A Liquor for what Ales You
Brador was a premium beer brewed by Molson Breweries of Canada, now Molson-Coors Beverage Company.
The company is a jointly-owned – Canadian-American – business, publicly traded in both countries. Canadians and Americans are on the board including Geoffrey Molson. Reports in 2005 indicated the Coors and Molson families each has 1/3rd voting control. Effectively this is joint control of the business.
The head office is in Chicago now, but with breweries in five Canadian provinces and thousands employed here, the Canadian branch is still sizeable. Molson is the oldest continuing brewer in North America.
Before the craft beer era Brador was one of the few brands in Canada or the U.S. with cachet. It was first released in 1972, according to a report prepared for the 1975 Inquiry on Corporate Concentration. But it actually came out in 1971, according information discussed below.
It finally departed the market 12-15 years ago. At the end was it was undistinguished with a generic, mass-market taste.
I remember it differently in its prime, meaning 1970s-1980s. I drank it on occasion but it was a strong beer, 6.2% abv (6% in the last years) and I preferred the standard, 5% beer.
The taste was good, although not impactful like a British pale ale or a Munich lager. Beer writer Michael Jackson thought well of it in his 1982 The Pocket Guide to Beer, describing it as a top-fermenting ale even if the label read “malt liquor”.
Canadian beer writer Steve Beaumont, in his 1994 Great Canadian Beer Guide, made these remarks:
Pale gold-coloured with a sweet, roasted and faintly smoky nose. The soft and malty start gives way to floral body with hints of raw sugar before a slightly bitter caramel finish with sweet-and-sour notes.
This is how I remember the taste. I never knew the beer when the label did not state “malt liquor”, but I did recall lore that Brador “used to be an ale” and “was better then”. It turns out it was an ale earlier, literally in the sense that at one time the label stated this.
Consider this Brador ad (p. 18) from October 1971 in Le Nouvelliste in Quebec.The label states “Bière/Ale”. There is no reference to malt liquor.
But check any vintage label online, say at Ebay, they say “Bière/Malt Liquor”. This must be because almost no examples survive of the original label, which I believe was changed in 1972.
The reason for that had to be new federal law that same year, as explained in this story (Poland at p. 3, or Treize) in another Quebec newspaper, in December 1971. The strength, 6.2% abv, was in a band henceforth to be labeled as malt liquor.
From the story:
Dorénavant, il ne pourra exister que trois catégories de bières: la bière blonde (“light beer”) pouvant contenir entre 1.2 et 2.5 pour cent d’alcool par volume; la bière anglaise (“beer”), la bière anglaise légère (“ale”), le bière anglaise brune (“porter”) et la bière anglaise forte (“stout”), qui pourront contenir entre 2.6 et 5.5 pour cent d’alcool par volume; enfin, la liqueur de malt (“malt liquor”) pourra contenir de 5.6 à 8.5 pour cent.
(There may be an error, viz. the French terms given for “beer” and “ale”. And where is lager? But the part about malt liquor is clear enough).
Brador surely had nothing to do with American malt liquor, the high-dextrose, low-hopped, high-ABV style sold since the 1960s (at least). Colt 45 is well-known, or Olde English 800.
But after Brador’s label was changed to read malt liquor, some people thought its recipe had changed. That is unlikely. I’ve found no evidence of any such change at least up to about 1990. The alcohol did finally drop from 6.2% to 6% abv. Maybe that didn’t mean anything, or maybe by then Brador was just a stronger Molson Export Ale, or Molson Stock Ale.
In 1985 Paul Roy of La Presse wrote a mini-history (see p. 19) of the Quebec beer market, starting in the mid-1960s. He did a service for beer historical studies by listing each release during that period by the three major brewers, Molson, O’Keefe, and Labatt.
He listed many names I had forgot, like Kébec, Rallye, Ti-Bec, Cervoise. He included Brador among the success stories, stating brewers are never quite certain why a brand might take off.
An analyst from a stock brokerage told the journalist that all brands, contrary to Roy’s initial impression, did not taste the same, but other factors weighed in the balance. Brand image was mentioned, for example.
Brador had an odd name, as noted by Jackson – he said it was a contraction for Brassée d’Or.* It’s that marketing-oriented seemingly, but the extra jolt of alcohol probably ensured its success. The advertising was good, too. Examples can be seen on YouTube.
The brand did cost more but it was pennies a bottle.
The analyst understood the industry, e.g. he stated 20% of the population drank 80% of the beer. The proliferation of brands was really designed, he said, to attract the 80% who drank no or little beer, to ward off competitors, or retain customers who might otherwise stray.
Consumption of beer, it was noted, had fallen per capita since the 1960s, due mostly to the increase in wine drinking.
It has been similar ever since, with craft beer a partial exception, as it took market share from mass-marketed, declining brands that once shifted lots of money.
What the big brewers hoped would light up the market in 1985 took a different form than they imagined, or rather a more extreme form. Brador was a good beer, but it was no Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, say. No one in brewery factories, then, had that kind of ken to intuit craft beer’s importance, or if they did they were silenced in meetings.
Molson-Coors has brought back Laurentide Ale, and recently, Molson Golden Ale. Why not bring back Brador? Perhaps do retro-styled spots with breathy copy à la 1980 for the social assets.
If you do though, Molson, please make it like the 1971 original.
N.B. The December 1971 story also describes Le Gobelet, the first “brasserie” so-termed in Montreal. This was formerly a male-only tavern that modified its premises to host women. Hence they could drink draft beer and enjoy the inexpensive, home-style food formerly offered only in the tavern.
Further in the same issue is an article describing the success anticipated for the legalization of Quebec cider. As a student, I recall unlabeled bottles of cider being passed at parties, sourced from farmers who made cider under the table. Once legalization came, such practices ended, for practical purposes.
Note re images: images are used for educational and research purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. The source of the news ad discussed is identified and linked in the text (via Quebec Provincial archives). All feedback welcomed.
*See a reader’s Comment on the name aspect.