India Pale Ale in 1867 Canada – Heady Brew

I’ve uncovered a significant report on Canadian beer strength in 1867, from a study by a Quebec-based, chemistry préparateur. The French term means what we would call today a university “TA”, or teacher’s assistant. The report was written in French and published only in Quebec, but was also serialized in various Quebec newspapers that year.

I searched for, but could not locate, an English version, I believe none was prepared. The author was A.C.P. R. (Phillipe) Landry. His biography is in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, see here. He wrote the study when at Laval University in Quebec City. He was trained in chemistry and agronomy, and later became a noted federal politician. He died in 1919.

To my knowledge, his work has not been previously cited in Canadian beer historical studies.

I have made extensive searches to determine beer strength in mid-1800s Canada, for practical purposes this meant for ale and porter. Little hard information was available. Based on a variety of sources, it appears strength varied, including in the United States, from five to nine percent ABV. It depended on the region, the brewer, and type of beer made.

Some of the reputed Albany Ales for example –  relevant as New York State is adjacent to parts of Quebec and Ontario – seem to have been at the higher end. I cited references in my recent article in the UK-based journal Brewery HistoryFleming’s Golden Ale“.

Ale brewed at Helliwell Brewery in Toronto around 1830 may have been 9% abv according to a history of Toronto breweries by Jordan St. John, but there is little solid data (Landry apart) until the 1890s. In that period, the federal Government reported assays on a wide range of India pale and pale ales.

By then, these beers were 5-6%, which are IMO by weight in the summary linked, therefore, 6-7% abv.* The average in the 1867 study was, by my calculation, 8.4% abv. 6-7% abv represents about a 23% decline. This is consistent with a long-term drop in beer gravities internationally, until craft brewing came along.

You may read Landry’s report here, the full title is Boissons Alcooliques Et Leurs Falsifications. See the data at pp. 29 et seq. This is an extract showing the average he calculated for four breweries:

The percentages are by volume, based on internal evidence. For example, he states that whisky is generally 50-60% alcohol, which suggests ABV in my view. Also, he states that Parkes in his (English) brewing text sets out alcohol percentages from one to 10 for beer. That was evidently by volume as the equivalent values by weight and in British Proof were listed in adjacent columns.

Hence, the Canadian beers had to have fairly high starting gravities, in some cases around 1085 and more, and rather inconsistent ones as well. The alcohol level for Labatt’s India Pale Ale was (an average) 9% ABV, and for Dow again, 8.53%.

The four breweries were McCallum in Quebec City, Boswell in the same, Labatt in “CW” (Canada West), also called Upper Canada in the report, and Dow in Montreal.

In my opinion, this is further evidence that IPA was originally a strong beer, 8-9% ABV, as I argued in this essay. Canada was a British colony until the very year of 1867. Due to distance, the small number of settlers, and limited communications and transport, colonies often preserved practices later abandoned in the metropole. Many foods show this, pulled pork, say, which is originally an English preparation (the pulled meat aspect certainly).

Nonetheless, some English IPA remained strong, at what I consider the “historic” end of the range. It is known that pale ale from Salt Brewery in Burton was 9.8% ABV in 1862 as I discussed here, even stronger than the Canadian pale ales noted of 1867. Dow IPA was still quite strong in the 1890s but this appeared an exception for Canadian pale ale and IPA as then tested.

India Pale Ale was new in 1867 at Labatt in London, Ontario, having been introduced by John Labatt II after a brewing apprenticeship in West Virginia between 1859 and 1864. So, is the data of Landry extra-important as reporting the strength of one of Canada’s early and most reputed and longest-lived IPAs? Yes, but in a roundabout way.

Landry examined India Pale Ale from the Labatt Brothers firm in Prescott, Ontario. That was a different brewery than Labatt in London. It was operated by two elder brothers of John Labatt II who were excluded from the London brewery by their father, John Kinder Labatt.

The Prescott operation was originally established by the American George Weatherall Smith, precisely the man with whom John Labatt II studied IPA brewing in Wheeling, West Virginia. John Labatt II also worked with Smith in Prescott c. 1865, until Smith went home. See my discussion and references in this post.

Labatt II then returned to London to grow the Labatt we know today, and his brothers took over brewing in Prescott. For this reason, I think it is safe to say all three brothers made one and the same IPA.

Prescott did not prosper, ultimately. Later on, when run by brother George, it was absorbed into the London Labatt business, see some details in Alan Sneath’s beer history.

The above ties in well, in my view, to Racey’s Strong West India Ale, a Quebec City beer advertised in 1837 in the Montreal Herald.

“India” is the common link. Whether stylistically Racey was an India Pale beer, as I believe it was, or not, is less important. Putting it a different way, I infer that Canadian brewers initially followed the original (Hodgson) IPA standard of c. 1800, but caught up to Bass and Allsopp later in the century. That is, by better controls on their gravities, they sold more units of lower gravity than earlier, hence stayed competitive and more profitable.

Yet, despite Bass, Allsopp and other IPA brewers who brewed at c. 6% abv, some English brewers continued the older way through the Victorian period, at least for top-grade IPA. Salt did, indubitably in my view. That is, it didn’t just ramp up by a few percentage points, because it could, a beer that had always been c. 6% ABV; rather, it simply continued the original tradition.

This is on top of the evidence I marshalled in the earlier post that the original IPA was a strong beer.

Finally, Hubert LaRue in his 1881 book (also in French) that I discussed in 2016, states that Quebec beers averaged 7-8% G.L. (abv) in a study he performed years earlier. In fact, Larue was Landry’s supervising professor at Laval, as the Dictionary of Canadian Biography confirms.

Larue included no technical data to support his lapidary statement, or even the beer types. Landry’s report of 1867 provides the vital missing link. And indeed 7-8% abv corresponds essentially to Landry’s data, as McCallum’s average abv was 7.76%. To quibble that 8.9% is not 9% is bootless. Larue’s remarks may be viewed at p. 199, here.






1 thought on “India Pale Ale in 1867 Canada – Heady Brew”

  1. The text now reflects that the 5-6% alcohol range for Canadian pale ale and India Pale Ale in the 1890s government summary I referenced, was by weight not by volume. An examination of the full report, from which the summary was prepared, with cross-checking of the various items, seems to make that clear. Still, that would mean 6-7% by volume, which compared to the 8.4% abv average in the 1867 study, represents about a 23% decline, quite a change over just 30 years. And our further point in the piece, that the high level in 1867 is suggestive of a similarly high level in the original IPA sent to India before Bass and Allsopp, remains unaffected.

    Dow IPA for its part remained the least affected.


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