers are on pp. 29 and following. An extract that shows the average he calculated for each of four breweries:
The percentages are by volume based on internal evidence, for example, he states whisky is generally 50-60% alcohol, which suggests abv based on my reading. Also, he states that Parkes in his (English) text sets out alcohol percentages from one to 10 for beer. That was evidently by volume as the equivalent values by weight and in British Proof are listed in adjacent columns.
Hence, the Canadian beers had to have fairly high starting gravities, in some cases around 1085 and more, and rather inconsistent as well. The alcohol level for Labatt’s India Pale Ale was (an average) 9% abv, and for Dow’s again, 8.53%.
The four breweries whose pale ales were tested were McCallum in Quebec City, Boswell in ditto, Labatt in “CW” (Canada West), also referred to as Upper Canada in the report, and Dow in Montreal.
In my opinion, this provides further evidence that IPA was originally a strong beer, 8-9% abv, as I argued in this essay. Canada was a colony until this very year of 1867. Due to distance, the small number of settlers, and slow or otherwise limited communications, colonies often preserved practices long since abandoned in the metropole. (Foods are often an example).
That said, some English IPA remained strong, at the “historic” end of the range. It is proved that Burton-brewed Salt’s pale ale was 9.8% ABV in 1862 as I discussed here, even stronger than these Canadian strong pale ales of 1867. Dow IPA was still quite strong in the 1890s but this appeared the exception for the Canadian pale ales and IPA.
India Pale Ale was very new in 1867 at Labatt in London, Ontario, having been introduced by John Labatt II after a brewing apprenticeship in West Virginia from 1859-1864. So this data of Landry is extra-important as reporting the strength of one of Canada’s early and most reputed and longest-lived IPAs. Yes?
Yes. But in a roundabout way.
Landry examined India Pale Ale from Labatt Brothers in Prescott, Ontario. That was a different brewery, worked by the two elder brothers of John Labatt II who were excluded from a role in the London brewery by their father John Kinder Labatt.
However, that Prescott operation was established by the American George Weatherall Smith, precisely the person with whom John Labatt II had studied IPA brewing in Wheeling, West Virginia. John Labatt II also worked with Smith in Prescott c. 1865 until Smith went home. See my discussion and references in this post.
Labatt II then returned to London to grow the Labatt we know today and his brothers took over the brewery in Prescott. For this reason, I think it is safe to say all three brothers made the one and the same IPA. (As Matthew Bellamy reports in his fine new history of the Labatt brewery, Prescott did not prosper and was later absorbed into the main Labatt business).
The foregoing ties in well IMO to Racey’s Strong West India Ale, a Quebec City beer advertised in 1837 in the Montreal Herald.
The “India” is the common link. Whether stylistically the Racey’s was an India Pale beer, as I believe, or not, is less important. Putting it a different way, Canadian brewers, following as I infer the original (Hodgson) IPA standard of c. 1800, caught up to Bass and Allsopp later in the century. That is, by better controls on their gravities and by selling more units of lower gravity than higher gravity, they stayed competitive and more profitable.
Despite Bass, Allsopp and other IPA brewers who brewed at c. 6% abv, some English brewers continued the older style, through the Victorian period, for top-grade IPA. As did Salt, indubitably. Did Salt, or the Canadian brewers, ramp up an iconic original just because they could? I doubt it, things generally don’t work that way, especially given the indisputable, long-term decline in top-fermentation gravities of Anglo-Saxon tradition up to the First World War.
This is on top of all the evidence I marshalled in the post that the original IPA was a strong beer.
Finally, Hubert LaRue in his 1881 book (also in French) that I discussed in 2016, states that Quebec beers averaged 7-8% G.L. (abv) in a study he performed years earlier. In fact, Larue was Landry’s supervising professor at Laval, as the Dictionary of Canadian Biography confirms.
Larue included no technical data to support his lapidary statement, or even the beer types. Landry’s report of 1867 provides the vital missing link. And indeed 7-8% abv corresponds essentially to Landry’s data, as McCallum’s average abv was 7.76%. To quibble that 8.9% is not 9% is bootless. Larue’s remarks may be seen at p. 199, here.
I am also not aware that Canadian beer historiography cited Larue’s book before my post in 2016.
*In an earlier version, I stated that the 5-6% in the 1890s federal study was by volume, that appears not correct when examining the tables from which the summary I referenced was prepared. The correct numbers in alcohol volume are more like 6-7%. Still, an approximate 23% decline from 1867 is quite significant.