Why One-Way Beer Containers Emerged

Economic and Industrial Background

Since the 1970s there have been periodic attempts to pass federal U.S. legislation commonly referred to as the “bottle bill”. A Bottle Bill Resource Guide summarizes the current position and describes two bills now before Congress.

As of mid-2021, 10 states, and Guam, have enacted bottle bill legislation. Oregon was first in 1972, characteristically an “ecology” state, to use a term popular in the ’70s. 

Container-deposit legislation typically requires:

… the collection of a monetary deposit on beverage containers (refillable or non-refillable) at the point of sale and/or the payment of refund value to the consumers. When the container is returned to an authorized redemption center, or retailer in some jurisdictions, the deposit is partly or fully refunded to the redeemer (presumed to be the original purchaser) ….

The object is to encourage recycling and reduce litter, which increases the longevity of landfill sites.

For Ontario, we have the Deposit Return Program described in the website of The Beer Store. The program, regardless where the beer is retailed, is operated by The Beer Store, owned mainly by the large national brewers.

In 1974 the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, via its Environmental Sub-Committee, conducted hearings to discuss passage of a national bottle law, which would apply to interstate shipments. It was the first of many subsequent attempts.

This presentation by Frank Sellinger, then head of engineering at Anheuser-Busch, offers a capsule of beer container use since Repeal (1933). It serves well, in fact, as a short history of the American brewing industry since 1933. See in particular at 111-130.

Sellinger had observed the industry for almost 40 years, and seen great changes. He laid out the industrial and technological background that caused the emergence of new containers such as the can and stubby.

I would make these points by way of summary, but to understand the full picture read presentation in toto:

  1. As in pre-Prohibition times, bottled beer was comparatively unimportant post-1933, representing 25% of all beer consumption.
  2. The remainder was draft beer, produced for the most part by local or “semi-regional” breweries. In general the American beer business was comparatively small.
  3. In the 1930s even most bottled beer was consumed on premises (bars, etc.). Relatively little was transported home, so container type mattered less at that period.
  4. Costs to ship and obtain return of heavy glass bottles made national or “shipping brewers” such as Anheuser-Busch less competitive than local brewers.
  5. Such glass was over-engineered to ensure mainly prolonged re-use.
  6. The development of lighter, one-way flat-top cans and bottles increased national brewer competitiveness. Shipping costs were reduced and the return stage eliminated.
  7. While one-way containers cost more, which had to be passed on, national brewers absorbed part of the differential (extra cost less saving from elimination of return).
  8. Local brewers were not able to, they simply added to their price full increased cost of one-way containers.
  9. Due to national brewers being newly competitive with local brewing as mentioned, local brewers increasingly departed the market.
  10. The war significantly impacted postwar buying habits.
  11. Soldiers during the war became familiar with national brands, hence were not as wed to local names as before the war.
  12. They also became accustomed to the one-way cans and bottles sent to the theatres during the war.* They continued to buy beer in this format in peacetime.
  13. Homemakers did as well for their own convenience.
  14. Industry concentration ramped up significantly after the Korean War. This had been delayed by Depression, also high demand for beer during WW II which kept less competitive brewers in business.
  15. The contemporary (1974) appeal of the one-way container reflected primarily consumer preference.

Reading his remarks as a whole, I would conclude national brewer business strategies were likely a greater spur to development and adoption of new lighter beer containers than consumer preference.

Putting it a different way, once national brewers committed heavily to non-returnable containers, consumer habits followed suit, rather than the reverse.

By 1974 87% of Anheuser-Busch production was in one-way containers.

This background helps appreciate why the beer can and stubby bottle emerged. As well, Sellinger’s presentation is a valuable précis of American brewing development for forty years post-Repeal.

*The stubby design was sidelined during WW II as I discussed earlier, but large numbers of “packie” bottles were shipped to the troops during the war. The packie was a variant of the stubby. See again study I cited in recent posts on non-returnable beverage container development since the 1930s.

 

 

The Paper Beer Bottle

A Whole new bag? Yes and no.

I mentioned recently that in the 1930s, a fecund time for beer container development, a rumour coursed through the American industry that a paper bottle was next, to rival the new tin can and stubby bottle.

None issued, as far as I know, even a prototype, but it seems likely industrial research divisions were working on it.

In fact, as early as 1887 scores of American newspapers, including the Belmont Chronicle in Ohio, carried this item:

 

 

Thinking further, I recalled that Carlsberg Brewery announced prototypes for a paper beer bottle a couple of years ago. Its website states in part:

We are working on developing the world’s first ‘paper’ beer bottle made from sustainably-sourced wood fibers that is both 100% bio-based and fully recyclable.

We now have two new research prototypes of the Green Fiber beer Bottle, which are the first ‘paper bottles’ that are able to contain beer.

Both prototypes are made from sustainably-sourced wood fibre, are fully recyclable and have an inner barrier to allow the bottles to contain beer. Right now, they use a thin plastic film for the inner barrier – with one containing recycled PET and the other a 100% bio-based PEF. These prototypes will be used to test the barrier technology as we work towards a solution without plastic.

Journalist Phoebe French explored the background in an article for The Drinks Business in 2019. She included this image of a cream-coloured, paper Carlsberg bottle:

 

 

To my mind the appearance and form are somewhat minimalist, recalling a milk bottle. For some reason I think too of the admittedly iconic Volkswagen auto, or the current decor of the bar in the United Nations in New York – something typically “European”.

If commercialized, probably a more stylish, consumer-friendly result will emerge, at least for export markets. (After all too it is just a prototype).

Certain problems need still to be worked through to ensure complete bio-degradability. This is particularly so in nature without mechanically separating the wood fibre body from the interior coating that shields the beer from the frame.

Carlsberg is famously an innovative brewer, reaching back to its early work on yeast and fermentation. No surprise it is showing creativity in this area, but as for many scientific advances, the roots of new ideas go deep.

Often the earlier work is little more than inspired thinking, but once a seed is planted it can bear fruit generations later.

French reported that testing of the Carlsberg prototype was to start last year in selected markets. I am not aware this occurred, readers who know differently might comment.

Coca-Cola, which also works with Paboco (see French article), announced a trial earlier this year, as reported by the BBC. Hungary was one market selected, per Beverage Daily.

Earlier, I raised the possibility that the strain on the forests would be a limiting factor, but likely this can be alleviated by ensuring near-100% recycling. For example in Ontario almost all beer bottles are recycled through a government-backed industry accord.

While it seems unlikely glass or metal will disappear in the near future, it would be Pollyanna to think the vision of earlier and contemporary thinkers won’t be validated, sooner rather than later.

Cost will be an important factor, as well as government policy. Paper is already making gains for packaging materials, e.g. to replace plastic shrink-wraps for six-packs. I think it is only a question of time before your India Pale Ale comes in a paper bottle.

How labels are designed and attached will be another interesting question. The Carlsberg prototype has paper on paper so to speak. Newer ways to identify the product are likely to emerge, to maximize the impact of name and label.

Maybe a type of embossing or engraving, for example.

The paper bottle is likely to be a paper tiger but quite literally, not in the sense of the original Chinese idiom.

Note: source of image above is linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

 

The Stubby Beer Bottle – Footnote

A footnote if there ever was one to my stubby bottle series: what happened to the old bottles when the new ones came online in 1962? News reports in the Francophone and presumably English press in Quebec told the story. I read the French accounts in the Quebec National Library and Archives.

A Montreal merchant named Rapoport was given the contract to buy the old bottles of Montreal breweries. Probably similar arrangements were followed elsewhere in the country.

Press in April 1962 stated he leased surplus land from the Montreal Transport Commission to stack them. One story pictured a 25-step ladder reaching about halfway, the stacks were immense, 6,000,000 bottles were mentioned.

 

 

Rapoport in interviews explained that three-quarters of the bottles were crushed and sold, fairly cheaply, to bottle-manufacturing companies. The rest were sold overseas, also cheaply, including in Belgium, the Caribbean, and South Africa, for refilling with their beer.

These accounts disclosed finally some human interest to the bottle replacement affair. A journalist noted no monument would be raised to the old bottle. One headline read (translation), “If They Could Speak, What Stories They Could Tell …”. A final reckoning, of a kind.

If nothing else was clear though, and despite my searches not being exhaustive as noted, little was viewed sentimentally in the early 1960s for bottle selection and replacement. The aesthetic of a bottle was never remarked on, that I saw. The same for 1930s America, when the stubby was first adopted.

This dimension of the matter only came later, in a quite altered consumer society. The “glamour” of the American long neck in Canada of the 1980s and ’90s simply did not occur to earlier generations – or for our own “export” and “Champagne” long necks before 1962.

In that more simple time, bottle selection assumed utilitarian and industry significance only.

An early sign of change was the adoption by Anheuser-Busch of a stylish, innovative bottle for Michelob in 1962. But for many years bottle shapes remained unexceptional for the broad population.

That was a time, when, ironically, a green bottle – Heineken was avatar – was considered a mark of sophistication in beer.*

Note: source of image above is linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

*Green glass is overly pervious to light, with risk of light damage – skunking – to the beer.

 

The Stubby Beer Bottle. Part III.

In this last Part, I wish simply to summarize information gleaned mainly from Toronto Star and Toronto Globe & Mail archives. As these are behind a paywall or available with a Toronto library subscription, I can’t link them anyway.

The main story of use was a Globe & Mail account of September 23, 1961, “Amber Bottle Here for Beer, Ale Next Year”. The Dominion Brewers Association announced the day before that in Quebec and Ontario – so my remarks here are limited to those Provinces – the amber “stubby bottle” would replace bottles currently in use.

The current 12-oz, tall bottles, returnable as the stubby would be, would disappear with the adoption of the stubby. Also: the stubby was three inches shorter than existing bottles, and a case of 24 stubbies was five pounds lighter than the existing case.

The new bottles were a single, uniform brown colour, to minimize penetration by light, whereas existing bottles were green for ale and clear for lager. Certainly this was so in Ontario then, but whether in the rest of Canada I cannot certify.

Business stories stressed that the new bottle was a boon for bottle and carton manufacturing companies. Presumably bottle-filling equipment was affected too.

The stories in Ontario’s main daily newspapers were rather clinical. I found none with a human interest angle. In part this probably reflected the conservative environment in Ontario then. The Toronto Evening Telegram possibly added further in this regard, but its archives are not easily available.

Stories in the “provincial” press of Ontario, outside Toronto, may have accounts of interest, especially in London where Labatt Brewery was headquartered. Those community papers I did survey had nothing.

The press in the rest of Canada likely had more resources for this aspect, but my searches have been limited, given online archival searches are often behind paywalls and intermittent at best. Still I was able to search numerous archival collections.

Sme accounts chart the switch to the stubby from 1961, not 1962. The reason is, pilot programs testing the new bottle were run in 1961 in Abitibi, Quebec, and Peterborough, Ontario. This ad was placed in the Val d’Or Star in May 1961 in Val d’Or, Quebec:

 

 

Val d’Or is in south-west Quebec adjacent to the Abitibi mining region, about 300 miles from Montreal, north of Ottawa.

Noteworthy is the description of the bottle as “The Brewmaster’s”, yet the advantages described are clearly consumed-focused. This is generic advertising, sponsored by the “Brewers of Quebec”.

Montreal’s Gazette, one of the main Montreal newspapers, then and still, had press story very similar to the clinical one in Toronto’s Globe & Mail.

The Provinces-wide roll out, in Quebec and Ontario certainly, took place the following year according to these sources.

I find the changes between 1983 and 1992 less of interest, perhaps because I lived through that time. Eg. John Labatt Classic premium lager came out in 1983 in a taller, green bottle. But the beer did not shine, in my opinion, and the rest, well, is not as important.

Ditto the Miller High Life slope-shouldered, medium-size bottle released in Canada once brewers started to bottle in new formats again: less interesting withal than the 1962 change.

The stubby lingers in popular memory as a Canadian icon. Despite its American origins, both in design and commercially in the market, the stubby did acquire a special aura in this country.

 

 

People still remember it with a certain affection, like many things from the past that don’t really repeat. Molson-Coors bottled some Molson Canadian Lager in the old stubby bottle in 2017, but it did not take the beer world by storm.

For a few people, it had a nice nostalgia value, but nothing more really.

Such are the ways of the world, well-summed up in the phrase “That was then, this is now”. Or, “You can’t go home again”.

In an odd kind of way, the stubby met a similar, ignominious end during its first U.S. career, 1935-1942. As I mentioned earlier, it did not make a splash then, never holding more than a few percentage points of the bottle market.

The multi-author study I linked in Part I stated that war standardization measures ended any chance of revival until after the war, since the bottle was not among the authorized styles.

Its relation the steinie did better before the war, holding about one-third of the bottle market at one point. See again the article mentioned, and for the fate of the “packie”, the third short bottle type issued by Owens-Illinois before World War II.

All would be utilized after the war in some places, indeed the stubby did acquire finally extended use especially in the Pacific Northwest. But until the stubby’s striking success in Canada from 1962-1983, the designers’ vision for that type was not fully realized, at least on national scale.

By 1942 in America, as this news report in Michigan had it, the stubby had cachet around Seattle, Washington, not because of beer, but fishing! Fishermen used it as a float, because cork floats were unobtainable due to the war.

The necks would not break off as when tall bottles were used – a stubby didn’t “stick its neck out”, as the story had it. Finally the bottle did make a splash.

Another anticlimactic end, at least to the stubby’s first American arc.

N.B. The next post serves as a footnote to the stubby bottle affair: it explains the fate of the bottles replaced by the Canadian stubby in 1962.

Note re images: second image depicts the famous Doug and Bob McKenzie, fictional characters who satirized a certain Canadian ethos. Source is National Post. Source of both images is linked in the text. All intellectual property source belongs solely to lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

The Stubby Beer Bottle. Part II.

In these notes I discuss pre-war ads vaunting the stubby bottle by brewers who adopted the new package, and news articles that show packaging technology was a hot button issue of the period.

An October 1935 article in the Waterbury Evening Democrat in Connecticut set out the advantages of the stubby: 31% shorter than the regular 12-oz bottle but holding the same quantity, three ounces lighter, and “one-trip, no-deposit, non-returnable”:

 

 

The last sentence seems a misprint of some kind unless I misunderstood it. Parenthetically, those interested in food history might note the banana muffin recipe on the same page, a specialty of the Hollywood actress Grace Bradley.

The banana muffin today enjoys North American popularity and beyond. I’d have thought it a 1960s invention, but evidently not.

Another October 1935 ad, in the Evening Star in Washington, D.C., vaunted Piel’s beer in stubbies. The relativeness lightness of the bottle was stressed, and its throw-away quality – all conveniences meant to appeal to housewives.

 

 

This November 1936 ad appeared in The Veterans’ Review in Seattle, Washington:

 

 

Like some other ads of the period it appeals variously to tradition and modernity. Tradition is highlighted by mention of oak casks, age-old in brewing as well as winemaking and distilling.

Yet, the stubby represented modern engineering to the max. One might think the brewery would have vaunted steel barrels, which Krupp of Germany and its licensees were actively marketing in this period, as I discussed earlier.

But Heimlich retained the ancestral oak barrel. If, I might add, cost was a factor, the consumer was not told.

On the contemporary side of the ledger, “glass-lined” equipment is noted, likely lagering tanks – and packaging in “amber light”. In such contexts amber usually denoted the brown glass bottle, favoured then and still by brewers.

These minimize light entering the bottle, which can skunk it. In the Heimlich ad, bottling in “amber light” seemed to mean something else.

There was some application in the period of ultraviolet light as a sterilization aid (see in Wallerstein Communications, 1937 and the Sterilamp). UV light can be purple evidently, or shades of blackish, but I don’t think brown/amber.

Also, one purpose of brown glass is precisely to reduce the UV light entering the bottle. I hesitate in this area before drawing any conclusions, but perhaps the bottle filling room was darkened to reduce the light entering the bottle whatever type of glass was used, as strong light can still enter brown glass.

The reference to two free bottles meant Heimlich was using the “Eastern”, 12 oz. stubby, while many brewers in the West used the 11-oz version.

Despite these seeming advantages offered by Heimlich, not least the asserted quality of its beer, the brewery foundered by the end of the 1930s. Its own story has many twists and turns, a brewery that originated before Prohibition. Perhaps for another day.

November 1939 ad by Olympia Brewery in Washington was similarly didactic in 1930s style:

 

 

Here, the stubby is promoted in part by showing how the crown cap replaced the cork for beer bottles. It is stated the tannin of cork affects the beer. This is true in my experience, except not really noticeable over the period most beer is consumed.

Also, cork can enhance, or at least not harm, some types of beer, porter for example. Of course I do not mean here the (rare) infection in some cork that leads to cork taint, but the normal flavour of cork.

For a light lager like “Oly” though, clearly a metal cap suited the beer better. Cork was pretty much obsolete in American brewing by this time anyway.

Olympia also argued the stubby bested the long-neck 12 oz. bottle since air space in the neck was much reduced.

That is true, yet today bottling generally extracts air in the neck space to minimize the chances of oxidation, premature staling in other words. Crown caps too are lined today with a substance that absorbs residual oxygen.

So this advantage of the stubby is not quite as in the 1930s.

Bag of Beer, Baby

A late-1935 article in the Waterbury Evening Democrat described how cans and stubbies were vying for supremacy in the packaging market.

The article, using a (laboured?) military metaphor, interviewed industry spokesmen for both industries, who disclaimed a war was going on. This reflected the residual decorum characteristic of American business, more than anything else.

The writer ended on a mordant note:

In the meantime your correspondent is trying the contents of both containers … and is finding it increasingly difficult to decide whether he would prefer to complete his assignment under the banner of the old tin can or at the more distant posts where the uniform of Stubby is worn, or whether it wouldn’t be real nice to spend a real long time at both places. And just to liken it a little more to the Mediterranean disturbance [invasion of Ethiopia] word has just come along the grapevine telegraph that the paper industry is soon to enter the fray with a paper wrapper so that soon we may pass the can opener along into the discard with the bottle opener and just send the Pop out for a bag of beer.

No doubt many readers felt similarly – can or short bottle, bring on the beer. Kind of how I feel today.

As to paper, even in the 1930s some were thinking that beer could be packaged this way. The idea is intriguing, and if mentioned in the press I’d think a drawing board or two was devoted to the idea, if not lab testing of prototypes.

The idea would seem well-suited to today, in particular. After all, you can draw soft drinks through a paper straw at some places, e.g. A&W Burgers in Canada. I tried it at an A & W in Toronto yesterday.

The effect was similar to a plastic straw but not quite as good, I thought. The rigidity of the paper version was a factor. Probably that will sort out in time.

Milk and juice cartons are a partial analogy, but usually are not carbonated or meant for rough handling. I have a feeling science could figure out a solution. Perhaps some beer somewhere is already packaged in paper.

The drain on the forests might be an obstacle, but one way or another I think we will see evolution in beer packaging, before long.

See Part III for the final part of this look.

Note: source of each image above is linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Stubby Beer Bottle. Part I.

Fashions attend packaging for beer no less than what is inside. Environmental laws, or industry accords, affect the matter too, viz. for disposability and recycling.

In Canada currently the can is very popular for craft, while some bottles are still used, of varying shapes. In the domestic mass market industry both bottles and cans appear.

This is an example of a half-litre bottle used currently by Stone City Ales in Kingston, Ontario (and the beer is mighty good, too):

 

 

From the 1930s through the early Sixties 12 oz. “export” or slope-shape “Champagne” bottles were in use, see examples in this link. A slope-shape 22 oz. “quart” was used as well.*

The website of Molson-Coors states Molson Canadian lager, introduced in 1959 was bottled as shown, note clear glass:

 

In 1962, some sources state 1961, Canadian brewers introduced the brown-only stubby bottle as a national standard. A 1968 ad of Newfoundland Brewery Limited, by then an affiliate of Molson Breweries, shows the stubby in classic mode (via Memorial University Digital Archives):

 

 

Note the vending side by side of pale ale and lager versions of the famous India brand. Only the lager is sold today, the India Beer.

In 1983, Canadian brewers adopted taller bottles, which might differ among the brewers. These were considered American in style but were not really long-neck, as the old export bottle was.

By 1992 the bottle was standardized industry-wide to a tall, brown, shouldered format still in use today, mainly by the large brewers. See in Allen Sneath’s Canadian brewing history. Cans are also used.

A CBC radio report explained the background to the 1983 switch, which some rued as a loss of Canuck tradition.

Despite that change, the stubby still appears among big brewer ranks, e.g. this listing for Coors Banquet in Saskatchewan. Some Molson Canadian Lager was packaged in stubbies a few years ago, as a 2017 Tweet from Molson-Coors shows.

Canada popularized the stubby between 1962 and 1983, but it had a long history before that. The best way to understand it is to read the article (2019) A History of Non-Returnable Beer Bottles by Peter Schulz, Bill Lockhart, Carol Serr, Bill Lindsey, and Beau Schriever.

The authors aptly note:

Just as archeologists piece together the story of the past from fragments of ancient pots, so future historians might well glean insights into the way we live today by studying the shapes, materials, and surface designs of the “vessels” which contain our products (Modern Brewery Age 1964).

They explain the stubby was introduced in 1935 to compete better with the can, then new and gaining traction. The stubby was similar in shape and a few ounces lighter than the export bottle. Further, like the can it was disposable.

Owens-Illinois, the glass bottle manufacturer, designed the stubby. There were two main sizes, 12 oz. and, for the West Coast, 11 oz. A larger-size format was also made.

Some brewers, across the country, did adopt the stubby, the authors include a photo of Fidelio Ale in New York packaged in the new bottle.

In 1935 the trade journal The American Brewer carried an Owens-Illinois ad for the stubby (p. 16). The brewing profession at large clearly knew of the development, in other words. It was not an obscure technological advance, and had some commercial application in the period.

 

 

The term stubby was present at the creation, most likely devised by a marketing mind at Owens-Illinois. What Canadians have fondly viewed as their own is of American origin, as many of our cherished institutions.

Yet, we made the stubby famous, that’s true – fame of a kind anyway, the kind unlovely objects can gain with familiarity.

In part this resulted from its being returnable, an early nod to the burgeoning environmental movement. A returnable bottle also has its own economic justification (the two often go together): why throw away all that re-useable glass?

Schulz, Lockhart et al. note that even the first bottle was re-used by some breweries. Particularly during the Depression, people didn’t understand why it should be discarded after one use.

For whatever reason though, the first stubby did not succeed in the market. By World War II it was set aside. After the war it seems to have had limited use in various parts of the country.

Bottles in the stubby shape were sold in six packs in the 1970s in the U.S., certainly. Those I recall were plastic composition, throw-away. Don’t ask me why, but I remember walking with one of these on the sand dunes at Provincetown, Cape Cod, on a trip down there in the early ’70s.

Fun fact: at least one Canadian brewer had adopted the stubby, or a bottle quite like it, even before 1962. An earlier post of mine included this image from a 1949 issue of an employee magazine of National Breweries Ltd. in Montreal:

 

 

It was not quite the near-neckless stubby of 1962, but fairly close. It bears some resemblance to another 1930s abbreviated beer bottle, the steinie, perhaps a compromise between it and the stubby. See linked article by Schulz, Lockhart et al. for its description.

These authors also describe a third abbreviated bottle released in the late 1930s, the Packie, or Brownie, to which the Dow Ale bottle may also be connected.

I cannot confirm the stubby-like Dow Ale actually went on the market, but the accompanying story stated it had, and the plan evidently had reached a high stage of development.

That bottle was disposable, in line with the original stubby design. The 1962 bottle did vary from the 1949 effort as, apart the neck resembling more closely the original stubby, the bottle was made returnable.

My formative experiences with Canadian beer occurred during the reign of the stubby. While I have no strong preference for any beer container – I am more concerned with what’s inside – I liked drinking some brands straight from the bottle.

The stubby seemed ideal for that. Once it faded, I stopped doing that. (Cans aren’t the same for some reason, I don’t know why).

N.B. For a thorough, more international look at packaging formats for craft and mass market brewers, see Cat Wolinski’s infographic article in Vinepair in 2018.

Part II continues the discussion.

Note: source of last four images above is linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

*The “quart” usage is my recollection of 1970s beer parlance in Quebec, having lived there at the time. I think probably the British terms pint and quart were simply transferred in Quebec to mean smaller and larger measures of beer, even though the local measures ended as smaller, because in English we called the 12-oz. bottle a pint. I am less sure of the 1970s Quebec French designations, maybe it was just petite and grosse for the 12 and 22-oz. size, respectively. It’s confusing because today, 20 or 22 oz. of beer in Quebec would be called a pint, and pinte in French.

 

 

 

 

 

The Purist of Pils

 

 

Svetky Lezak from Toronto’s Godspeed Brewery is astonishingly good, probably the best Bohemian-style beer I’ve had anywhere including Czech Republic (didn’t taste them all of course).

It has a notable softness of body, deep malty quality, and deep spicy/flowery hop flavour of true Saaz that just goes on and on. The hops leave a pleasing “medicinal” note that adds yet further complexity.

A Victorian beer observer (1875), Henry Vizetelly, used that very term, medicinal, to describe the Saaz effect, I now recall.

The current brewing of Svetly Lezak is particularly good as well, the brewery seems to have refined it to perfection. One hopes it will stay like this.

Certainly Godspeed makes some good beers – and some I don’t favour – but Svetly stands above them all, imo. See the website for descriptions of other beers.

The Svetly is for the purist of pils, who understands the unique Bohemian blonde lager palate. It uses double decoction, and long cold aging. The quality of the hops and the way they are added show maximum authenticity as well.

For the best all-round Ontario pils, I would elect a different beer, Amsterdam’s Pure Pilsener, but the Svetly rocks to a different beat really, more for the Czech purist.

The Pure Pilsener is a great all-rounder, combining elements of Czech, German, and craft beer. I think it would appeal to more people, as well, just an impression.

 

 

Pilsner Urquell, the great Czech avatar, speaks for itself, of course. Maybe the best way to put it is, all these represent the same tradition, but interpret it in their own way.

That is also true of this beer, from Slovakia.

 

 

Rounded and fruity/spicy from the Saaz hops, it has good body and drinkability. The brewery, Zlaty Bazant, originated in the 1960s. It has its own maltings, drawing barley from the region, and has made continual improvements to malting processes, which show in the beer.

(The website contains an outline of the malting process at the brewery).

The hops are handled though in a particularly skillful way, as for all the beers I’ve mentioned.

We get it within three months of brewing and it pours spanking fresh from the bottle.

Tasting such quality reminds me how an English pale ale could be as good, but so few are, in my experience. Even if English landrace hops and British malts are present, rarely is the palate assertive enough.

Often this results I think from insufficient hops used, an excessive attenuation limit, and too much sugar or grain adjunct.

Many craft pale ales and India Pale Ales I encounter day in day out have an intensity of malt and hop taste similar to what these pilseners attain. One need only brew an English pale ale the same way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Horse Ale and “The Rock”

Black Horse Ale’s First Sales in Newfoundland

The new issue of Ontario-based Loren Newman’s The Canadian Brewerianist showcases memorabilia for Newfoundland’s Black Horse Beer. Coasters, labels, and bottles from different eras are displayed in a piece by Mark Armstrong.

The beer still goes strong in the Province, a macro mainstay along with Dominion Ale and a few others. Craft beers there are as well, but not part of our story today.

A website maintained by Chris D. Conway, a craft brewer, beer journalist, and scholar of Newfoundland beer history, states:

Much of … [the] history is only glanced at through beers which, while once brewed by small Newfoundland producers, are now brewed in the province by either Molson-Coors or AB-Inbev (as Labatt). These beers, Bennett Dominion Ale (Molson), India Beer (Molson), Blue Star (Labatt), and Jockey Club (Labatt) are brands which have been around in Newfoundland for well over half a century. Other beers, particularly Black Horse (Molson), also have a long tradition in Newfoundland, though it was never brewed by a Newfoundland-owned brewery.

Spread through his site Conway imparts considerable information on these beers’ history, especially Black Horse Beer (as now called). It is an excellent site with much of good value.

E.g. he shows Newfoundland Brewery had an India’s Holiday Bock Beer in (seemingly) the 1950s – a name one might expect to see in our own craft times. At 8% abv, they needed no lessons from craft on strength!

Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in Toronto, Breweriana Collectors, and Atlantic Canada Beer Blog also contain label, or other, information relevant to Newfoundland brewing history.

I will add my part, here.

The Pre-Craft Breweries of Newfoundland

Through the mid-century until 1962, three independent brewers competed in Newfoundland. Conway summarizes their arc in his site. They were Bavarian Brewing Company Limited (1932-1962), Newfoundland Brewery Limited (1893-1962), and The Bennett Brewing Company (1827-1962).

As one can see at a glance, in the same terminal year, each was sold, to one of the three main Canadian brewers then. Molson Breweries got Newfoundland Brewery, Canadian Breweries Limited took Bennett Brewing, and Labatt scooped Bavarian Brewing.

Since Molson Breweries and Carling O’Keefe, formerly Canadian Breweries Limited, merged in 1989, Molson ended controlling the brands of the former Newfoundland Brewery and Bennett Brewing.

Origins of Black Horse Ale and Extension to Newfoundland

One result of the buy-out of Bennett Brewing was it started to brew Black Horse, a brand in Canadian Breweries Limited’s portfolio. Toronto-based Canadian Breweries Limited acquired the brand in 1952 when it bought National Breweries Limited in Quebec.

National Breweries Limited included Montreal’s Dawes Brewery, where the brand originated in the 19th century, actually in Lachine, Quebec at Dawes’ first brewery.

As Armstrong notes in his article, Conway’s site states that even before Bennett Brewing started to make Black Horse:

Canadian Breweries Limited (1951) … already had Black Horse and O’Keefe’s Old Stock in … [Newfoundland].

I am not sure what the “1951” means. It may simply mean that Conway traced a Black Horse Ale listing in Newfoundland as far back as that year, but his site does not add further detail.

Armstrong states while he has no evidence Black Horse was sold in Newfoundland before Bennett Brewing started to brew it:

I just feel there had to be an established market in Newfoundland  … My reasoning being, why would Bennett … become a licensee for that product if it didn’t already see a market for it?

Armstrong also notes that usually Canadian Breweries Limited phased out fading brands in favour of “big sellers”. The implication: unless Black Horse, in decline elsewhere in Canada, had some history in Newfoundland, it seemed not to make sense to introduce it there.

Early Export of Black Horse to Newfoundland 

In fact, the brand has a pre-history in Newfoundland. I have traced it back to December 1940. Perhaps it was there even earlier, but as shown below, Montreal-made Black Horse Ale was available in Newfoundland through the 1940s. Presumably therefore, it was sold in the 1950s and early ’60s as well.

In the past in Canada, except for a few off-shore and American imports, beers retailed in a province were manufactured there. Various provincial laws required or encouraged this, as a trade protective measure.

This is why, say, Molson Breweries operated, and still does via Molson-Coors Beverage Co., numerous breweries across Canada to supply local markets.

There were exceptions and it depended on the laws in a particular period. It must be remembered, as well, that Newfoundland was not part of Canada in 1940.

It was a separate possession of the British Empire, in fact under close U.K. administrative control due to a financial crisis resulting from the 1930s Depression.

Therefore, when National Breweries Limited in Quebec sent its Black Horse Ale to culturally adjacent, not-too-distant Newfoundland, it was nonetheless still an exported product.

The following ad is from the December 11, 1940 issue of the Western Star, a newspaper in Curling, Newfoundland, today part of the City of Corner Brook:

 

 

Similar ads appeared in Newfoundland right until Newfoundland joined the Canadian Confederation in 1949. Here is another, from the same newspaper in 1948:

 

 

I think probably this export of beer benefitted from some kind of exemption connected to the war. Canadian breweries generally, as I discussed earlier, were not permitted to export during wartime unless connected to the war effort.

Newfoundland certainly enjoyed, so to speak, an economic boost due to the onset of war in 1939. A webpage of the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa explains well how the war impacted Newfoundland.

Beer had no trouble finding a sale during World War II, in general. The Newfoundland brewers who had struggled in the 1930s surely did not mind “a hand” from a Canadian brewer, to help supply new thirsts locally, or old thirsts now backed by ready cash.

Cover-the-Bases Advertising

An ad for Black Horse Ale in Sherbrooke, Quebec in August 1940, set a stylish tone for the brew, likening it to Champagne:

 

 

The mention of Champagne in 1940 seems odd, not because inapt in a beer context, but because France had fallen to the Germans in June that year. It is likely though the ad appeared earlier in 1940, before the debacle.

To support the quality of Black Horse Ale, the ad invokes alternately heritage and modernity, ostensibly opposed concepts. The traditional wood vat is stressed versus, say, equipment made from a shiny metal emblematic of contemporary aero, locomotive, or auto design.

The early origins of the brand and multi-generational history of manufacture, are stressed as well.

But how many ads, then or now, actually stated the beer was not as good 25 and 50 years earlier? I mean, the same brand, so setting aside modern craft beer. This showed how dominating the idea of industrial progress was then.

While the same dynamic is at work today, in brewing as any branch of industry, we are more loathe to admit it. We prefer the gauzy romance of handicraft, the down home, the pre-industrial. Never mind most of it is gleaming/computerized, in one way or another.

So this is the beer sent from Montreal to Newfoundland aka “The Rock” in the 1940s: mellowed in natural wood of immemorial use, light-coloured (isn’t Champagne?) and not bitter, yet of full body. This was all-malt beer, too, as I have shown before.

It was made the old way, and also the new way. It tasted traditional, but was better than ever – the perfect beer for 1940 – or 2021, I daresay.

Black Horse Beer Today

The Black Horse in Newfoundland today is Black Horse Beer, not Black Horse Ale. The change is documented in advertising dating at least to the 1970s. I am not clear when exactly it occurred, perhaps with the first brews at Bennett Brewery in St. John’s after the sale.

The only place in Canada today where Black Horse is available is, to my knowledge, Newfoundland.* This is the current label, via Molson-Coors’ site:

 

 

The Percheron-looking horse harks back to early Dawes Brewery artwork for the brand, when the beer was an ale. It is not an ale today. A story for another time.

*And Labrador, its associated territory.

 

 

 

Beertown Toronto Opens

Beertown Public House is a group of beer-focused restaurants in Ontario, part of the Charcoal Group of Restaurants based in Waterloo, Ontario.

Waterloo is some 70 miles west of Toronto, a university and technology town. There is also an early and continuing Mennonite presence, originally an influx from the United States. Today the area is quite diverse in population.

Waterloo is paired often in discussion with nearby Kitchener, a city of similar origins, as Kitchener-Waterloo. Guelph, another university town, and Cambridge are not distant, and together they form a loose and growing economic region.

There are now eight Beertowns, the latest is on Wellington Street W. in Toronto, at University Avenue, in the downtown core. Beertowns were established earlier in Waterloo, Guelph, and Oakville among other centres outside Toronto.

The new Toronto location therefore marks a first for Beertown in this sense.

 

 

The Charcoal Group is owned by four partners, one of whom is Jody Palubiski, the long-time CEO. He was interviewed recently by Alan Quarry on Quarry’s Blog & Grill site. His remarks serve as good introduction to the Charcoal Group and its brands, including Beertown.

I had lunch there yesterday, and was impressed. Even though just opened everything ran smoothly. The beer selection is exemplary, craft to the max with some macro selections, and the food first-rate – I had Korean BBQ chicken wings.

The beer choice is divided into static (permanent) draft, static bottles, rotational bottles, rotational draft.

There is a terrace on one side, and circling the building considerable space is open to the sidewalk, so the effect is similar if you sit nearby. There are a number of beer-aware destinations in the downtown core, but another is always welcome, if the quality is good, certainly the case here.

 

 

Its location too on the western end of the core will help build its own base there. It is not that far from the Rogers Centre, and with the Blue Jays playing here again that will help bring the people.

 

 

No Beertown brews onsite, and I don’t think it’s really needed. With everything from lassi gose to bourbon-barrel Imperial Porter currently available at the Toronto location, no help is needed on the beer front, clearly.

I had a flight, skipping said porter – after a two-hour walk in 30 Celsius weather that didn’t seem the best idea.

Looking overseas for a moment, to London, U.K., a pub guide in 1976 noted that quite unexpectedly, traditional architecture seemed to blend harmoniously with “posh blocks with tinted glass”.

The book was speaking of the City (financial centre), but the observation in time has proved true for other parts of London, and the public house itself.

Canary Wharf had a pub early on, in fact, and I am sure there are many like it today in London office towers. There is of course the impressive Outpost Tower Hill Brewdog, and smaller Brewdogs in London, and elsewhere in the U.K.

North America led the way here, since it developed its urban centres later than the U.K., and perhaps sooner to the rhythm of modern commerce, but increasingly the two streams have joined.

And the truth is, for many patrons, the spirit of the public house is not affected. What “makes” the public house is not, necessarily, the landlord in the corner, Victorian bric-a-brac, a leafy garden, or a railway arch.

It is excellent beer, in quality and variety, other drinks, food if wanted, and people at the bar, if a chat is wanted.* All Toronto beer haunts have a central bar, including the latest ones in office blocks.

The pub evolves, but at the same time, remains the same, the good ones.

….

*Covid regulations permitting.

 

 

 

 

Pubs of London – a 1976 Conspectus

 

 

Our good friend Gary Hodder in Toronto gave me this book for comments, and easy to oblige in view of its interest. Gary first visited Britain in the 1970s, well before I did, and I assume had this in his knapsack for the trip.

First issued in 1976, the one shown is a 1978 reprinting. The title sounds almost contrived, for humorous effect, but it was certainly real.

The book, in fact a series of regional pub guides, was sponsored by Miles Laboratories. Miles made the famous stomach and headache remedy, Alka-Seltzer. The copyright page assigns the rights to R.M. Smith, who must have had an arrangement with Miles Labs, perhaps to share sale proceeds.

The publisher was Bayard London, for whom Smith must have worked.

Despite the very British context here, Miles Laboratories was founded in the late 1800s by a Midwestern American surnamed Miles, a pharmacist. It implanted in Britain between the wars, as best I can tell, with a laboratory and offices in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire.

Bayer of Germany bought Miles not long after this book appeared. The Stoke lab was closed in the 1980s but the site continued, and perhaps still, as a meeting place for Bayer personnel.

Smith, described as the book’s editor, states in the Introduction the book was compiled with the assistance of the pub landlords. Leafing through it, it seems evident how the series was done.

Smith likely sent a template to each landlord to complete, viz. the pub’s location and history, beers available, description of premises, and type of clientele.

The London borough system is used to organize the content. The individuality of each borough is stressed, less a factor today perhaps.

There is a short introduction for each borough, with places of interest, markets, churches, museums, famous people, and statues all noted.

The book is serious but even in tone. It isn’t jokey, nor does it treat beer with the studied gravity typical since the 1980s. The Campaign for Real Ale is briefly mentioned, for its success in preserving real ale.

The general Introduction has short but telling observations, such as that the majority of pubs was built in the Victorian period, to serve the surging population spawned by the Industrial Revolution.

The variety of pubs is stressed, as to age, architectural styles, patrons, and more obscure factors such as the influence of Christianity, e.g. some pubs were on pilgrimage routes.

Of course many pubs listed, perhaps most, no longer operate although many buildings still stand (I checked a number of examples). That said, many pubs are still going strong, Covid regulations permitting of course.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, The Lamb, Henekey’s Inn (now Cittie of York), Edgar Wallace, The Guinea, The Dove, The Blackfriar, are just a few examples.

Opening the book at random, I noted The Old Swan of Watney Mann in Battersea. It had a lighterage theme, evident in the thrusting hull-shapes of the exterior.

The facing page has the stately The French Revolution on Upper Richmond Road. Some ironies there, I think, of architecture and location.

 

 

Neither exists today. The Old Swan offered Watney’s Special, Red Barrel, Ben Truman, Carlsberg, and draught Guinness.

The French Revolution had Whitbread Trophy, Tankard, Heineken, draught cider – and draught sherry, which tells you something of locale and era. The French Revolution was formerly Cricketers, due to a cricket club on Putney Lower Common.

I should add all pubs in the book are depicted in striking black and white drawings. The artist is described simply as Myerscough, a person of evident ability.

I recall other guides of the time, to which this series was broadly similar. If one can generalize, this writing, certainly Pubs of London, reflected the mid-20th century, restrained public writing style of Britain. Nothing very emotional, or rather, the emotion is conveyed in a particular way.

Today’s public writing, influenced by social media, wears its heart on the sleeve much more. There are advantages to each, I suppose, but I incline to the former.

The author commented of the City:

… despite [the] new building, old spires, dilapidated warehouses, and posh blocks with tinted glass unexpectedly live harmoniously together.

While much has changed, not least in beer and, especially at the moment, pub life in Britain, the observation was prescient, indeed for London generally.

The book might have benefitted from a short description of beer styles; that apart it was exemplary of its type, and is a good collectible.

Note re images: Used for educational and research purposes. All intellectual property in “Alka-Seltzer Guide to the Pubs of London” belongs solely to lawful owner. All feedback welcomed.