Laurentide: Lager and Ale

“I got decisions to be made between lager and ale …. cause I’m willing, willing and able…”

– Kim Mitchell, Lager and Ale (1984)

The above ad is from the November 13, 1972 issue of The Paper, the student newspaper of Loyola College and Sir George Williams University, now Concordia University. It was about this time I first drank Laurentide Ale in Montreal. The brand was only distributed in Quebec province and it seems to have disappeared from the market in the mid-2000s.

But in 2017, a spate of stories in the Quebec press reported that Laurentide was back. The stories I found, in French, called it Bière Laurentide, the name it always had in French. This one from Le Citoyen in Abitibi states that Quebecker Eric Côté, with the aid of a Facebook site, sent a petition with 1000 signatures to Molson-Coors to revive the brand. The company responded positively, a batch was made up and distributed, and since then it is brewed now and again.

Côté also petitioned the return of O’Keefe Ale, but so far without result. We commend this gentleman for his ardent efforts to restore brands of yesteryear. We can only hope O’Keefe and Brador, and the older Molson India Pale Ale and Molson Porter, will return to gladden beer drinkers interested in tastes of the past.

Piecing the 2017 accounts it seems Laurentide was still sold in parts of Quebec until 2012 whence it disappeared completely. It was bottled before 2012 as a value brand in large packs although whether it was never actually made between 2012 and 2017 I cannot say. On my many trips to Montreal between, say, the late 1990s and 2000s I never saw it, but perhaps it was available here and there, especially in big box stores.

In any case it is back with an éclat, now available in six pack cans. I saw it recently in Montreal and bought some.

When I lived there, and until I left in 1983 Laurentide was always advertised in English as an ale. The bottle labels stated “ale” while as stated above the French rendering was bière. Many ads and other sources I’ve consulted confirm this.

This U.S. news story on October 3, 1972 in the Clarkson Integrator (Potsdam, NY) recounts a visit of college students to Montreal. They went for a baseball game and to tour Molson’s. They were told by “Phillip”, a graduate student Molson had hired to lead tours, that the brewery made four “ales” and one “lager”. The ales were Molson Export, Molson Golden, Brador, and Laurentide. The sole lager was Molson Canadian.

My own memory suggests it was an ale, too. While on the light side it had a lightly fruity taste characteristic of top fermentation. To be sure all mass market ales of that period were fizzy, served cold, and cold-aged, hence presenting some lager characteristics, but still there was a distinction.

If one examines tv commercials for Laurentide on YouTube, one can see that something changed by 1989. In that year, the label reads finally in English, “beer”, see an example here. Whereas in early-1980s commercials, for example this one in 1982, the English description still reads “ale”. Something changed a few years later, and the beer was turned into an international lager style.

There can be little doubt this is still the case, as the Molson Coors website (see citation below) states it is a “pilsner”.

Also, based on tasting the Laurentide currently sold, it tastes like a pilsener in the international style. It is not what I remember, in other words, but still good with quite a full flavour. Some grain adjunct is likely used but it is not obtrusive. The beer tastes even better only lightly chilled.

Yet, in the 2017 Le Citoyen story, Eric Côté states the revived Laurentide is an ale (using the English term)! He tasted Laurentide at the brewery side by side with Molson Canadian, a lager, as some had suggested the two beers were the same. He concluded Laurentide is a different beer, with which I agree, but offered the reason that it is an ale. The listing on La Société des Alcools du Québec’s website states it is an ale too, a “pale ale” in fact. See here.

This is puzzling in light of the clear statement on Molson Coors’ website that Laurentide is a pilsner. Specifically:

Laurentide is a pilsner brewed with two-row pale malt and a variety of quality hops. Using a slow fermentation process, Laurentide is a beer with a subtle hoppiness, with a forthright and smooth taste and an indisputable reputation.

The only other thing I can think of is the beer was never an ale but the latter term was used for marketing reasons until “beer” replaced it on the English part of the label, but this seems unlikely.

James D. (Jim) Robertson reviewed the beer in the second (1982) edition of The Connoisseur’s Guide to Beer. He gave it a good rating, stating:

Bright amber gold, pleasant malt aroma with light hops, highly carbonated, good dry malt and hop flavour, well-balanced, zesty, slightly sour finish and aftertaste. Good tasting brew.

The sour finish was by reasonable inference Robertson’s lingo for cereal or glucose adjunct. Unfortunately he did not offer an opinion on a lager vs. ale character. Evidently still an ale in 1982, it has been a lager for at least 30 years, yet tastes pretty much as Robertson described it.

I can only assume that both the SAQ and many fans of Laurentide think it is an ale in 2019 because for decades the label stated it was. Some things adhere long in the folk memory, as I’ve discussed in other contexts.

When did Laurentide first appear in the market? Published beer histories don’t address that, by my canvassing. This ad of February 8, 1963 in the Sherbrooke Daily Record makes clear it was in early 1963. The ad is quite interesting, and stresses – no surprise for the time – the light qualities of the brand.

The rooster image still appears on the label, a symbol of Gallicism including in Quebec. According to this Quora discussion the symbol seems a play on words in that Gallus in Latin means both Gaul and rooster, although opinion is divided viz. the Quebec implications, as the chat reveals. Laurentide, as the name suggests (in English, Laurentian), was designed to appeal to the newly confident, 1960s francophone market. Laurentide Ale was a symbol for a time of a modernised, French-fact Quebec, consistent with La Révolution Tranquille.

There were many good tv ads for Laurentide, I like this one from 1989, it sums up the beer’s carefree image and demographic in that period. Note the Michel Pagliaro-style soundtrack. Maybe it was Pag.

Note re images: the first and last images above were obtained from sources identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein or thereto belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

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