A Liquor for what Ales You
Brador was a premium beer brewed by Molson Breweries of Canada, now Molson-Coors Beverage Company.
It is a jointly-owned – Canada-U.S. – business, publicly traded in both countries, with both Canadians and Americans on the board including Geoffrey Molson. Reports at the time of the merger (2005) indicate the families, Coors and Molson, each have 1/3rd voting control, which is effectively joint control in this case.
The head office is in Chicago now, but with breweries in five Canadian provinces and thousands employed in this country, the Canadian business is sizeable. It is the oldest continuing brewery in North America.
Before the craft beer surge Brador was one of the few brands, Canadian or American, with cachet in beer circles. Brador was first released in 1972, according to a report prepared for the 1975 Inquiry on Corporate Concentration. It appears it actually came out in 1971, at least in Quebec, according to sources I cite below.
It finally departed the market 12-15 years ago. At the end was it was undistinguished imo, with a generic, mass-market taste.
I remember it differently in its prime, meaning 1970s-1980s. I drank it on occasion but as it was a strong beer, 6.2% abv (6% in its last years), I preferred standard 5% offerings.
The taste was good, not impactful like a good U.K. pale ale or Munich lager, but above the Canadian norm. Michael Jackson thought well of it in his 1982 The Pocket Guide to Beer, describing it as a top-fermenting ale vs. the malt liquor stated on the label.
Steve Beaumont, in his 1994 Great Canadian Beer Guide, made these on-point 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.
I do not recall the beer from a time the label did not state malt liquor, but I do recall lore around 1980 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 that.
Look at this Brador ad (p. 18) in October 1971 in the Quebec press, in Le Nouvelliste. The label states “Bière/Ale”. No reference to malt liquor.
Check any label online though, as offered on Ebay or in various collections – the ones I’ve seen state Bière/Malt Liquor. This must be because few examples survive of the original label, which I think was changed in 1972.
The reason it changed had to be new federal legislation in that same year, as explained in this story (p. 13 – 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 stated for “beer” and “ale”, but I did not check further. 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 beer marketed since the 1960s at least. Colt 45 is a well-known example, also Olde English 800. But after Brador’s label was changed to malt liquor, some people thought its recipe had changed.
That is unlikely in my view. I’ve found no evidence of any change at least into the 1990s. The later drop in the beer from 6.2% to 6% abv perhaps was a subtle indication that something else changed in the formulation. Maybe it was just a stronger Molson Export, or Molson Stock Ale.
In 1985 Paul Roy of La Presse wrote a mini-history (see p. 19) of the Quebec beer market from the mid-1960s. He did a service for beer historical studies by listing each release in that period, down to month of issuance and duration in the market, by the three large brewers: Molson, O’Keefe, and Labatt.
He listed many names I had forgotten, 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 mini-success story, taking market share from declining brands that shifted lots of money back in the day.
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, say, no Amsterdam Boneshaker IPA. No one in big brewery factories then had that kind of ken, or if they did, they were silenced at staff meetings.
Molson-Coors has brought back Laurentide Ale, and recently Molson Golden Ale. Why not bring back Brador? Perhaps do retro-styled ads with breathy copy a 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.