Marian Engel’s Beer Essay

The Great Canadian Beer Book, ed. by Gerald Donaldson and Gerald Lampert, was published in 1975 by McLelland and Stewart, a premier Canadian publisher. Today M&S is an imprint of Random House/Bertlesmann. Lampert is long-deceased, while Donaldson, still active, carved a notable career in auto race journalism and biography.

Despite its irreverent, “scrapbook” design popular in the 70s, the book covers many angles: technical, historical, culinary, pictorial, and more. While a jocular note pervades the text, characteristic of beer discourse then, an underlying respect for beer comes through.

Once again, we see that modern beer culture, wound around the craft beer world, has a foundation – isn’t built ground up.

We learn some early Labatt history including the origins of its now-defunct I.P.A. We learn of the Olands, Carlings, the O’Keefes, all brewing notables. Recipes cover beer in the kitchen, buffalo-and-beer stew, say. There is a formula for “coffee beer”, years before craft beer thought of the idea.

The Calgary Red-Eye =the Brunswick Tavern in Toronto – the King Cole Room here (jazz) – Henninger Brewery in Hamilton, Ontario – it’s all here and more.



Canadian authors and artists pen contributions including Al Purdy, David Helwig, and Marian Engel. Engel (1933-1985) was a Toronto-born novelist, book reviewer, critic, and feminist. Her birth surname was Passmore but she went professionally by Marian Engel, her married name.

Engel won high honours including a Governor-General’s Award and membership in the Order of Canada. She is remembered as well for spearheading a national campaign for authors to receive a greater share of compensation from their published work.

In her memory jointly with the late Timothy Finley, $25,000 is awarded each year to a deserving Canadian author in mid-career. Author Margaret Atwood was one of the first to endow the fund.

Engel contributed 1000 words on beer. She described growing up in a Temperance family, finally acceding at 21 to “half a draft”, to make it easier to get dates, she writes. She toured “German” taverns in Ontario’s Mennonite country including in Neustadt, recalling “plates of pigs’ tails” and “lots of beer”.

She drank beer at “Paddy Greene’s” in Hamilton and up in Manitoulin Island. She taught for a while at a girls’ school in Montreal and drank beer on Saturdays with the games mistress, “quarts of Molson”.

After graduate work she landed a job in Missoula, Montana, probably at the university there, finally earning a M.A. in literature from McGill University in Montreal.



She describes from her Montana stint the Oxford, and Chicken Inn, two bars. One beer came “in plaid cans”, she drank it on tap with pizza: “Schooners of Scotchguard”, she called it. She couldn’t recall the brewery 20 years later but it was Highlander Brewery, which closed in 1964.

The American beer writer and editor Kate Bernot mentioned on Twitter that the Highlander name has been restored, so I looked it up. Indeed a brewpub not connected to the original brewery brews under that name. It sells a pilsner that might be close to the “Scotchguard” Engel recalled.

The original Highlander was never a “Scotch ale” properly speaking (dark, strong, rich). The term appeared to designate a Montana hill resident, not a beer type. But in time the brewery employed Scottish iconography to help sell the beer. Branding for the modern namesake does something similar, it appears.

It turns out that true Scottish-style beer is popular today in Montana. I think the reason ultimately is due to the “Scotchguard” label Engel recalled. Some things adhere in the folk memory and show up later in unpredictable ways. The memory of the plaid can encouraged, in other words, (I think) the idea Montanans would be partial to a rich Scotch ale.

Kate Bernot has noted an early craft brand, Cold Smoke, had a role in making Scotch ale a thing in Montana, so perhaps it’s “all of the above” .

Engel wrote that after returning to Canada from a long European trip:

… we decided that since we’d always drunk the wine of the country, we’d drink beer. The only way to entertain is to put a case in the middle of the living room floor, bring out the opener, and some cheese and get on with it. I drink out of the bottle; some boyfriend’s father taught me to gargle it right down. Cold, it goes down, down, down.

Later in life she liked whisky, sometimes, foregoing the beer. She explained it became too much trouble to lug cases home from Brewer’s Retail, the semi-public beer retail chain in Ontario.

I don’t think Engel enjoyed her Montana sojourn much. Would she feel differently now? Presumably she’d be pleased to see her “Scotchguard” still in the market, and perhaps too many more beer types no one could have imagined in the 1950s.

She isn’t here to write anything more on beer, or further novels. She died, too young, over a generation ago.

Note re images: the first image above, of Marian Engel, was sourced from this German book site. The image above of a vintage Highlander beer was sourced at, here. All intellectual property in the images belongs solely to their lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.