Quebec City’s Boswell Brewery: History, India Ale, Archeology


 [See Note below regarding all images used]

Boswell Brewery in Quebec City (1852-1968)

An extraordinary story is the tale of Boswell and its beer in Quebec City, La Vieille Capitale founded in 1608. Quebec City is one of the oldest urban settlements in North America.

Joseph Knight Boswell (1812-1890), was an Irish immigrant from Dublin. He came to Quebec City in the 1830s (some say in 1844) to work with John Racey. Racey had two breweries. One, Cape Diamond Brewery which he acquired in 1830 from an earlier operator, continued in business through the 1800s. The other, on Saint-Paul Street in Quebec, ended being in Boswell’s hands. In 1852, Boswell bought land at the foot of Côte du Palais, or Palace Hill, on Saint-Valliers Street, to expand this brewery. Even by then the area had a storied history and, after a period of abandonment and fires, was revived as a commercial area. A brewery fit well amongst the tanners, bakers and other businesses in Palace Hill.


On part of the land Boswell purchased, there had been a much earlier brewery, famously the first in Canada, the Brasserie du Roi, or King’s Brewery. This brewery was established in 1668 by the Intendant Jean Talon, when Quebec counted only 1000 people.

The Intendants were the chief administrators of French colonies and required to see to their economic and moral development. Between the first French presence in Quebec and 1759 when the English prevailed on the Plains of Abraham, a dozen Intendants had administered Quebec. Talon was considered the best and most enlightened, according to a National Breweries Ltd. 25th Anniversary commemorative booklet published in 1934 which reviewed the history of its component breweries.

It seems spirits of bad quality were being abused by the colonists. Jean Talon sought to substitute a more healthful drink and keep the money in the community. Prior to establishing a brewery, Jean Talon tried his hand at potash which was used to make soap and glass in France, but this was short-lived.

The brewery did not last long, either. By 1675, brewing had ceased; the brewery had lasted only seven years. It seems the product cost too much and people continued to buy imported spirits, or brewed at home. Other accounts say the next Intendant, Count Frontenac, didn’t have Talon’s foresight and closed the brewery hastily. The brewery building was, in the last quarter of the 17th century, used as a military prison and then for the Intendant’s residence – the palace – and judicial centre. It was progressively enlarged and modified for these purposes.

In 1713, a devastating fire burned down the brewery-turned-palace. A new palace, only 50 metres to the northwest, was built. Beneath the second palace a series of arched stone vaults were built. There were stone cavities under the first palace, too – vestiges remain today – but I am not clear whether they were built for the brewery of Jean Talon or later, when the property was a prison. (I’ve made inquiries in Quebec amongst people who may know and will report further any useful information). After the 1713 fire, the first palace location was used as the King’s storehouse, it henceforth comprised small buildings which never had the prestige of the first palace – after 1713, that transferred to the second palace.


The second palace was an expensively built, substantial building, as it served to administer French interests in North America which stretched to what is now southern U.S. and western Canada. It burned too, in 1726, but was promptly rebuilt. The second palace was largely destroyed in 1775 by British fusillades when invading American troops led by Benedict Arnold took refuge there. The site remained abandoned and desolate for many decades.

When Boswell bought his land in 1852, it is not clear if he used its underground chambers to store beer. Some accounts state that, variously in the 1850s or 1860s, he rented from the War Department the stone cellars under the second palace site nearby to store beer. At some point, he acquired long-term rights to build on this second emplacement, one source refers to a 99 year lease. Effectively, this was ownership, for this period. Thus, Boswell ended by controlling both former palace sites but only one had formerly housed the royal brewery, the one he bought in 1852.

After building his brewery, Boswell continually expanded it, finally to four stories. After 1875, he erected a brick building on the ruins of the second palace (destroyed in the 1775 Siege of Quebec). The new building was used for storage and as a maltings. Boswell’s ceased making its own malt by the 1920s.

In 1930, National Breweries Ltd., owner of Boswell’s Brewery from 1909, opened as the “Talon Vaults” the cellars under the former maltings. It was used as a reception centre and for tourists. As Boswell had ceased making its own malt, it made sense that the vaults became available for these purposes. This marketing move can be viewed as embellishing an undeniable link between Boswell’s business and Jean Talon’s brewery, in that the vaults opened were built in the early 1700s, for use by the second palace. Jean Talon had never used them to store his beer.

Archaeological work since the 1980s in Quebec has confirmed the true facts, although it seems the history was known early in the 1900s, too. Perhaps, therefore, there was commercial puffery as the 25th anniversary booklet of National Breweries Ltd. refers to one palace only and if it knew the distinction between the two, it doesn’t explain it.

Between 1930 and the early 1970s when all use of the Boswell complex for brewing had ceased, some 2,000,000 people had visited these vaults. They are now more properly termed the Palace Vaults (les Voûtes du Palais) and house an interpretation centre for public viewing, a museum run by the City of Quebec.

But did Jean Talon build cellars in 1668 under his brewery site to store beer? And if he did, did Boswell use these chambers to store his beer from 1852? Certainly there are surviving cellars or tunnels under the first palace site. They are described in archeological studies conducted since the 1980s, e.g., Marcel Moussette’s excellent study cited below. The brewery used one of these chambers to funnel an aqueduct pipe through, at least in later years.  If I learn anything further I will discuss it here, as stated above.

In 1965-66, heavy drinkers in Quebec City of Dow Ale, made in the Boswell plant, died in a clustered case of apparent alcohol cardiomyopathy. By 1968, all brewing onsite permanently ended. Some use of the site continued as a distribution centre for Dow Ale made in Montreal, but by 1974, the brewery was torn down. A few buildings survive, including an art deco garage built in the 1930s.



A Picture of Boswell Brewery Not Long After Its Founding On Saint-Valliers Street

Remarkably, only five years after the brewery was built on Saint-Valliers Street, a travel guide to Quebec, by Willis Russell, gave a most favourable review of Boswell’s beers with a detailed description of the operations. Several brands were mentioned: an XXX ale, India Pale Ale, and an amber, sparkling beer the writer termed “Burton”. The brewery sounds well-laid out and reflected experience Boswell had picked up in his sojourn in Edinburgh (for training) before leaving for the New World. An example is sparging, the sprinkling of water on the mash to drain the last usable extract from the grains.

Interestingly, there is mention of cellars, the author states they are shaped like the letter H on its side. It’s not clear to me if these cellars were under his property or (this is 1857) leased from the owner of the site of the second palace. Second, if they were entirely under the land which formed the first palace, by their shape, they sound like a jail built to hold prisoners, i.e., square rooms with a partition. This may suggest these rooms were built after 1668 when the property was adapted to be a prison.

Boswell’s Brewery in the Mid-1940s

By this period, Boswell was making a red label Export Ale, green label India Ale, and a Cream Porter. A fine collection of Boswell labels from the Thomas Fisher Library of the University of Toronto can be seen here. These beers were likely fairly similar to Boswell’s beers in the later 1800s except that the export ale was surely a newer development, probably a lager-ale hybrid. Another change from the Victorian era was that the beers in the 1940s were probably 5% abv, whereas they were rather higher c. 1900. Nonetheless, Boswell was still using open wooden fermentation tanks during the war years and probably until later in the 1950s. The company, too, was still using wood barrels in the 40s, coated with a clear tar of some kind. Later in the 50s this changed to metal.

Somme toute, the British heritage in the beers’ make-up was still strong which did not prevent a predominantly French city, Quebec, from enjoying and indeed taking pride in them.


Boswell Brewery’s Beers in the 1940s-1950s

Brewing information about Boswell and Dow beers is set out in Nicole Dorion’s ethnological study of Boswell history, see Table 1 which appears to date from the late 1940s-early 1950s. While an outline only, it states that Boswell’s beers used barley malt and some sugar in the boil, and were matured in both wood and glass-lined metal tanks for three months. In contrast, Dow Ale was aged for four weeks. Three months is a very long time to store ale and porter in 1950, even by British standards. Also, Boswell’s ale, at least the IPA green label, was dry-hopped. Yet, Boswell also wanted its beers well-filtered and carbonated. They were a real hybrid of 1800s and 1900s techniques.

By the 1960s, the Boswell brands were history. As a result of Canadian Breweries Ltd. – E.P. Taylor’s – purchase of National Breweries Ltd. in 1952, Dow Ale became the focal point of its business in Quebec Province. The component breweries of National Breweries were amalgamated and re-named Dow Breweries.

What did Boswell’s India Ale, aged three months and dry-hopped, using its special yeast, taste like? There would be men in Quebec City, in their mid-80s, who still remember. If anyone is reading who knows such a gentleman, or Madame, pray ask and tell me what they say.


Note Re Images: The first image above is Breakneck Steps, Quebec City, c. 1870. Believed in public domain and sourced here. The second image was sourced from a University of Laval, Quebec website, here. The third image is A View of the Intendant’s Palace, Quebec, 1759, by William Elliot, also in public domain and sourced from Toronto Public Libraries, here. The fourth image was sourced from Nicole Dorion’s 1991 article, L’industrie de la bière – Le Cas de la Brasserie Boswell (cited below in no. 3). The last image, of a Boswell beer label, was sourced here. All these are believed available for historical and educational purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Sources Used

  1. Le site du Palais de l’intendant à Québec: genèse et structuration d’un lieu urbain, Marcel Moussette (1994, Septentrion, Sillery, QC):           id=xJcToJ5_W0IC&pg=PA179&dq=palais+quebec+biere+Boswell&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=palais%20quebec%20biere%20Boswell&f=false
  2. Quebec Government website on Boswell Brewery:
  3. L’industrie de la bière – Le Cas de la Brasserie BoswellNicole Dorion, University of Laval (1991, article published in Material Cultural Review):
  4. Web site of L’îlot des Palais:
  5. Le Second Palais de l’Intendant à Québec (Robert Nadeau, 2008, dissertation submitted to University of Laval):
  6. University of Laval website on L’îlot des Palais:
  7. National Breweries Ltd. 25ième anniversaire: 
  8. Quebec: As It Was, And As It Is, Willis Russell (1857):
  9. National Breweries Ltd. Review, April, 1943 issue:
  10. Quebec independent historian Jérôme Ouellette’s blog post on the Boswell brewery site (note 1923 insurance map details):
  11. Interesting additional facts on the brewery from historian Luc Nicole-Labrie, e.g., Boswell had financial difficulties in the 1860s:
  12. Brewed in Canada: The Untold Story of Canada’s 350-year-old Brewing Industry, Allen W. Sneath (2001, The Dundurn Group, Toronto):


To Get A Drink You Have To Sell – “Pour Boire Il Faut Vendre”

Some Fascinating Canadian Brewery History – Dawes Brewery Mid-Century in Montreal, QC


These online pages are a virtual counterpart to a permanent exhibition at a museum in Lachine, Quebec, a great resource for those interested in Canadian brewing history. The subject is commercial advertising in the 20th century viewed through the lens of Black Horse Ale. The exhibition is called “To Get a Drink you Have to Sell Pour Boire Il Faut Vendre“.

The name is from an old French drinking song, meaning apparently one must sell off one’s butin (worldly goods) to have money to drink. The line was inspiration to the designers of the exhibition in a different sense – the consumer’s beer supply is based on effectives sales. They did a great job, both for the physical show (which I’ve attended) and this online version.

In many ways, the virtual iteration is superior since hundreds of documents and objects can be magnified and easily viewed, provided (in many cases though) you read French.

Black Horse Ale was a top-selling brand of Dawes Brewery, founded early in the 1800s in the Montreal suburb of Lachine, Quebec by an English immigrant. It grew out of farming operations conducted by the founder and his progeny continued the business through the 19th century with increasing success.

Not long before WW I more than a dozen Montreal breweries, including Dawes, merged to form National Breweries Ltd., a typical combine of the era. It was formed to compete against Molson Breweries, in particular. Molson had been invited to join the cabal but declined. Molson had the last laugh though: it bought out National Brewery’s successor in 1989.

In 1952 National Breweries had been bought out by Ontario industrialist E.P. Taylor’s growing leviathan of breweries, but before that it functioned for some 40 years with a core of five breweries.

The five in the “family”, as it was often called in the employees’ house magazine, were:

– The Dawes Black Horse Brewery, by the 1920s relocated to a new plant in downtown Montreal

– The Dawes Draft Beer Brewery, which occupied the former Ekers plant on St-Laurent Blvd. further north in the city. Ekers was one of the smaller concerns absorbed into the National group

– Dow Brewery in Montreal, founded in the early 1800s

– Frontenac Brewery in Montreal, notable for having been francophone-owned, unlike the others

– Boswell’s Brewery in Quebec City, founded on the site of a brewery established in the 1600s by Jean Talon, the Intendant of Quebec sent by the French king.

In the late 1940s a sixth was added to the group, Champlain Brewery in Quebec City, well-known for its Champlain Porter. The porter was still being sold by National’s successor, Carling O’Keefe, in the 1970s in Quebec, it was sweet and licorice-tasting. Champlain Brewery too, I should add, had been francophone-owned.

A review of the employees’ magazines made available in the virtual exhibition reveals that each plant ran fairly autonomously. Of course there was central purchasing of malt and hops and other inputs, but each plant had its brands and, if I read the exhibition right, each brand had its own yeast, a single-cell type. The magazines reflect a decorous quality we have lost since those times. One plant would host visiting personnel of another, and the plants would engage in sports and other social activities as a unit.

When any plant acquired new trucks or brewing equipment, this was proudly described in the magazine. Some people worked for these units for decades, one retired in the mid-1940s who had started in 1898.

Reading the magazines gives a real sense how the “family” functioned. The personnel had a mix of English and French names with the odd European one appearing. The magazine came out in English and French but almost all those currently online (over 80 of them) are in French, as are many of the advertising objects and other materials.

Some of these objects are in English though and, crucially to students of brewing history, two detailed brewing recipes appear.

One is for Dawes’ Kingsbeer Export Lager, the other for a draught special ale, both from the 1930s. Probably the draft ale was sent to the taverns and bars of Quebec Province. There are numerous interesting black and white photographs of some of the taverns. The interiors look very similar to taverns as I recall them in Montreal in the 1970s.

The brewing recipes are very detailed, in a format I have not seen before. Notable points include all-malt production for Kingsbeer and use of all-Bohemian (Czech) hops. There is even a taste-note: the beer smelled and tasted “mildly hoppy”. I hope so, by my reckoning it used 3/4 lb hops per barrel of finished beer – that’s a lot by today’s standards  even for craft beer. The draught ale also was all-malt and used even more hops, just under 1 lb per barrel.

At various periods, according to the magazines, English, Californian, and Canadian hops were used in the group’s beers. During the war it just North American though. Hops up to three years age were stored and blended with newer hops for production.

The Kingsbeer brand, which I always thought had a British connotation, was originally called Konigsbeer and dates from before 1914; it probably was a Dortmund-style due to the descriptor “export”.

In the mid-40s the Dawes line was Dawes Black Horse Ale, which seems a derivative of IPA; Dawes Export Ale, probably a newer (post-1900) lager-ale hybrid; Kingsbeer Lager; and Dawes’ Porter. Filled bottles still exist of some of these and can be viewed in the virtual exhibition.

There are great photos of the different plants in the group and of a pilot brewery at Dawes in Montreal in 1943 which calls to mind a modern craft brewery.

I didn’t see much discussion of beer characteristics in the magazines. Mostly they deal with employee matters: bowling tournaments with Boswell’s in Quebec City (they played to win a turkey), marriages and retirements, congratulations on a new birth. (“It’s a boy – good work Jim!”).

There is lots in the early 1940s issues on the war effort. One of the Dawes family had been wounded fighting in Europe but apparently recovered. Bond drives, blood donations, sending beer and cigarettes to the troops: lots of course on those subjects.

One magazine, though, describes beer production at Boswell’s in Quebec City. Boswell later became the Dow plant in Quebec that made the fateful beer in the 1960s that probably caused the death of heavy drinkers in the city; I wrote about this earlier here.

The two beer recipes, running three or four pages each, are at the bottom of this link.

Note re image above: the image was sourced from this Canadian government archive collection and is believed in the public domain. All feedback solicited.


A Bridge To The Beery Past

The label below is another from the fine collection of Montreal’s McCord Museum. Once again we see the term “stout porter”, which shows that the black roasty beer, porter, had different qualities. One way to express a strong, superior quality was to call porter, stout. Another, older term for the same thing was brown stout.

J.W. Bridges doesn’t come to mind as one of the classic porter breweries of London. It wasn’t, it was a bottler and exporter of beer, based in London, as confirmed in The Encyclopedia of Ephemera by Maurice Rickards and Michael Twyman (Routledge, 2000, NY), specifically here.


There are numerous references in commercial publications from New Zealand to California and beyond that Bridges’ beers were actively being exported through the world. This company selected porter, stout and pale ale from its sources in England and used its own label to supply the goods. In the form we see above, it was a kind of contract brewing really, a practice very modern and one sees it too in the whiskey world, particularly in the United States. This is where the brewer is not identified on the label although the importer might have been told the source.

Some of Bridges’ main suppliers were the high-quality Guinness and Bass concerns, as show in this 1901 advertisement from the New Zealand Daily Telegraph.

I don’t know whose beer went into bottles for the label above, but would think they were reputed sources to get the name Bridges had around the English-speaking world.

Bottling of beer was once a specialized business. People would buy beer in bulk and sometimes age it until the right conditions for bottling were achieved, and then bottle and sell the beer to its customers. Stout could be kept in cask nine months before bottling. Guinness used independent bottlers for much of its history until it finally took in the business after WW II. Dog’s Head was a famous bottler’s brand of Guinness, and there were many others. Different bottlers achieved their own reputations for stability in particular (beer not going sour or becoming infected), or the beer having other particular qualities.

This fine collection of Guinness labels, from The International Society of Label Collectors & British Brewery Research, shows some of the many concerns which bottled Guinness at one time for the market.

Some exported beer certainly was dosed with preservative in the days before pasteurization. The quality of much of the exported beer may be doubted and although I can’t find it readily, I recall reading a comment of a Victorian beer fancier who said no bottle of Bass Ale he had drunk on the Continent approached the same article back home. Still, a local market – one not familiar necessarily with home conditions – could easily form a particular taste, which may be at the origin of the famed India Pale Ale.

Note re image: Commercial label of J. W. Bridges, Best Stout Porter, John Henry Walker (1831-1899), 1850-1885, 19th century, Ink on paper on supporting paper – Wood engraving 6 x 6 cm, Gift of Mr. David Ross McCordM930.51.1.490 © McCord Museum. Link back to source of image:


Porter, Stout, What’s It About?


It’s All The Black Stuff, Me Currant Buns**

As this evocative label from the 1800s shows, the term “stout porter” has been used for a long time, and didn’t result from the fevers of a craft beer writer. Beer historians seem unanimous – anyway they should be – that there is no essential difference between porter and stout. First there was dark brown beer, and the strong kind was sometimes called brown stout. This was a bitter, somewhat roasty drink of beer but otherwise made from the materials all beer is. The regular kind, of lower strength and lighter body, ended by being called porter. Arguably, porter is the genus: all stout is porter, not all porter is stout.

Even this understanding of it breaks down in the sense that some strong brown beer was always called porter, or double porter or Imperial porter, and some stout was sold on the weak side and could be another brewer’s porter.

The British never laid down statutory rules for such matters, one of their strengths. There can be two words or yet more for the same thing – it’s a free country (still).

One of the few negative consequences of the great beer writer, Michael Jackson, was that in noting Guinness stout uses – today – a measure of unmalted barley, people got the notion stout must be so mashed (except Imperial stout), and porter should be all-malt. Not so. All porter and stout were all-malt by law in Britain until first sugar was allowed in brewing, in 1845, and finally any fermentable grains malted or no.

This is why many stouts, especially on draft, have the dry, acerbic taste characteristic of modern Guinness and many porters are richer in character. There is nothing wrong with this modern schema, but it has no historical basis.

One can cite many 1800s proofs that at best, stout was simply a stronger porter but otherwise both were the same. If you ask, I’ll show you.

The conjoined term, “stout porter”, proves the proposition, were more convincing needed.

*London rhyming slang for “son”.

Note re image: Commercial label of Extra Stout Porter, Dow & Co., John Henry Walker (1831-1899), 1850-1885, 19th century, Ink on paper on supporting paper – Wood engraving 5.2 x 5.2 cm Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord, M930.51.1.500 © McCord Museum. Image source is








Old English Brewing’s Lingering Echoes in Canada



Old Beer Styles Are New Again

This handsome label appears to date from the 1920s and belonged to Brading Breweries Limited, a smaller Ontario brewery with its main facility in Canada’s capital of Ottawa. Brading was the cornerstone of Canadian Breweries Ltd., the brewery conglomerate forged by legendary industrialist Edward Plunkett (E.P.) Taylor. CBL became Carling O’Keefe which was absorbed in 1989 into what is now Molson Coors.

The history of Brading in Ottawa is set out in this well-paced story from 2014 in the Ottawa Citizen by Ian Macleod.

Brown stout was a term used in 1700s England to denote the strong version of porter, itself around 6% abv in its heyday. Brown stout was about 7.5% but this varied with producer and the batch in the days before accurate measurement of beer gravity and the real extent of fermentation (attenuation). Stout was any strong beer, and pale stout was known along with the brown version.

Brown stout beer, later brown stout porter or stout porter, became finally just stout. In the 1800s, adjectives other than “brown” were often used for brewhouse or sales purposes such as double stout, Imperial stout, export stout, XX stout, and so on. Still, brown stout as a term had some currency in England throughout the 1800s and even into the 1900s.

For this reason, breweries in North America implanted by British incomers or influenced by British brewing culture continued also to use the old term into the 20th century. The American breweriana specialist Jess Kidden (apparently a pseudonym) has collected some fine examples, here.

The term finally disappeared from North America, and Britain, after the 1950s only to come back – the original term or one of its 19th century alternates – in the guise of the craft or indie beer movement. Thus, for 30 years or so, craft breweries in North America and elsewhere make dark brown or black stout with characteristics very similar to the classic brown stout of 1700s-1800s. They are usually called just stout, or Baltic stout (which may be bottom-fermented), or yet Imperial Stout.

The point is, the taste of Brading Brown Stout, certainly as it was in the late 1800s, was likely very similar to numerous strong stouts again being made.

In Ron Pattinson’s Bitter!, an analysis is included of Brading brown stout in 1898. It’s derived from a Canadian government study of that year which analyzed beer and various foods for purity. It shows that Brading was 7.38% abv and Ron concluded that final gravity was about 1010. Thus, the stout was strong, similar in strength to Guinness’s stouts of the time, and fairly dry. Today, the typical mass market brew is about 1008 final gravity. This means the solid fermentable content was reduced by fermentation to 8 parts if 1000 is held as pure water.

Looking at Ron’s table, it can be seen some stouts and porters finished higher than 1010, and thus were richer in taste, all things being equal. Dawes’ stout, from Lachine, Quebec, was an example. Yet some of the black beers finished even lower than 1010. Then, as today again, consumers were offered a range of options.

By the 1920s or 30s when the Brading label above appeared, the beer had probably changed in character, certainly the alcohol was down since 9% proof spirit equates to about 5% abv (alcohol by volume). Perhaps too the beer used some corn or rice in the mash by this time. I’d bet dollars to donuts the original Brading brown stout was all-barley malt and pretty well-hopped, too, but maybe it held its essential character until the end. Surprisingly, Brading Brown Stout was still being sold until about 1950, and more modern examples of the above label can be found online.

Numerous Ontario craft stouts might be similar to the Brading original certainly, such as Wellington Brewery’s Russian Imperial Stout and Grand River’s Russian Gun Imperial Stout. Both of these are about the same alcohol content, and pleasing without being super-rich on the palate.


Note re image above: it was sourced from this Ottawa Citizen article, which obtained it courtesy Molson Coors. We include it here for historical and educational purposes. All feedback welcomed.


Dow Ale – A Great Beer Name With a Sad Ending


Dow Ale was a legend in Quebec brewing until a strange event in the late 1960s spelled the end of the brand as a force. Quebec City, the old capital of the Province of Quebec, was a stronghold of the Dow brand. William Dow had started brewing in the 1800s in the Province. By the 1960s and after various mergers and takeovers, Dow, formerly named National Breweries, had four main brands: Dow Ale, Kingsbeer (a lager), Champlain Porter, and Dow Porter. Dow Ale was the big seller.

In 1966, hospitals in Quebec City started to notice that a spate of men in their 40s-60s, known to be heavy beer drinkers, were suffering from cardiomyopathy. It’s an ailment often manifested by irregularity of heart rhythm. Many died, something like 20-25 persons. Not all these men consumed the Dow brand but most did. Dow in Quebec City – it had a brewery there and in Montreal –  made the fateful decision to dump its inventory of Dow Ale, a good faith gesture meant to reassure people. However, the population viewed the action as an admission of culpability. The beer forever became known as “la bière qui tue“, or the beer which kills.

Medical studies conducted by Quebec authorities never established a direct link between Dow’s beer and the deaths. Nevertheless, many experts felt that cobalt sulphate, then used in some brewing to improve head or foam retention, probably caused or exacerbated the medical issue. To be sure, these men were heavy drinkers, they consumed a dozen beers each day or more. Also, the malady seemed to be concentrated in Quebec City, yet Montreal was a large market too for the brand.

But while many breweries in Quebec added cobalt sulphate to their beer at the time, Dow apparently used an unusually large amount, some accounts state ten times the normal quantity. Hence the feeling on the part of many doctors that cobalt was probably responsible, but it was never conclusively proved. Still, Dow stopped using the chemical after the debâcle and the deaths did not recur, at least not in the concentrations that had been noticed.

Needless to say Dow beer fell sharply in sales after the disaster. In 1972 the brand was sold to another brewery, Molson Breweries in Montreal, which continued to brew the beer until the early 1990s. In 1987 Molson merged with Carling O’Keefe, the final successor to National Breweries (itself a combination of 14 breweries formed after WW I of which Dow was a key component).

Online there are numerous examinations of this unique incident in both Canadian and international brewing history. Here is a good place to start, for those interested in more information.

In recent posts, I was discussing the great Quebec and Canadian culinary authority Jehane Benoit, and it turns out she had a connection to Dow.

Benoit had studied food science in Paris in the 1920s under a master nutrition expert, Edouard de Pomiane. I was discussing beer cuisine in various francophone areas in the world, and noted that Quebec cuisine appeared to have only a few recipes using beer.

But Dow Brewery was a client of Mme Benoit in the 1950s, she did promotions for them and this led to a book of recipes called, in English, Cooking With Dow. While the origin of the recipes in the book is diverse and some were probably invented by Mme Benoit, this book must be considered to enlarge the number of Quebec dishes which employ beer in cooking. It is not, therefore, just in the last 20 years or so that books have appeared in Quebec proposing a beer-based gastronomy. The creative and enterprising Mme Benoit was doing it in the 1950s.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

In a later post, I will discuss some interesting recipes proposed by this great food authority.

Note re image: The image above was sourced from the Thomas Fisher Library beer label collection at University of Toronto via Flickr, here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



Of Venison, Bacon And Beer – Beans Optional

White-tailed_deerThis is an English recipe, published in the English newspaper the Guardian a few years ago, for venison cooked with beer.

It is interesting to compare it to the Canadian recipes I mentioned in my posts of yesterday (here and here).

They are all very similar except Lorraine Boisvenue’s recipe, recorded in 1979, uses no sweetening. To be sure, the Guardian’s recipe uses no beans, but beans and bacon is an old English dish – well preceding the Boston and other American versions, indeed clearly inspiring them. This 1803 recipe from Hannah Glasse shows the recipe goes back a long way in England, and Glasse didn’t get it from Boston, that much is clear. One can foresee some people in England would have added feathered or furred game to the bean pot, if they had it, to eke out the bacon or salt pork.

I have seen other English recipes for venison with beer, and they almost always involve a sweet element. Most beer cookery does, in fact, and for good reason.

Perhaps the Canadian recipe has British origins way back, although sugar or syrups, and before that dried fruit, have been used in northern French and Belgian meat recipes for a long time.

Maybe this type of preparation emerged independently in various areas where the ingredients were ready to hand.

In this Toronto blogger’s entry of July 5, 2015, a further Jehane Benoit recipe for beans and game appears, from a magazine article she wrote in the early 1960s. In this case, she did evince a historical interest, and searched old books for inspiration relating to “Upper Canada” (Ontario).  The recipe is very similar to the Chevreuil des Guides I discussed earlier, except a wild bird, or if need be stewing hen, is used instead of deer meat, and for soaking and simmering just water, no beer.

Of course, the mix of stock/water/beer/wine/cider etc. would vary depending on availability and personal preference. This particular recipe suggests to me again a possible English origin for this dish, at least as known in Canada, since Mme Benoit refers to Upper Canadians having prepared it. They were generally of British background in the period mentioned, the later 1800s.

That little group of recipes is very interesting as even in Victorian English Canada one can discern Amerindian influences, e.g., the use of corn husks in which to roast fish, and old French influence, namely for the pot au feu recipe given.

Canadian cooking has been a melange for a long time.

If anyone is curious what Mme Benoit was like on tv, this early 1960’s clip from an old CBC show, Take 30, will tell you. The meat dish demonstrated is a loin of back bacon, a cured but not smoked cut of lean pork, cooked with a “glassful” of brandy. Here that’s a cup, maybe. 🙂 Mme Benoit’s roots and culinary inspirations de base were solidly French and no better evidence than this charming clip.


Note re image used: the image above is in the public domain, and was sourced here.

Jehane Benoit – Canada’s Greatest Food Authority (and Her Recipe For Beans, Deer and Beer)

The doyenne of Quebec and Canadian cookery will always be Jehane Benoit (1904-1987), whose career spanned the 30s through the 70s. This lady was thoroughly French Canadian, from a privileged background, yet was a bridge-builder to Anglo-Canada and became almost as well known in that world as in Quebec. She was open to every influence in cookery in her time.

From running a vegetarian restaurant in the 1930s to responding with enthusiasm to the microwave in the 70s, she was for anything that could help make a tasty and nutritious meal and save time. She wrote many volumes, appeared on radio and tv and was “the” personage in cookery and culinary education in her day. She was certainly equal to Julia Child in Canada in her influence.

She had studied at Cordon Bleu in France before the war and also held qualifications from the Sorbonne in food chemistry. This “double” interest, gastronomy and food science, plus her engaging personality – not to mention her industry – were the keys to her success.

An example of her ‘cookery without frontiers’ approach, in a day when interest in ethnic foods was tentative and guarded, is the inclusion of many ethnic and foreign recipes in Madame Benoit’s Library Of Canadian Cooking (Les Messageries du St. Laurent Ltée, 1972). “Canadian” fare, to most at the time, basically meant American, British, French, and French Canadian dishes, or derived from those traditions. She gave those in plenty but in addition, offered Polish meat balls, meat sauce for spaghetti, Greek-style barbecued lamb with mint, chow mein, and hundreds more recipes brought to Canada by what were then called “New Canadians”.

My eyebrows raised when she wrote – this is 1972, but possibly earlier – that she often made liver especially to cook with baked noodles in the Jewish fashion – she was referring to kugel with nodes of cooked liver in it, popular amongst my crowd in Montreal in the post-war era.

Without doubt she was a smoked meat maven and a souvlaki maven and a chow mein Cantonese maven – if it was good and interesting, she was in.

In Vol. 2 of the series mentioned, she has a heading, New Ways With Chicken. Rather than complain that “advanced methods to raise chicken” resulted in tasteless birds and advising people to buy free-range animals which only a tiny percentage could afford, she lauded this advance of our food industries, noting the birds were sold “plucked, drawn and dressed ready for cooking”. She was (surely) all-too-aware that ménagères for generations had had the hard work of raising, killing and dressing birds before they could be cooked to reach the hungry table – she didn’t want to go back to that time.

If there was some trade-off in flavour from the old days, she didn’t complain. She advised brightly, “Add your own personal ‘zing’ to the following recipes and you will be responsible for the creation of another variation – to me this is the great challenge of cooking”. Formidable, Madame.

Mme Benoit would have been amazed and delighted to work in our wired world, with any recipe available at the touch of a key and the ability to keep in touch with fans via Twitter, websites, Instagram and other social media. She would have been perfect for our time. Indeed, she presaged it: the Bourdains, Olivers, Rays and other celebrity chefs all follow in her footsteps, she along with people like Julia Child, James Beard, Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson set the stage for our modern food culture.

Mme Benoit was, at the same time, very conscious and proud of her Québécoise heritage and the books contain many recipes from this tradition. Needless to say, their authenticity is of the highest order. Of these, this rustic preparation of beans, ale and venison evokes the iron pot on the fire under star-lit northern Quebec nights.


The recipe is obviously drawn from experience, her own or people she knew, as it has relatively few ingredients, thus easy to carry by a float plane or small craft, and the typical Quebec touch of savory (sarriette). We see, too, the old-fashioned dollop of molasses. Now, I know I’ve seen English recipes for venison which combine molasses, beer and the meat. Was the dish, to which she gave a French title, of distant British inspiration?

It would have been interesting to ask Mme Benoit this question. Rarely does she include historical notes or entertaining asides in her writing. I don’t think it was lack of interest, but more likely that she had so many recipes to convey, so many ideas to improve daily living while saving time and money, but little or no space in the books to explore this aspect. Perhaps had she lived longer, she would have written of the historical roots of Quebec cuisine.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter, she was multicultural before anyone thought of the word. She may have answered, who cares, just enjoy it. Et voilà.

Quebec Cuisine Including A Few Beer Dishes

a103073First, I’d like to make some remarks about Quebec (French Canadian) cuisine in general, I grew up in Montreal and by the 70s (I had left in ’83) was starting to taste the foods outside the Jewish-Canadian orbit of my youth. One day I should – will – write about that tradition too, as, apart from being my own, the Montreal Jewish kitchen was non-pareil anywhere in the world. For another day.

I suppose as for our foods, famously bagels and corned beef/smoked meat, it’s only the most prominent foods which the larger society notices. The deeper couches, to keep with the French vein, remain known only to insiders so to speak, les initiés. So it is with the foods of the Québécois people. Unless one had experience close to a French community when growing up, in a social sense I mean, the true traditions of Quebec cuisine were only known to their practitioners.

Even in the 1960s though, most people in Quebec, whatever the social background, knew that pork-based tourtière was a famous Quebec dish (une tourte in France). It was probably the same for fèves au lard, the sweet-edged Quebec bean dish. Cretons, a pale, spiced meat spread similar to France’s rillettes, was known by many too in Montreal, as breakfast menus used to feature it as an alternative to bacon or ham. I’ve mentioned Quebec spruce beer in an earlier posting. In the patisserie area, Quebec’s excellent sugar pie – la tarte au sucre – also had fans amongst Quebeckers of all stripes.


Beyond these, the Americanized fast food such as patates frites and later poutine, and hot dogs vapeur (steamed) or “Michigan”, were, for most native English speakers, the face of Quebec cuisine. This was unfortunate as Quebec families for centuries had evolved a repertoire of savoury dishes using the full range of ingredients: meat, fish, eggs, cereals, vegetables, maple and brown sugar. This was real food, in other words. This tradition, before the era of air conditioning and refrigerators, also featured a “summer cuisine” with many distinctive, lighter dishes. As well, Quebec is a very large province of Canada and many foods evolved as regional specialties. Even “national” dishes such as tourtière had particular features depending on which part of Quebec you came from.

One needs to read a book like Lorraine Boisvenue’s Le Guide De La Cuisine Traditionelle Québécoise (Stanké, 1979) to understand the full range of dishes in the French Quebec community at large. The book has sections on soups (some 60 including fish soups), charcuterie, lamb, beef, veal, pork, ham, chicken, turkey and numerous other fowl, tourtières and pains de viande, fish and seafood, game, eggs, vegetables, salads, puddings, pastries, pies and beignets. There is yet more, extending to home-brewing and distilling. It is very clear from the objectives explained in her introduction that the dishes are solidly of tradition, not worked up to write a book that is. They were drawn from a family’s cuisine handed down in the maternal line, either her own or that of friends who suggested the dishes to her. It is a cuisine of oral tradition as she does not rely on earlier published sources for recipes – she didn’t need to.









Amongst its many interesting features, certain herbs were characteristic of Quebec cuisine, especially savory (sarriette) but also a preparation called herbes salés whose roots go back to the first French settlersQuebec’s gelées, usually a fruit and sugar conserve served cold, are notable too and resemble the Portuguese marmelada. The bouillis need notice too, similar to the pots au feu of France.

With the urbanization and modernization of Quebec society in the 1950s and 60s which have only accelerated since – what was called la révolution tranquille – this culinary tradition, itself an amalgam of old French, British, American and some aboriginal influences, started to disappear. In the cities, people ate a diet similar to most Canadians. This was influenced by industrialized food production and distribution, various American trends including its franchise food systems, and the newer ethnic cuisines introduced by Italian, Greek, Chinese and Jewish Quebeckers. Since the 1980s, in common with many parts of the world, Quebec chefs and restaurants have sought to fuse some of these traditions or create their own freewheeling gastronomies. This has further obscured what belonged uniquely to French Canadians as their own.

No one knew this future better than Ms. Boisvenue. She concludes her introduction with this statement: “Nous ne saurons peut-être pas apprendre à nos petits-enfants les gestes de nos grand-mères; saurons-nous au moins les raconter…” (We likely won’t be able to teach our grandchildren our grandmothers’ ways with food; but at least we can tell them what existed…).

6419926811_55eeb22168_bSince I was talking earlier this week about the use of beer in France’s far northern belt stretching from Dunkirk to Strasbourg, what of beer-and-food in another northern francophone belt, Quebec? The use of beer goes back to Quebec’s earliest days, well-before the British took over the province in the 1770s. One might expect there to be a broad range of beer dishes given that wine was never grown in Quebec. In fact this is not so but we first must make a crucial distinction. If we are talking about the new food world since the 1980s, one could say there is a developing beer cuisine in Quebec. Numerous books (I have one or two) have been written to extend Quebec gastronomy by including beer in everything from soup to nuts.

These books take inspiration from Belgian traditions, say, or the writer’s own ideas, and are no less valid for that, but this doesn’t mean the dishes explained have an age-old ancestry. Sometimes this is obvious, e.g., spaghetti sauce with beer, in other cases less so, but if you know Quebec’s food history reasonably well, you can usually tell the difference.

From what I have been able to tell, only a handful of dishes existed which used beer. As to why this is so, it is hard to say. Since Quebec grew no grapes once again, why not use beer in a broad range of dishes? I think the reasons are, first, unlike northern France, Quebec never had thousands of very small breweries. It had comparatively only a few, generally in the larger centres (eg. Montreal, Quebec City, Trois Rivières, Sherbrooke). Second, Quebec was never the most prosperous part of Canada, and I suspect when beer could be purchased, it was used to drink, not cook with. Third, Quebec had and still does a tradition of fermenting apples, inherited from their Norman ancestors. Cider features more than beer in some of its traditional foods.

Despite this, a few beer dishes exist. Ms. Boisvenue gives a recipes for pork stew and beer which involves the meat, garlic, onion, potato, cabbage and apples, brown sugar, clove and dry mustard. Her ham boiled in beer and molasses has an old English ring to my ears, maybe a Yorkshire soldier who mustered out after the British took Quebec married a Canadienne and introduced it to her family…

The great Quebec cookery writer, Jehane Benoit, has a few beer recipes in her extensive publications. There is one with game, beans and “pale ale”. In fact, Lorraine Boisvenue has a similar one, it calls for two pounds of deer, 3/4 lb salt pork, 4 cups beans, a quart of beer, carrot, onion, dry mustard, savory, pepper and salt. This one has no sweetening added, but I think Jehane Benoit’s did (can’t find that book at the moment). Most of the bean dishes in Ms. Boisvenue’s book in fact are sweetened, and there is an ardent debate in Quebec culinary circles whether Boston baked beans are really at the bottom of the famous Quebec fèves au lard, but it doesn’t really matter, the dish is so old it has acquired its Quebec garland of authenticity. Same thing for la cipaille, which probably comes from the English sea pie, which, despite its name, was a meat dish, but one cooked at sea.

Probably sailors brought it to the Montreal and Quebec ports, but who knows? Here is a young Quebec chef’s version: Ms. Foucault speaks lightly of how the dish is constructed (not of its taste, but how you make it). This ties into Lorraine Boisvenue’s statement that the various words for the dish – the different spellings – don’t correspond to any regional identification, rather all spellings and variations in the recipes attest that each mère de famille had her own version.

Well, as a Quebec native albeit non-resident for 30 years, I offer my notional version: I’ll use Ms. Boisvenue’s “grandmother’s” recipe as the base. It calls for not less than beef, veal, pork, deer or moose, chicken, partridge, hare and salt pork, amongst numerous vegetables and seasoning. Got that? Then, I’ll replace part of her bouillon (stock) addition with beer. Which beer? Any one. Ms. Foucault is right, after many hours slow baking, cipaille will meld into a glorious whole. Molson Export Ale, Creemore Lager, Fuller’s London Pride, Orval Trappist … it will taste great regardless.


Note re images used: The first image above is entitled Quebec, Winter Scene, ca. 1872 and was sourced from Library and Archives Canada/L.P. Vallée/PA-103073, here. The second image was sourced from this Quebec tourism site.  The third image, of Set. Agathe-des-Monts in the 1950’s, was sourced here. The fourth image was sourced from the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library of the University of Toronto, here. All are believed available for non-commercial use. Any feedback welcomed.




Beer And Its Cuisine Have No Borders In France

france-regions-map-500      (Map reproduced by authority of the travel website


In the last three posts, I discussed the beer cookery traditions of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Alsace, and Lorraine in France. It is useful to spot these regions on the map above. (“IdF” below Picardy is Isle de France, where Paris is, as many will know).

What is immediately noticeable is the regions adjoining these places such as Champagne, Picardy and the northern part of Normandy. Indeed, Champagne is really two regions, Champagne proper and Ardennes in the north, the French counterpart to the Belgian Ardennes.

The Ardennes is a forested, largely rural area, a hunting territory famous for game, hams, and pâtés but also beer and breweries. Indeed Champagne-Ardenne as a whole had more breweries than Lorraine in the heyday of brewing in these areas towards the end of the 1800s, over 300. It is no surprise therefore to find a Soupe à la Bière de Mézières in Recueil de la Gastronomie Champenoise et Ardennaise by Annick and Patrick Demouy (Editions S.A.E.P., 1983). This version uses blonde beer, onions, butter, garlic – no cream or eggs, or brown sugar or hard alcohol, as in some neighboring regions – a lean, spare version, as suits a lovely but austere land. The book says to serve it with slices of toasted bread and grated Gruyère.


[Attribution: By MOSSOT (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons]

As in many countries where borders, or former frontiers, are close and people move around for trade and other reasons, culinary traditions are fluid. Picardy has a tradition of beer dishes influenced by French Flanders. Ninette Lyon, a French food writer, observed that one encounters a “perfume” of Flanders in Picardy in the form of e.g., rabbit with prunes, leek tart, and things with brown sugar. In all of these, beer sometimes makes an appearance. Picardy, too, had an active brewing tradition in the past, one revived in recent years with the micro-brewing phenomenon.

The coastal region between Boulogne and Dunkerque – the littoral of the Picard and Flemish corner in the far northwest – has its own beer dishes, many based on fish. In one, haddock, meaning there a salted and smoked fish, is bathed with beer to freshen and enliven it. Smoked herring is sometimes treated similarly. That region in general is a vegetable larder, and one recipe blends beer, white wine and the local gin with celery root, cauliflower, onion, shallot and tomato. It is served lukewarm (tiède), and is a rare kind of northern ratatouille. Boozy, too, but the northerners like it that way. Try their spiked coffee or bistouille which can include rum, brandy, genever gin or all three!

Brittany has in recent decades enjoyed a brewing renaissance to match its age-old cider tradition, and Normandy too to an extent. Certainly, over a wide belt of the north in France, a beer cuisine exists, not just in the Flemish and Alsatian heartlands. In a word, regions or pays without an indigenous or at least strong brewing culture are influenced by the dishes next-door.

Paris not least is an example, but with an international dimension. Beer has been enjoyed there for hundreds of years. Even before the revival of top-fermentation and other craft brewing, bar-restaurants focusing on the beer traditions of the country, or on German or English traditions, could be found on both sides of the Seine. The Académie de la Bière on boul. Port Royal is a good example of a classic Parisian beer temple. Founded in the 1950s, it was and remains largely a Belgian-style bar-restaurant but features good French and foreign beers, too. A typical dish there is mussels cooked in beer.

A glance at the rating site, Beer Advocate, shows that numerous beer bars, and brewpubs, in Paris have joined the older school of Belgian, German and English-influenced bar-restaurants and represent more contemporary craft brewing trends. This has been stimulated both by international brewing developments and the implantation of small breweries all over France selling IPA and other styles familiar to craft beer fans anywhere. This report gives an excellent update of the progress beer and its culture has made in Paris.

Given that craft brewing is now a vibrant industry all over France, there is every reason to think that all the regional cuisines will in time develop a beer cuisine branch.