Early Labatt Lager Brewings, 1911

Greg Clow of Canadian Beer News kindly mentioned to me recently that University of Western Ontario (in London) has launched an online archive of material from the Labatt Collection. Included are images, documents, audio-visual materials and more from the storied 170-year history of Labatt Breweries, now a unit of AB In Bev.

I haven’t had a chance to look in-depth at the material and will be away for the next few days, but did notice this two-page tabular summary of data from a series of lager brewings in 1911-1912. The “Brewer’s Book” containing the data is dated per the archive “1917” but the brewings clearly occurred in 1911-1912.

In fact, Labatt first produced lager in 1911, relatively late for Ontario breweries, see confirmation here in an architectural history of London and area, so these brewings appear to be the first it did in bottom-fermentation at least for commercial production.

Hano Gersiter (sp.?) is stated in the Brewers Book as having arrived in London April 5, 1911, work then starting, with the first brew being no. 8 on April 20.

Was this a visitor, perhaps a European, helping to start lager-brewing for Labatt? Gerste means barley too in German, is it a reference to barley for lager malt arriving? I can’t decipher this at the moment.*

The summaries confirm a number of things of interest: quantity of malt used, origin and amount of hops (a mix of British Columbian and Bohemian), starting and finishing gravities, yeast quantities, mashing, pitching and other temperatures, number of barrels fermented and then racked, etc.

I get in excess of 1 lb hops per racked barrel, consistent with other data I’ve seen in the previous 30 years. Quite impressive by today’s standards even for craft lager, as e.g., Sam Adams Boston Lager uses approximately that amount.

And the brews seem all-malt as well.

B.C. produced hops for Canadian beer into the 1940s at least, it supplied some I know as well for National Breweries Limited in Quebec in the 1930s and 40s.


*In fact it is barley for malting, see Doug Warren’s remarks in the comments.

3 thoughts on “Early Labatt Lager Brewings, 1911”

  1. See also this earlier post of mine and especially the second-to-last paragraph: http://www.beeretseq.com/an-all-malt-anheuser-busch-beer-is-analyzed-in-1908/

    These first Labatt brewings were consistent with gravities described for an American typical lager, which continued into the 1930s, except for being all-malt. Use of adjunct was standard by 1900 in the U.S. and of course continued in the 1930s but otherwise the profiles of the beers are similar including the mix of domestic and foreign hops which goes back to the later 1800s.

    The long boils may explain why AB InBev has just issued a 1933 Prohibition Repeal Reserve beer, inspired by a 1920 recipe not previously used, that it states has a caramel malt character. A.L. Nugey in his 1930s brewing text states that one malt was used for bottling and draft lager, so a standard light, not coloured, lager malt, but specifies caramel malt for bock and numerous other dark beers (with a couple of exceptions, one of his “pale beers” uses some caramel malt).

    In other words, perhaps a caramel malt quality resulted from very long boils. It’s been my perception that specialty brews of various kinds issued by large brewers in the last 30 years often feature a caramelized note taste, one not really “craft”.

    Apart from any specific partiality to caramel malt to show a character different from the mass market norm, perhaps it is being used, or for this new 1933 beer, to emulate the profile resulting from a long boil which can caramelize the flavour to a degree, and darken colour as Doug Warren pointed out below.


  2. Hi Gary

    Fascinating post, thanks for including the links, the Brewers’ Book in particular.

    I think your reading of “gerste” is on the right track. Hana was a popular variety of malting barley that originated in Bohemia in the 19th century. Its descendants are bred and brewed with to this day. Reading gravities in the Plato scale over a century ago surprises me and suggests a European or perhaps German-American influence. Finishing gravities, as elsewhere at the time, are notably higher than today, indicating that 1911 beer was fuller bodied at 5% ABV. Wort boiling times, 2.5 – 3 hours, were much longer than modern brews, creating a darker and potentially more bitter beer.


    • Hi Doug:

      Thanks for writing, and that’s very helpful all round. I suspect for the long boil they wanted to get maximum efficiency from the hops.

      Using the numbers in the first line, it’s a shade over 5% abv, as you said, and 1015 FG – definitely a full, rich taste.


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