I have uncovered a significant report on beer strength in 1867, from a report by a Quebec-based chemistry préparateur. This French term meant probably a “TA” today, or teacher’s assistant. The report was in French and published only in Quebec, but also serialized in a number of Quebec newspapers that year.
I searched but could not locate an English version; I believe none was prepared. The writer was A.C.P. R. (Phillipe) Landry. His biography appears in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, see here. He did the study when at Laval University in Quebec City. Landry was trained in chemistry and agronomy, and later became a noted federal politician. He died in 1919.
To my knowledge his work has not been previously cited in Canadian beer history studies. (I have not read every single one, so if anyone did mention Landry’s study, I’m happy to know).
I have made extensive searches on beer strength in mid-1800s Canada, for practical purposes this meant ale and porter, then. Very little hard information is available. Based on a variety of sources, the strength varied, including in the United States, from five to nine percent ABV. It depended on the region, the brewer, and type of beer made.
Some of the reputed Albany Ales for example, which are relevant as New York State is adjacent to parts of Quebec and Ontario, seem to have been at the higher end. I cited references in my recent article in Brewery History called “Fleming’s Golden Ale“.
Ale brewed at Helliwell Brewery in Toronto around 1830 may have been 9% abv according to this history of Toronto breweries by Jordan St. John, but there is little solid data (apart from Landry) until the 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 IMO by weight in the summary linked, therefore, 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, which is consistent with a long-term drop in beer gravities internationally until craft brewing came along.
You may read Landry’s report here, the full title is Boissons Alcooliques Et Leurs Falsifications. See numbers at pp. 29 et seq. This is an extract showing the average he calculated for four breweries:
The percentages are by volume based on internal evidence. For example, he states that whisky is generally 50-60% alcohol, which suggests ABV based on my reading. Also, he states that Parkes in his (English) brewing 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 again, 8.53%.
The four breweries were McCallum in Quebec City, Boswell in the same, Labatt in “CW” (Canada West), also called Upper Canada in the report, and Dow in Montreal.
In my opinion, this is further evidence that IPA was originally a strong beer, 8-9% ABV, as I argued in this essay. Canada was a British colony until the very year of 1867. Due to distance, the small number of settlers, and limited communications and transport, colonies often preserved practices later abandoned in the metropole. Many foods show this, pulled pork, say, which is originally an English dish.
Nonetheless some English IPA remained strong, at what I consider the “historic” end of the range. It is proven that pale ale from Salt Brewery in Burton was 9.8% ABV in 1862 as I discussed here, even stronger than the above Canadian pale ales in 1867. Dow IPA was still quite strong in the 1890s but this appeared the exception for the Canadian pale ales and IPA then tested.
India Pale Ale was new in 1867 at Labatt in London, Ontario, having been introduced by John Labatt II after a brewing apprenticeship in West Virginia between 1859 and 1864. So the 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, in a roundabout way.
Landry examined India Pale Ale from the Labatt Brothers firm in Prescott, Ontario. That was a different brewery than Labatt in London, set up by two elder brothers of John Labatt II who were excluded from the London brewery by their father John Kinder Labatt.
However, the 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.