The Rooms Showcases Newfoundland Beer

I was flicking through the latest issues of Occasions Magazine from the NLC and noticed that The Rooms, a Newfoundland cultural centre which combines art and museum displays, was featuring a collection of Newfoundland consumer and popular items. The collection, “Here, We Made a Home,” is currently running in the Elinor Gill Rarcliffe Gallery on the fourth level and features a small collection of Newfoundland Breweriana.

Here is quick photo of the main exhibit’s feature of Newfoundland beer bottles, “An Honest Uncomplicated Brew.”

Taken at The Rooms, 2013.

Taken at The Rooms, 2013.

Readers of this blog will likely get the reference made by the title of the collection, which refers to a Jockey Club label from the 1970s/80s. It’s a subtle reference, but a nice one.

Jockey Club, circa late 1960s

Jockey Club, circa late 1960s

The collection features both a recent bottle of Quidi Vidi Light and Yellowbelly Pale Ale (I joke that both could have come from the NLC location visible from The Rooms upper floors) and two old India Beer Bottles, as well as a Dominion Ale bottle. They date both the larger bottles to early-1900s and the stubby to mid-1900s.

Advertisement for The Rooms, Occasions Magazine, Fall 2013.

Advertisement for The Rooms, Occasions Magazine, Fall 2013.

Not to be outdone, when I got home I decided to stage up a few bottles of my own in the same ordering. Can you spot the differences?

NLBeerHistory Colleciton

NLBeerHistory Collection

A few differences are obvious, the big one being I don’t have a India Beer stubby though I think the Blue Star is a nice substitute. The India Beer bottle featured here in our photo is a new one from the collection of Capt. Don Winsor which was donated by Matthew Beverley. I’ll have a longer post on a few others he donated soon!

The is clearly much more Newfoundland history on display in the “Here, We Made a Home,” collection which is very much worth discussing and viewing. If you’re in town, it’s very much worth checking out!

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Notes on Some Beermats

Beermats are an under appreciated art form. So under appreciated, in fact, that I had almost forgotten I had been working on collecting together a few Newfoundland Beermats. Sitting down last night with Nicholas Pashley’s Notes on a Beermat finally jogged my memory and, well, here we are. Apologies to Mr. Pashley for the title.

In this post I have two sets of Beermats to share. One is a great set of Black Horse mats produced for the 500th anniversary of John Cabot’s “discovery” of Newfoundland in 1997 shared with me by Steve Shorlin and the other is an older set from Bennett Brewing which I purchased last summer. Both sets partake in something that is quite common in beer advertising, but worth noting again here. They both try to build themselves into Newfoundland’s history and sense of place.

The historians E. J. Hobsbawm and T. O. Ranger have called this kind of marketing (for the lack of a better work) move as an “invented tradition.” A tradition is invented, they argue, when something seeks to come off as very old – something that tries to write itself into the past – without actually being very old at all. They cite the kilt as a primary example, which, they argue, was built into Scottish culture in the 1800s by English fabric merchants. That’s their argument, not mine! For a less controversial point, let’s look at some Black Horse Coasters.

Photo from Steve Shorlin, newfoundlandsteve on Flickr, 2013.

“The Unofficial Brew of Cabot’s Crew” series of coasters snuck the iconic Black Horse into various Newfoundland scenes like (above) in Bonavista and (below) on top of Cabot Tower on Signal Hill.

Steve Shorlin, 2013.

The Black Horse, it seems, has been everywhere in Newfoundland! From an iceberg in Twillingate to playing coxswain in the St. John’s Regatta.

Steve Shorlin, 2013.

Steve Shorlin, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This series was accompanied with a slogan “500 Years of Horsin’ Around” where Black Horse did its part to provide Newfoundland pub trivia and language lessons.

Steve Shorlin, 2013

Steve Shorlin, 2013.

Steve has more of these over on his Flickr, so if you like them you can find a few more there. Now, back to what I was saying about “invented traditions.” As readers of this blog know, Black Horse was a major mainland brand for many years, so having a brand so associated with Newfoundland’s past strikes me as inventing the tradition of Newfoundland Black Horse. Black Horse was, as these beermats attempt to prove, not just another brand: it was a Newfoundland brand, through and through. (The Thoroughbred!)

These pictures were also on Black Horse bottles. Steve Shorlin, 2013.

The idea of an “invented tradition” works better when we get to the Bennett Brewing coasters. I’m just going to post all 6 coasters now and we’ll get back to talking about them after.

Coaster_Cover

This is the image on the back of each beermat. Chris Conway, 2013.

Coaster_5

For more, see here.

Coaster_4

For more see here.

Coaster_3

I maintain he was out there geocaching.

Coaster_6 Coaster_2 Coaster_1

With all the talk of “Newfoundland tradition” in the coasters, and the line “Bennett relives Newfoundland’s past,” it’s a little easier to see what I’m trying to get at with the “invented tradition” thing. I doubt many of the stories actually ended with a Bennett Beer or that Bennet Beer was that widely available at the time. Most of the stories seem to be based off the ones found in the The Treasury of Newfoundland Stories, which itself was produced by Maple Leaf Mills Limited (now just Maple Leaf). The coasters were sold in a pack of 6, as we can see from the advertisement below from the Dominion Ale Songbook (of which I have more to say on in another post).

Coasters (10)

If I ever make an NL Beer History beermat, it will steal that line: “A bit of our past to put under your glass.”

“A real collector’s item” indeed! I picked my set up, still in their plastic wrap, in St. John’s last summer. I sadly had to open the pack to scan them, which I guess is for the greater good. It seems, since we don’t have the stories listed in the advertisement, that there is another set, or at least another few, coasters out there which I’d love to track down. Either way, the stories and the images (by cartoonist Ted Michener) are pretty fantastic.

Beer seems to be one of those things that always wants to make itself more familiar to its drinker. Breweries strive to make their beer one that has a sense of place even if it’s owned by Carling O’Keefe (as Dominion was in the 1970s) or Molson (as Black Horse was in the late 1990s). Where Dominion’s advertisements seemed aimed at regaining local confidence and their Newfoundland identity after their takeover by a multi-national, Black Horse’s seem to represent a beer trying to become the icon of Newfoundland. Both worked to etch themselves into the culture of Newfoundland through carefully purveying history alongside with their beer. Of course, the result of tradition-inventing are brands which did take on real meaning – and which already had real meaning – to many drinkers. For me, a big part of the fun of history is finding out how these meanings came into being.

 

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Stealing Fire(Water): The BeerThief and Newfoundland Beer

Admittedly a historical view on beer in Newfoundland is not the place to talk about beer news or contemporary beer events. For something like that, well, see the excellent Atlantic Canada Beer Blog. This one development, however, merits a little note. The creation of a specialty order beer club in Newfoundland, called Beer Thief, is something pretty special. While most readers of this blog have likely read the number of news reports about the club, here I’d like to point to the beer community which the club has fostered.

Black Horse Can, Steve Shorlin 2013.

In short, the Beer Thief club was founded by Mike Buhler, a Newfoundland-based level-2 Cicerone, and Tom Beckett, an important figure in the better drinking world in Newfoundland. They work to connect breweries to Newfoundlanders who normally cannot access things outside the NLC’s limited selection. Thus far they have facilitated private orders from breweries like Dupont, Dieu Di Ciel, Les Trois Mousquetaires, and Propeller, bringing styles like IPAs, Saisons, Imperial Stouts, Kellerbier, and Triples into the province for the first time – maybe ever – without a suitcase. As a fan of Newfoundland beer, this is pretty amazing stuff.

Blue Star Can, Steve Shorlin 2013.

One of the key developments has also been the community which has developed around the club on their forum, where Newfoundlanders meet to discuss better beer, homebrewing, and ways to improve the province’s beer scene. All I want to do here is point you, dear reader, towards them. If you are reading this, you likely care something for beer in Newfoundland or are planning a trip to Newfoundland. The BeerThief forums are perhaps your best resource to ask questions about where to drink or what to do related to beer. Plus, now that Muskoka Brewing has started distributing to NL, it’s a great time to be a beer enthusiast in Newfoundland. So get involved!

Dominion Ale Can, Steve Shorlin 2013.

As you’ve been reading you’ve likely noticed some of these really wonderful images of classic Newfoundland cans, which have never been featured on this blog before. In fact, I have rarely ever seen a picture of a beer can from Newfoundland on the Internet before I was introduced to these ones. They are a set of photos and artifacts owned by Steve Shorlin, who you can check out here on Flickr (they’ve been used here with his permission). He’s one of the many great people over on the BeerThief forums. In some upcoming posts you’ll likely see a few more images from his amazing collection that he’s been nice enough to share with me. He’s recently sent along a few pictures of some great Newfoundland beer coasters, so maybe it’s time for a little post on Newfoundland beer mats…

Newfoundland Beer Cans, Steve Shorlin 2013.

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Filed under Black Horse, Blue Star, Contemporary Beer, Dominion Ale, Material Culture

German Brewmasters and “British Traditions” in Newfoundland Brewing

If you’ve been to Newfoundland you’ve likely taken note of a fairly strong connection to British and Irish traditions within the province’s music, culture, and perhaps even in its beer. Popular places to grab a pint are regularly decked out in Irish garb – places like Bridie Molloys, The Republic, or Christians to name a few – or, like the famous Duke of Duckworth, more grounded in the British pub experience. But what about Newfoundland beer? In this post, a reappraisal of Webb and Beaumont’s classification of Newfoundland as having weak “British Traditions” in the light of the history of German-Newfoundland brewmasters.

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Filed under Bavarian Brewing, Bennett Brewing, Blue Star, Culture, History, Newfoundland Brewery, Other Brewers

CSI: NL, Blue Star Labels

Blue Star is perhaps the most iconic of all Newfoundland beers. Still atop the top selling beer list at the Newfoundland Liquor Corporation (at least as of this writing), Blue Star is rivalled only by Black Horse as the nostalgia macro most recognized by Newfoundlanders as their very own. Blue Star has had not shortage of coverage on this blog either. My evolution of Blue Star is one of the most popular posts and brings us through its many changes since the 1960s.

Writing a blog about history is a tricky thing because you are really tied to your sources. Sometimes you find a bunch, sometimes months go by without anything coming up. Well, recently I repatriated, to Canada at least, a bunch of Blue Star labels from a collection over in Hull, England. So, in this post: six more Blue Star labels and my best attempts at putting them in correct order.

Blue Star, over 4%

Blue Star, over 4%

I’ll start with the label I think is the oldest. It has to be newer than 1974, when Labatt took over the Bison Brewery in Stephenville, and older than 1981. If you have a Blue Star label which lists both locations it’s likely from somewhere inside that window of time. I think this might be the oldest because it lists “Over 4% alcohol by volume,” which was the norm until the 1970s. I would estimate this one is from around 1975.

Blue Star, 5%

Blue Star, 5%

The only differences between this one and the last is the text color and, as noted above, the change in how the alc/vol is listed.

Blue Star, A.

Blue Star, A.

Blue Star, B.

Blue Star, B.

Spot the differences! In the 1970s the slogan “The Star of Newfoundland” replaced “The Premium Quality Newfoundland Beer” line. The only difference I can spot between these to examples is the reverse of the text on the sides.

Blue Star, "The Sportsman's Friend."

Blue Star, “The Sportsman’s Friend.”

I’m going to go out on a limb and argue that the slogan “The Sportsman’s Friend” came after “The Star of Newfoundland.” Why? Well, in the above label Stephenville has been dropped from the brewery’s locations. Everything else though, seems to remain the same.

Blue Star Brewing Company

Blue Star Brewing Company

Ok, I want to finish up with a tough one. First, here is the second part of the label, the tie:

Blue Star, tie.

Blue Star, tie.

Both of these have the slogan “Newfoundland’s Premium” which I think was used in the 1980s. Stephenville is not listed, so it’s outside of the 1974-1981 window. Since it’s listed as 5%, it’s likely past 1981. In order to have a tie around its neck, it needed to have a neck, so this was also post-stubbie. Here’s the odd thing. It lists “Blue Star Brewing Company” as the brewery. Now, checking the trademark database shows that Labatt has owned the trademark “Blue Star” since 1967, so this company was clearly Labatt trying to distance its name from the brand (see the trademark database here). Why they might do this, I don’t know. It might be a move predating Rickards, Shocktop, Blue Moon, Alexander Keiths, and other “crafty” beers brewed by big brewers without much reference to their main brand. Why they’d do it in 1980s Newfoundland is unknown.

It’s my guess that this was the label used until the label change to the very-1980s labels I have in scruffy condition below.

Blue Star, 1980s - group

1980s Blue Star

Note that it’s listed as a “Bavarian Lager” again on these labels. So, a few more steps along the way of Blue Star evolution have been found and documented! 

Photo by Curtis Wiest, 2013.

Photo by Curtis Wiest, 2013.

On another note, reader Curtis Wiest recently send me in this picture of a few stubbies he has tracked down. He’s trying to put together enough to recreate Sean Hammond’s famous “Newfoundland Stubbies” painting (see the painting here) and he’s a few short. He contacted me to let me know he found an O’Keefes Extra Old Stock one already, but he’s still short a Jockey and a India Beer. Can anyone help him out? Come to think of it, since I’ve never seen an India or a Jockey stubby, if you have one could you send along a picture?

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Filed under Black Horse, Blue Star, Dominion Ale, Labatt, Labels, Material Culture

Classic Newfoundland Beer Bottles

Just a little update post to let you folks know that I’ve post a set of Classic Newfoundland Beer Bottle pictures over on the Newfoundland Beer History facebook page. They’re pretty grainy in quality, so I’m not intending to host all of them here. Most of the bottles are ones that I have posted elsewhere on this blog, but there are a few new ones which will be featured in upcoming posts.

Familia

Familia

Can you honestly say that if you had 1960-80s bottles and contemporary ones you wouldn’t snap a quick pic with your phone camera?

The Old and The New

The Old and The New

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Filed under Black Horse, Blue Star, Dominion Ale, India Beer, Jockey Club, Labels

Any Mummer’s ‘Lowed in?

Hark, what’s that noise, out by the porch door?
Dear Granny, there’s mummers, there’s twenty or more.
Her old weathered face lightens up with a grin.
“Any mummers, nice mummers ‘lowed in?”

It’s Christmas time in Newfoundland and I’m home for the holidays, which means drinking lots of Newfoundland Christmas beer.

Yellowbelly at Christmas - Photo Credit to Joyce Conway

Yellowbelly at Christmas – Photo Credit to Joyce Conway

Fortunately for craft beer drinkers, two of Newfoundland’s craft breweries have recently started producing seasonal ales for the holidays. Quidi Vidi began producing their Mummer’s Brew (an rich Amber Ale) several years ago.

Mummers

The Original Label for Quidi Vidi Mummer’s Brew

Originally featuring a Newfoundland Mummer’s party – a night of dressing up and touring around the community dancing, drinking, and playing music – the label has now been modernized to fit in with their new streamlined packing design. Its available on tap at a few places in the city (I’ve had it at Christian’s on George and the Duke of Duckworth so far) and it’s also in 6-packs at NLC locations and at the brewery (which is also beautifully decorated for Christmas)!

Mummers_Brew

The other seasonal beer brewed up for Christmas is Yellowbelly’s Mummer’s Brew. I know – I know – there are only three craft breweries in Newfoundland and two of those three have made a Christmas seasonal with the same name… Go figure!

Yellowbelly Mummer's Brew, 2012.

Yellowbelly Mummer’s Brew, 2012.

Yellowbelly’s Mummer’s Brew first appeared in 2011 when it was a quite tasty spiced Winter Ale. This year (2012) it has changed to a 7% Chocolate Porter. Its available down at the brewery on tap and in bottles, which you can also find at NLC locations.

The Washington Post; Dec 10, 1947.

The Washington Post; Dec 10, 1947.

I should mention that Storm’s Coffee Porter has long been a Christmas tradition for me. It’s their Winter seasonal! (See my post on Storm for more about them!)

Oh, I suppose you fine mummers would turn down a drop,
Of homebrew or alky, whatever you got.
Sure the one with his rubber boots on the wrong feet,
needs enough for to do him all week.

As the first year comes to a close for the Newfoundland Beer History Project, I’d like to say thank you for everyone that’s shown encouragement for this project and who has shared in my interest in learning about Newfoundland’s beer history! Over 10,000 people have checked out this blog in this first year and I’ve got a lot more planned for the future. I hope the holidays treat everyone well and that good beer can find you where ever you are!

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