Crew Premium Lager

A Beer That Earns the Description “Premium”

I’ve run through a spate of craft lagers recently, approaching a dozen. I mean here the standard craft lager of the house, not aspiring to pilsner-style rigour of the type discussed in this post.

Some identify as Helles, the Bavarian style of blonde lager that is nominally maltier and less hopped than pilsener, but again end as craft lager staples.

Craft lager is a mainstay of the craft brewing business, but increasingly in recent years has resembled mass market lager. The earliest craft lagers such as Sam Adams Boston Lager, or Brooklyn Lager, are almost a different animal compared to these.*

In a blind tasting, it would be hard to differentiate many from Molson Canadian Lager, say, or Stella Artois.

No doubt that is the intention of the brewers, who would argue they are responding to market demand. The fact that these beers are made in most cases of all-barley malt, save an addition sometimes of wheat to assist head formation, doesn’t affect the basic profile.

The reason is the thorough fermentation, bringing the typical example I’d think to circa 1008 final gravity. It results typically in a thin, dry palate.

These are not the beers for me, but I found one recently that gets the balance just right between craft flavour and general market appeal:

 

 

Crew Premium Lager is made by Railway City Brewing in St. Thomas, Ontario. The beer has good residual malt sweetness, “bready” in the words of the website –  nothing approaching, say Pilsner Urquell, but detectably malty nonetheless.

A flowery hop note informs the taste, possibly French Strisselspalt, with German-type bittering underneath. Not “in your face” as the most assertive craft examples of pilsner beer, but pleasingly tasty.

One glass invites another, whereas for the rest of the group mentioned, it was hard to finish the glass.

There is an analogy here to established European brewing in that many names, reputed as they may be, are today rather light on the palate. German and Austrian beers generally fare better but even there, seem to get lighter with every generation.**

One I liked a lot recently is Konig Pilsener, brewed in Duisburg in western Germany, part of the family-owned Bitburger Group. Like the Crew Premium Lager it has a good malty quality; the Crew is its craft counterpart, imo.

There is no point mentioning the craft lagers I didn’t favour: as I’ve said before, they please their market, which is validation enough.

I’d rather speak up for what I do like. And Crew makes the grade, in a metaphor apt for the circumstance, I’d say.

*This is not entirely so, as some early craft lagers were mass market-styled. But most in Ontario, say, had assertive taste such as Upper Canada Lager, Brick Lager, Steam Whistle, and Creemore Lager. Today the craft norm is rather lighter, imo.

** Dr. Al Haunold, the famous American hop scientist, observed some years ago that on a visit to Austria, his birth-land, the beers seemed similar to the American norm of 30 years ago. See my discussion in 2018.

 

 

Vintage Israel Brandy. Part II.

Cognac to Brandy in Mandatory Palestine, and Egypt

As mentioned in my Part I,Carmel Vintage Brandy”, an authority on Israel wines and brandies, Adam Montefiore, noted that the term “cognac” was used informally in the past in Israel to describe brandy of local manufacture.

This habit derived from pre-Independence days when despite early French attempts to maintain “Cognac” as a protected appellation, frequently foreign countries did not enforce such rules.

The issue is similar to how the term Champagne was once widely used far from the province of its origin. Indeed the same applied to “pilsner”, denoting a beer in the golden style famously inaugurated in Pilsen, now in the Czech Republic.

For various reasons pilsner never became a protected designation and today is a generic term. The French were more astute, or perhaps more lucky given the twists and strokes of fate of history, to restrict “Champagne” and “Cognac” to products made in the legally defined area, and meeting defined standards of production.

The effect of European Union and other international trade and political arrangements has been to enhance such protection.

For a history of French legislation to protect the term Cognac, see the impressive essay, “History of Legislation on Cognac” in the Dutch-based website, Cognac-ton. One can see that by the 1930s French laws were fairly comprehensive on the topic, but foreign protection much less so than today.

Before World War II, Carmel in Mandate Palestine referred in some advertising to its brandy as cognac. An example is shown by this advertisement in a 1932 issue of the Palestine Bulletin:

 

 

The usage was not invariable, as some Carmel ads in the same newspaper, late 1920s-early 1930s, called the product brandy. Carmel ads I have seen in overseas journals, e.g. in United States (1935, “imported Palestine Carmel Brandy“) and Australia, called the product brandy.

In December 1937, an ad in the Palestine Post, even using the Frenchified spelling Richon for Rishon, called the product brandy. One can see vodka was produced as well, from grape distillate as occurs today again:

 

 

10 years later in Palestine, the term brandy is generalized in Carmel ads, e.g., in this case, with the suggestion to boot it warded off cholera:

 

 

Despite the evident change at producer level, clearly in vernacular or informal usage the term cognac for a long time meant any brandy. This is changed in Israel today (see again articles cited in Part I) as, for one thing, whisky has become the chic spirit.

Brandy, and specifically French Cognac, still have a place but reputed French marques claim the space for genuine cognac. It seems a safe bet no one today is misled as to the origin of any product.

This in fact probably was so even in the 1930s, at least for retail purchasers buying off the shelf, vs. perhaps some bar or restaurant occasions. I doubt many consumers taking home a bottle of Rishon brandy thought it was French-made, however labeled including as to language.

That said, producers are solicitous to protect their designations, and a higher level of protection exists internationally today than before World War II. This did not come without a fight in some places, especially for Champagne in the U.S., and Canada by the way, but that is a topic for another day.

Looking to another country in the region, Egypt, in about the same time we can see a similar linguistic evolution. Egypt then was more or less a British protectorate, under the terms of the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty.

So, the situation was somewhat parallel to Mandate Palestine, where British administrative, military, and business expatriates formed a natural market for brandy, in addition to French and other international cadres with similar tastes.

One can presume the market extended to a Europeanized local class. In Palestine, Jews of European origin formed an adjunct market, given the long tradition of distilling brandy in Europe, whether from grapes or other fruit.

The change from cognac to brandy in Egypt can be charted specifically for another producer, Stock of Trieste, today Stock Spirits. A 1940 ad placed in L’ Aurore, a French-language newspaper in Cairo associated with the former Jewish community of Egypt, makes this clear:

 

 

The ad appeared on April 5 that year – just over a month before Germany invaded France and the Low Countries. French commerce was still enforcing evidently at least some prerrogatives, despite war having commenced in September 1939.

Business and diplomatic pressures had to be behind the change, as the direction to Stock came from the Egyptian trade ministry.

The ad further states Stock is from Trieste, where indeed it originated in the late-19th century. It was founded by Jewish-born Lionello Stock, whose name today adorns internationally-known products such as Stock Vermouth and Stock ’84 brandy.

Perhaps the Stock brandy sold in Egypt in that period was made in Palestine, as by the eve of World War II Lionello Stock, still living, had established branches in numerous locations outside outside Trieste. These included Czechoslovakia – Pilsen, as it happens – and Mandate Palestine.

This expansion resulted from the tumult of World War I, with its break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and onset of fascism in the 1930s.

I revert to this aspect in Part III, which also reviews a public tiff over the quality of Palestine brandy.

Note re images: The source of each image above is linked in the text, all from the Historical Jewish Press of the National Library of Israel. All intellectual property in the source belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Israel Brandy. Part I.

 

 

The bottle shown was kindly given me by a relation who found it in the bar of his late father. A barely readable blue stamp states “LCB ONT”, so bought at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.

Our best guess is late-1960s vintage.

Carmel of course is the famous wine estate in Israel at Rishon Le Zion, south of Tel Aviv. Its roots go back to plantings in 1882, but the 1890s chart the true origins of the business. For a good historical sketch of the wine properties of Carmel, see this page at the company website.

English-born Adam Montefiore, of the distinguished family connected to the Baronet Moses Montefiore, is today Israel’s leading international spokesman for its wines. He has authored numerous books on the subject and also contributed to wine books by the authorities Hugh Johnson and Oz Clarke.

Montefiore outlined the history of Israel brandy production in a 2015 article in the Jerusalem Post. While production is much reduced today, at one time it was robust, with the best grades winning awards.

Distilling began in 1898, but Rishon Le Zion finally closed in 2015 – the winery was relocated to a more modern industrial park.

In 2013 Montefiore gave a tour of historic Rishon Le Zion in this YouTube video. At the time winemaking had ceased but bottling and blending continued. He mentions the adjoining Nesher (Eagle) Brewery a number of times, which I discussed in this post last year.

The brewery eagle with foaming mug is shown engraved in tiling facing the former brewery office, one of the few signs a brewery once existed.

The brandy cellar with slatted wood roof is still intact. As discussed by Montefiore in an article reproduced at Wines of Israel, Rishon Le Zion issued its last brandy in 2015, a commemorative item, the well-aged Rishon Brandy XO.

I’d think the brandies in Extra Fine No. 1 were between 3 and 9 years old, the age range in the heyday of the domestic industry.

The label seems different from well-known domestic brands of yore such as Carmel 100 and Carmel 777, but was likely a variant for the export market.* The old British proof system was still employed, 30 U.P. meaning 40% abv.

There was some evaporation but the brown liquor is clear. It has notes of caramel, dried fruit, earth and something a touch burnt. While possibly a little weathered by its long sojourn in a Canadian home bar, the flavours of “Raisin de Chanaan“are very much present.

The image below shows visitors to the other major wine estate of Carmel, Zichron Yaacov, in 1945 (source: “Israeli Wine”).

 

 

Part II continues this series.

*At the end of last year Carmel re-introduced a limited run of 777, as well as a brand named after Zichron Yaacov winery.

 

Melbourne-Sydney Beer Test

In this short 1967 film clip on YouTube, beer drinkers in Melbourne are given samples blind of beer from their city and Sydney.

Some discern immediately whether the glass is local: Victoria Bitter, Melbourne Bitter, Foster’s, or another of the storied brands of Carlton & United. Others are less successful.

An assertion was made that Melbourne brands were more bitter than those of Sydney.

The best part is the last interview, where the patron gets the better of the interviewer despite not realizing the sample was Millers beer from Sydney. It is clear the interview is over after his firm “fair enough?”.

There are numerous clips on YouTube, 1960s-1970s, interviewing pub patrons in different Australian centres. All present different facets of beer and pub life in the period.

I found this of interest given the score or so posts I have written on Australian beer history, although most predate 1967, when the clip linked was filmed.

In that same year, Millers of Sydney, actually just outside in Petersham, was sold to the powerful Toohey’s in Sydney.

R.W. Miller was a firm dating from the 1920s that owned a colliery and shipped coal to coastal ports in the country.

It acquired a brewery in Petersham in 1942 according to this link. The labels I’ve seen all rendered its brands as Millers.

I don’t know when Millers was finally closed, I think the 1980s. In its heyday the firm was known for High-Lo Lager, Special Pilsener, and Taverners Ale, the last named for its hillside location in Petersham.

This antiques price guide shows a selection of Millers brands.

The Melbourne image that follows was taken some 10 years before the film linked, sourced from the website of the Herald Sun:

 

 

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.

 

Beer Styles: Concluding Note

Tangerine Flake Cream Steam Dream Ale

In Part I, I stated that finally, people will form their own idea of beer styles, and buy and judge beer accordingly. Primarily I was thinking of the consumer, main object after all – professionally the only object – of the brewer.

Brewers, for their part, are also affected by many factors: training and experience, the market, legal regulations, their sense of adventure or imagination.

Michael Hancock, aka “The Brewer” is a legend in Canadian craft brewing. His path-breaking Denison’s Brewpub on Victoria Street in Toronto will long be remembered. His trademark Hefeweizen, originally styled Weissbier, is now sold as Side Launch Wheat Beer by Side Launch Brewing in Collingwood, Ontario.

The “Wheat” has a long-established following in Ontario and was early recognized as one of the top examples anywhere, in fact. Other German-style brews Michael contributed to the Ontario larder are also now made by Side Launch Brewing.

Michael commented in Part I that marketing efforts or mixing of beer styles can sometimes lead to outlier results. It’s a perspective deserving of respect, as professional brewers spend years perfecting their craft and ensuring the public gets a high-quality, consistent product.

Clearly marketing can lead to questionable results in brewing. The “ice” and “dry” beer craze of 30 years ago is a good illustration in my view, where variant production techniques were trumpeted to create new styles of beer that seemed hardly to vary from the commercial norm.

More than anything else that development induced an ennui in beer drinkers that contributed to the success of the craft movement.

Marketing is always looking for a new sales angle, of course. The marketer is yet another player on the brewing stage, with their own set of motivations, influences, and opinions. Marketers, past a certain scale at any rate, are an essential element in the brewing business.

And truth be told, dry and ice beers are still with us, and move a lot of product. But maybe a rose by another name …

Even in Germany with its defined brewing code and impressive brewing heritage, brewing variants have emerged such as Weizenbock. This is a top-fermented, strong wheat beer with darkish caramel tones (usually).

Most bock is bottom-fermented of course, and quite different in taste due to being all-barley malt. Craft beer has contributed, say, Black IPA, an IPA-dominant beer with some influence from the roasted barley or black malt typically used in porter or stout.

Some of these variants succeed and become established, others are flash in the pan.

As an older example of this process, this ad in the Truckee Republican will illustrate, dated June 18, 1910:

 

 

Bock and steam beer are ostensibly rather opposite. Bock in that period in America meant usually a dark brew rich with caramelized malt, not the light Maibock or Helles type that later emerged.

Steam beer typically was sharp-tasting, yeasty from being sold with little aging. Steam beer certainly did not receive the prolonged aging bock did from being brewed in winter, often December, and sold March or April following.

Both were lagers, but steam beer was fermented closer to the range for ale, while bock is a classic lager fermented and aged cold.

Charles Thomas was the owner of Eureka Brewery in Truckee, California. He started in 1899 and closed in 1911.

Another Thomas ad, an advertorial-type piece on May 11, 1910, shows the product was newly released that year. May is rather late to issue a bock, even in the U.S. Maybe Thomas had unsold steam beer on hand, now aged some months, coloured it in some fashion, and sold it in May as bock.

It is hard to know, perhaps on the other hand it was a genuine lager, but the ads noted seemed to class it as steam beer.

As I have written earlier, “steam ale” was known in parts of the West Coast.* In a corner of California there was the cool-sounding “cream steam”, perhaps meant to evoke Eastern cream ale.

Whether a weird and wonderful variant is accepted by the market, or ends as a gimmick, only time, and taste (or fashion), will tell.

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.

….

*A brewery I discuss, Mason, provides good evidence, at least, that “steam” meant still fermenting, highly carbonated beer, because juxtaposed with “flat”, or still ale, evidently kept for some time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beer Styles

A few brief remarks, as the question of beer styles is afoot again, with various American and British writers weighing in in different forums.

They look at the value of the very detailed American BJCP system. It is an amalgam of the late author Michael Jackson’s scheme with influence from homebrewing competitions and latterly beer historians, or so I see it.

It’s a good practical workable guide, especially from the standpoint of entering and judging beer in competition.

It reflects its time and influences. And those influences reflect in turn theirs, and so on.

Jackson built, imo, on the scheme layed out by two American beer scientists, Robert Wahl and Max Henius. See p. 701 in the 1902 edition of their landmark American Handy-Book of the Brewing, Malting and Auxiliary Trades.

It seems behind his influential writing on the topic, extending to the numerous beer types the duo had dealt with such as Bohemian, Vienna, and Munich lagers, but also more obscure styles.*3

A British scheme of about 1950, which I discussed recently and deals mainly with top-fermented beer, also is recognizable in Michael Jackson’s work, whether he actually knew of it or not.

This is no surprise, as everything comes from somewhere. Jackson educated himself to learn how to present beer categories, and people were there before. But Jackson used a writer’s talent and romantic imagination to make jejune-seeming categories such as bitter ale come alive.

In his hands, rich business, socio-cultural, and economic context emerged that no one had ever perceived, or presented, in quite the same way.

If Jackson was living today he could fashion such magic of New England India Pale Ale (NEIPA), say. He had a special talent for that.

In the end, everyone interested in beer relies on their own scheme. It will be formed and informed by 1000 influences.

It may be simple, more complex, highly complex. Dark vs. Light. NEIPA vs. West Coast IPA. Northeast IPA vs. NEIPA (yes there can be a difference, for me anyway).

Pale ale à la 1850 vs. 1950. It just goes on. No one standard fits all. Each takes from the sum total of their experience what to buy, and how to judge its characteristics and quality, setting aside where specific criteria are mandated for a competition.

And that’s all.

See our Concluding Note.

*Jackson’s 1982 The Pocket Guide to Beer lists under “Types of Beers” (p. 4 et seq.) a series of bottom-fermented styles, then top-fermented ones, finishing with lambic  – included in top-fermenting beers since it is such – but stating the latter involve no pitching of yeast, but rely on natural microflora. In the opening pages of his 1977 The World Guide to Beer, Jackson seemed to view wheat beers of any style, albeit top-fermented, as a “family” standing with bottom-fermented and conventional top-fermented beers, but in time de-emphasizes wheat beers as a separate family. Even in the World Guide he included in the Belgian section a chapter called ‘Wild Beers”, separate from “White Beers” (also based on wheat), stating “The wheat beers of the Bruegel country have on occasion been termed ‘wild'”. Wahl & Henius, with their sub-classification of beers under each head of top-, bottom-, and spontaneous fermentation, reads very similar to this scheme. Jackson must have read Wahl & Henius, or other texts using a similar arrangement.

 

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.