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.