Category Archives: Labatt

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

Dominion Ale and India Beer Bottles

I was looking though some photos of old Newfoundland beer bottles I took on my trip back home in June of 2012 and noticed that I haven’t posted all of them! In particular, I had missed posting some old Bennett Dominion Ale and India Beer bottles.

First, a pretty sad specimen that I found in my parents garage. It wasn’t really preserved with care!

A pretty sad specimen of the 1980s Bennett Dominion Ale stubby, my collection.

The next is a collection that I picked up from a collector in Grand Falls. It has an old India (1960s), a Jockey (1960s), a Blue Star (discussed here), and a much older Dominion (1960s).

Here is a bit of a close up of the Dominion “Brewed exclusively from the finest malt and hops” and the old blue India label.

Dominion Ale, c. 1970s, my collection.

India Beer c. 1970s, my collection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The blue India label is, of course, not the original parallelogram-style label that you can see on the main overview. Speaking of that design, however, reminds me of an odd bit of internet reflexivity.

The Obsolescence Project that takes beautiful pictures of old objects recently featured an old india beer bottle. It’s one of the old  parallelogram-labels and they even link to nlbeerhistory.com as a useful and “incredibly comprehensive site” for finding out about Newfoundland’s beer history. That’s little ol’ me! So, please do check out their fantastic photos.

They have also featured an old Dominion Ale stubby that is also well worth checking out!

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Filed under Bennett Brewing, Dominion Ale, India Beer, Labatt, Material Culture, Newfoundland Brewery

The Evolution of Blue Star

I have been going through some pictures I took (well, had taken) of my NL beer bottle collection and I noticed that I had a great lineage of Blue Star bottles. So, why not take a look at how they’ve changed over the years?

The oldest one I have is from the 1960s:

1960s Blue Star Bottle, my collection

It’s a heavy bottomed glass bottle (thicker than today’s vintage, unless you drink Steamwhistle) with a shiny gold label. It’s the same label I have over on the overview, but this one is still attached to the bottle, which is a plus! It’s still from the Bavarian Brewing era, so it’s likely from sometime prior to, or just slightly after, 1962.

1970s Blue Star Stubby, my collection

This bottle is likely from the 1970s, the era of the stubby. The label hasn’t changed too much, but the red strip has moved into the background and the tag line “The Star of Newfoundland” has been added. It still has the iconic “Gold Medal of Leadership” from Munich in 1954 which is now, as it was then, a pretty cheesy thing to put on a beer bottle.

Blue Star (early 1980s) at the Duke of Duckworth, St. John’s. (2012)

In a longer post I discussed this Blue Star bottle, still full of beer, that’s at the Duke of Duckworth in St. John’s. I dated it from the early 1980s, near the end of the stubby era, because it was kept at the bar (I figured they kept it as a novelty once stubbys became more rare). My dating here is guesswork, so I’m not sure when the phrase “The Sportsman’s Friend” came into use. Was “The Star of Newfoundland” first, or was it “The Sportsman’s Friend?” Right now, I’m not sure. I sure do wish I had a copy that said “The Sportsman’s Friend” though!

Three 1980s Blue Star bottles, my collection.

Continuing into the 1980s we see that Blue Star, out of the stubby phase, is now into more common looking Newfoundland short necks. These are embossed with “Labatt” and were found in a shed in New Chelsea in the Summer of 2012 (thanks to Keith Cooke!). They’re in rough shape, but they show the same kind of label design as before, with the red strip and the bright blue star. They do look very 80s though, don’t they?

2012 Blue Star bottle, my collection.

Which brings us to today. The 2012 version of the bottle, which uses a design from the early 1990s,  has the red stripe from the background transformed into Christopher Pratt’s Newfoundland provincial flag. The gold border has been replaced with the gold of the arrow in the flag (pointing to a “brighter future“) and the star has received some stylistic shading.

There is an interesting study on the rebranding of Blue Star in the early nineties which states that:

At that time, there was only one other product that had positioned itself as an indigenous brand of beer and that was Molson’s Black Horse. Its advertising focused on young beer drinkers and their lifestyles as students, partygoers, nightlife enthusiasts and so on – it was the Molson Canadian of Newfoundland. It should be noted that while Black Horse was known to be local in origin, the advertising was seen by many to be an imitation of mainstream North American beer advertising. As a result, this gave Labatt an opportunity to reposition Blue Star as the true local brew, with a positioning statement for Blue Star best expressed as: ‘Blue Star is the ultimate Newfoundland beer, for Newfoundlanders, by Newfoundlanders’.

Employing advertising firm Vaughn Whelan & Partners Advertising Inc,

Blue Star was positioned as ‘The Shining Star Of The Granite Planet’, a copy line that embraces the beers’ quality, its local origins, and stresses the ironic sense of humour. Tactically, we wanted to be as different from Black Horse as possible: humour versus music, radio versus TV, local versus mainland imagery. Creatively, the radio spots played up the local sense of humour and downplayed the beverage qualities. The commercials had the tag line ‘Blue Star, The Shining Star Of The Granite Planet’.

They conclude:

Together, Blue Star and Blue Star Glacier Cold are now slowly but surely chipping away at Molson’s  dominance in Newfoundland’s young adult market, while spending only a fraction of what the competition  does, and not cannibalizing other Labatt brands.

Blue Star Glacier Cold? It was one of those “ice” early-90s fad beers. What did it look like? This website has an image, but, from what I understand, it was a short lived product (really, any beer advertising itself as pasteurized has lost my confidence).

That brings us through the aesthetic changes to Blue Star over the last 50 years. Did the taste change? Did the quality? Those are much harder questions to answer. A diehard Blue Star drinker might not notice subtle changes over many years, while other might just say it always wasn’t very good (non-Blue Star drinkers, obviously). That’s the tricky thing about beer history, it’s a temporary product which leaves little trace. Even bottles rarely survive. Remember to enjoy the beers you enjoy now, for who knows how history will treat them.

Blue Star Evolution, 1960s to 2012. My collection.

Bonus! From youtube user lambchops71, a radio add from the early 1990s “shining star” series.

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Filed under Advertisement, Bavarian Brewing, Blue Star, Labatt, Labels

Jockey Club: An Honest Uncomplicated Brew

I love adding more historical Newfoundland beer bottle labels to my collection and this one is no exception. Today I finally got a copy (two actually) of this Jockey Club label.

Jockey Club

The site I picked this up from states that its from the 1960s and was old stock that was never used. The date seems to be fairly believable (at least for our purposes), as it would be after the 1962 buy-out of the Bavarian Brewing Company Limited by Labatt, however, because the label lists Stephenville as part of the Labatt’s brewing organization this is likely from the 1970s.

Labatt took control of the old Bison Brewing Company brewery in 1974 and operated there until 1981, so it’s probable that this label comes from the late 1970s when Labatt had two operations in the province.

Dating the label aside, from my understanding this slogan “An Honest Uncomplicated Brew, the Original Bavarian Style” (which is great, isn’t it?) was used from the 1960s until the early 1990s when it was changed to “True Newfoundland Character” (this would be around the time Labatt rebranded Blue Star to be adorned with the Newfoundland Flag and ran the “Shining Star of the Granite Planet” series of advertisements”). I like to think that the “Bavarian Style” they are referring to has more to do with the Bavarian Brewery, who they inherited the beer from, rather than the area of Germany where the Bavarian Brewery got its name. Either way, it’s a great label which I’m quite happy to have a copy of!

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Filed under Bavarian Brewing, Jockey Club, Labatt, Labels