Molson’s Rice Beer

One of things that strikes us in the history of branding and marketing is how durable well-established names are. Once a reputation is earned, a name carries on practically forever. Something in the folk memory keeps it going. It may be on a long slide, but that can last 100 years until it’s time, gentlemen (“please” not being an option by then).

Only an event out of the blue can really kill such a brand. Of course, instances abound. Dow Ale was fatally wounded in the mid-1960s by a scandal involving the deaths of a score or more heavy beer drinkers. It was thought a foam-enhancing additive in Dow caused or exacerbated heart ailments in the drinkers.

Yet, I probably get more views on a 2016 Dow post than on any other. People still remember, or know somehow, the name. The product hasn’t been sold since about 1990, yet it lives on even in memoriam. Coca-Cola was almost done in when the flawed New Coke was introduced, but a more inspired Coke Classic saved the day.

Returning to beer, Schlitz, mentioned in the above ad, was harmed by a mistake in processing that changed the palate. It was never the same after but a brand of that name is still sold.

So imagine how good a trade name is when no unusual difficulty besets it other the typical market forces and changes in habits and technology.

Look at the ad reproduced above (via New York State Historic Newspapers, here) from Drutz Supermarket in Saranac Lake, NY. It appeared in 1955 in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise of that town. Saranac Lake is a well-known tourist and vacation area in the Adirondack Mountains.

Of the 16 beers in that list 13 still exist and most do quite well in the market. Only Ruppert, a grand old name in New York City lager, Kingsbeer, a Canadian lager associated with the Dow brand, and Fitzgerald’s beer, have departed the market. Fitzgerald was a long-established brewery and soft drinks distributor in Troy, NY, a comparative hop and skip from the area.

The Fitzgerald brewery lasted until 1963 as documented in a number of sources. The beer, or at least the one advertised, was what was called a price beer, not the most luxe, in other words. For some excellent background on Fitzgerald, read Jay Brooks’ 2017 essay, here.

But look at the other names: Carling, Guinness, Budweiser, Ballantine, Pabst, Miller High Life among others, all top end at the time. And Crown & Lager Rice Beer.

Crown and Anchor Rice Beer? What’s that? It was the lager made by the Quebec-based Molson Brewery when it first expanded to Toronto, in 1954. Various sources state that in 1959 the beer was rebranded as Molson Canadian.

(Can “Canadian” as we call it really have rice in it? Adjunct, yes, but rice? Who knew).

Well, this was a time when brewers could be ingenuous, even vaunt such things with pride. No one told the public then – there were no beer writers to do it – that rice in brewing was an American innovation that arguably detracted from lager’s traditional palate. So why not trumpet it? Anheuser-Busch had, before WW I, but not after in any significant way.

I don’t think it was so much turning a negative into a positive, but not realizing the rice thing was a negative at all, at least as viewed by many informed parties.

In fact, there seems to have been an attempt by Molson to create a new image for the Ontario market, almost to give the impression Crown and Anchor Rice Brewery (see the label) was a new entrant in brewing. Maybe it was thought the Molson name had no particular resonance in Ontario of the 1950s, or possibly was viewed negatively since Molson originated in Quebec. (The old Quebec-Ontario rivalry lives on).

The word Molson does not appear on the label shown. Today, people knock big brewers for setting up “Potemkin” breweries, fake units dressed up in craft livery that have no independent existence and are meant to gull the public. Well, it’s not really new, is it? Companies have used divisional or unit names to suggest a separate identity forever, brewers no less.

Be that as it may, Molson discarded the artifice after a few years, and discarded the rice claim, too. Perhaps it got letters from European brewmasters skiing in the Adirondacks saying, “Vy are you fellows advertising the use of rice? Vy is it in the brewery name?”.

For additional information on the unusually-named brand, see from 2010 Jay Brooks again (and the comments), here.

So, yes, even Crown and Anchor Rice Beer still exists – only it’s called Molson Canadian lager beer.

Note re images: The first image above was sourced from the news story linked in the text. The second, from Ebay, here. The third, from the Fitzgerald Brothers website (the bottling and distribution business still exists), here. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.




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