Rallying Against British Stout

In three parts all referenced here, I discussed an advertising campaign in Victoria, B.C. in the Daily Colonist for stout from Barclay Perkins, a venerable London brewer. These ran from 1909 to about 1917. Some ads were sizeable and focused only on Barclay Perkins, which suggested perhaps some support from the brewer, as this example from 1910.

Ads ran in other local papers for Barclay Perkins but the Daily Colonist had the most lavish ones.

In a comment to Part III in the series I referenced a 2008 article by the Victoria journalist and writer Ross Crockford that described a sophisticated local brewing scene. Although not mentioned, one of the brewers was Esquimalt Brewery. It was located in the harbour town of Esquimalt a few kilometres to the west of Victoria.

Esquimalt had hosted the Royal Navy’s Pacific Fleet from 1865, when it had re-located from Chile, but by 1910 the newly-established Royal Canadian Navy took control of the installations. Esquimalt and Victoria nonetheless retained their British character for generations. This was due in part to the earlier history but also later connections with Britain, for example U.K. retirees moving there.

The expression “to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” is not as applicable in business as in physics, but it conveys an essential truth. Local brewers were not going to let foreign brewers beguile the Victoria beer trade without some replique.

We see an example in 1915 in the form of this ad in The Week, another journal of the southern tip of Vancouver Island.

Esquimalt Brewing operated on Viewfield Road, having taken over a business of similar name earlier, see some details here.

The reference to “Genuine British Labour” is interesting. The ad states that the brewer was a Briton working in Canada, and perhaps some other staff were. This would have reassured readers on the authenticity of the beers. The denigrating references to Germans, Austrians and lager are due to the prevailing war, evidently.

The statement that the beers were “Local Products” meant their purchase would support the local economy.

Note how the ad suggests the long journey from Europe would have made the imported beers excessively acid. Sourness in those times, for these beers of English tradition, was regarded as a fault except in some old ales. Esquimalt Brewery here was referring not just to Barclay Perkins’ porters but to stout from Bass of Burton, Meux of London, and Carnegie porter (from Denmark or Sweden as I discussed earlier), all of which were advertised in the same period.

So Esquimalt is saying, our “London Stout” is made locally and has no undue acidity, hence is superior in quality.

There is therefore a passive-aggressive quality to the ad. It is not quite “native son” in that it appeals to the British quality of its products, but refers to local manufacture and lack of acidity to help sales.

Victoria’s water is notably soft, which favours porter production. Esquimalt Brewing probably made a good version of London porter but as good as imported stout? That must remain an open question.

The detail given on Esquimalt’s ales is commendable. The nomenclature uses X designations in connection with pale ale or India pale ale. This reminds me of a similar, 19th century practice in Syracuse, New York. I cannot find the source quickly but will add it to the comments later today.

I think the ales were probably two grades of pale ale or bitter beer, but in different strengths. The stronger one was longer-aged and fermented out further, hence drier than the staple pale ale. The same distinction was expressed in 19th century British beer ads in different ways, IPA vs. EIPA, say, or pale ale vs. IPA. Possibly though the XXXX here was not a pale ale but rather in the style of a regional U.K. strong ale, and well-aged.

By 1915, eastern ale breweries were losing interest in such refinements of classic Victorian ale. They were developing and perfecting their sparkling ales: medium gravity, filtered, and finally pasteurized. These were beers meant to be consumed cold a la lager.

Yet, way out in Victoria in 1915 Esquimalt Brewery was still working in the habits of a generation earlier. This makes sense given the distance from the east coast where the money and market existed to capitalize on recent innovations. Perhaps too as Esquimalt’s population was still a British rump local brewers wanted to work in a vernacular familiar to them, this is possible.

Note re images: the first image above was sourced from this 1910 issue of the Daily Colonist. The second was sourced from this 1915 issue of The WeekAll intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



1 thought on “Rallying Against British Stout”

  1. If you look at the discussion of the ales of Syracuse, NY in this 1864 article, specifically made by Greenway, a well-known brewer there for many years founded by an immigrant Briton, the distinction drawn between the company’s XX and XXX ales, both clearly pale ales, is very similar to the one drawn over 50 years later between XXX and XXXX ales in the Esquimalt ad discussed above.

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