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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Filed under Advertisement, Black Horse, Contemporary Beer, Culture, Quidi Vidi Brewing, Yellowbelly

Interview and Upcoming Posts

The Atlantic Canada Beer Blog is a great resource for keeping up with brewery news, beer releases, and other important information about the brewing scene throughout Atlantic Canada. They recently contacted me to do an interview on both this project and to talk about the current brewing scene in Newfoundland. If you’re interested you should check it out here.

You should be reading the Atlantic Canada Beer Blog anyway!

Over the last few weeks I have been doing lots of little pieces of research that I’m working on putting together into posts. Some of the topics I’ve noticed people looking for on the blog, while other’s I just cannot find anywhere else on the Internet. Here are a few of the things that I have in progress right now.

Apologies for the Instagram.

  • New Labels! I recently tracked down a Bennett’s Haig Ale label along with others including a Dominion Stout label and a Bennett Brewing matchbook from the 1960s. Expect some high resolution scans. The Haig Ale label is really great.
  • There are legal implications around beer brands and branding. They are something breweries own. But when did this ownership transfer to the macros and what brands were important enough to have Canadian copyrights? I’ve got the answer… I just need to write it up!

Black Horse Ale advertisement in the New York Times. June 7, 1948. A scotty and a smoke.

  • Black Horse was brewed in the United States for a long time, for a while under contact from Dawes (see the Dawes brand on the above label?) and later, after a court case, an independent American brand, so there are some Black Horse advertisement from the New York Times and the Washington Post that I’ve got my hands on that I want to post.
  • I have six Dominion Ale coasters from the 1970s that I’ve been meeting to digitize. The problem is that they are still in their original cellophane package, so I’ve been having trouble committing to opening it!

From the Acts of the Privy Council (Colonial) 1702.

  • I posted this on the NL Beer History Facebook a while back showing some provisions sent to Newfoundland back in 1702 from the American colonies. It included included around 250 pounds of Hops, likely meaning that beer was being brewed in, rather than imported to, the colony at that time! I have some other academic articles (mostly from people like Peter Pope and John Wicks who have done some historical and archeological work at Ferryland) which discuss early, pre-20th century, brewing in Newfoundland which I am working on putting together into an post.
  • I’m working on a very detailed post about the Bennett Brewing Newfoundland Song book collection. This has actually attracted some folklorists from Memorial Newfoundland in the past (though I’m not a big fan of how they’ve approached the subject), so I’m hoping to include some more academic work into the article. I’ve also got some great pictures from the two editions that I’ve got.

The original most interesting man in the world, from the Bennett Brewing Songbook, won Movember before it existed.

So, I have no shortage of work to do! In the next month or so I’m hoping to get posts written up on these topics, so keep checking in with the Newfoundland Beer History project!

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Filed under Bennett Brewing, Black Horse, Blog, History, Material Culture

The Newfoundland Short Neck: Bob-21

A lot of the traffic I get on this blog comes from people looking for an answer to some variety of the question “why does Newfoundland have short neck beer bottles?” It’s a good question, but one for which the internet is not rife with answers.

One of the first things that most people notice when they first come to Newfoundland (or when they first go away) is that Newfoundland beer bottles are a little shorter, just about an inch off the neck, than most beer bottles you’ll find almost anywhere else in North America. Even for big breweries like Labatt and Molson, though the beer inside and the labels are identical, the bottles are different.

Bob-21 (Quidi Vidi Brewing 1892) vs. Long Neck (Dieu du Ciel Péché Mortel).

The best answer I’ve found to this historical question was published in The Telegram (St. John’s biggest local newspaper) by Russell Wangersky in November of 1999. Wangersky, reporting on a bottle shortage of the bottles in the provence, provides a good bit of insight into why the little bottle, known in the industry as Bob-21, has stuck around in the provence. Wangersky is a better source if you can access newspaper archives, but as googling does not yield his article and most people don’t have easy access to newspaper archives, I’m going to go over the story here.

The short history goes like this. When the industry moved away from stubby bottles in the mid-1980s (due to pressure from more attractive looking long necks from the import and American markets) each brewery was left to its own devices to figure out what kind of bottle they should use. (The rise of the stubby as an industry standard is, in itself, an interesting historical development which is covered well in both Brew North by Ian Coutts and Cheers! A History of Beer in Canada by Nick Pashley.) On the mainland the big three breweries (Carling-O’Keefe, Molson, and Labatt), likely due to the proximity of the more aesthetically pleasing taller bottles coming from American imports like Miller, settled on the long neck (see page 120 of Coutts for more on the American influence).

The story differs on the island in part due to Carling-O’Keefe’s dominance in the market. Having control of the old Bennett brands and the popular Black Horse beer, the interim bottle used by Carling-O’Keefe became standard in Newfoundland. Why? Well, there were simply too many Bob-21 bottles kicking around the provence to warrant the economic cost, which Wangersky quotes to be around $10 million, of switching. That’s largely what keeps the bottle around too, as switching would require the whole old stock of bottles to be trashed rather than be reused some 15 to 20 times as they normally are.

That’s it. That’s the story. I’ll admit, it’s not very romantic or exciting! The name Bob-21 doesn’t even have a very interesting story. Wangersky explains, “No one seems to know for sure how the Bob-21 got its handle, except that Carling-O’Keefe picked it.”

The bottle might not have a great backstory, but the cultural value of the little guy stands for more than the odd economic lock-in that keeps it in circulation. Everyone hears the stories of a Newfoundlander hitting the clubs in Toronto for the first time, only to chip their front teeth on those longer-than-expected necks. There is something very tacit about the cute little bottles that makes them feel, well, homey somehow. Anyway, Internet, there is the answer to the question. I’d love to hear about what folks think about the Newfoundland Short Neck bottles, so do leave a comment or pop me an e-mail if you’ve got any strong feelings towards the little Bob-21 bottle.

For more information see Russell Wangersky “Calling all empties: Breweries short on bottles asking beer drinkers to turn them in” The Telegram, November 12, 1999, p. 27.

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Filed under Culture, History, Material Culture

Red Top Golden Amber Beer

Occasionally I find a beer that I don’t know too much about, so I don’t really know what to write when I want to post a picture. Case and point: Newfoundland Brewery’s “Red Top Golden Amber Beer.”

Newfoundland Brewery’s Red Top Golden Amber Beer, my collection.

I found this bottle down at Livyers’ Antiques on Duckworth Street in St. John’s in June of 2012. All I really know about it is that it was brewed by Newfoundland Brewery, probably before 1962, though the stubby makes me question that. Stubbys were usually a little later into the 1960s, but it could be that the Newfoundland Brewery was ahead of the curve.

It’s a very heavy stubby and the corners feel more well rounded than many more modern examples. It feels very solid even compared to the 1970s bottles from the Atlantic Brewery.

So that’s it. A bottle that I know very little about other than from inference. Well, at least it’s a looker!

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Filed under Labels, Newfoundland Brewery

The Scoop on Storm Brewing in Newfoundland

Storm Brewing Newfoundland, as I discuss in my overview, was one of Newfoundland’s first microbreweries. In this post, I’d like to speculate a little on the current situation of Storm Brewing and to post a few pictures of the wonderful beers they have made over the years.

My understanding of Storm’s current production situation is that it is basically a part-time job for the owners. As far as I can tell, they run at capacity right now and, because of high demand, their beer sells out of the few NLC and corner stores where they retail in short order. I get no inclination that an expansion or new product is on the way, so I’m guessing that right now it is a pretty happy self-sustaining cottage industry. Their demand excedes their supply, so they seem to be pretty economically stable.

Let me put my bais out there: I love Storm. They were one of the first craft breweries I developed a deep loyalty too. In the mid-2000s they had a “Free Newfoundland” stubby bottle of their Irish Red that I was particularly attached to:

Storm Free Newfoundland Stubby, c. mid-2000s, my collection.

Now, they switched out of stubbys a couple of years back (2008, if memory serves – but check that date) and they use “mainland long-necks” (i.e. not the semi-necks Newfoundland is famous for).

Storm was also the first brewery that introduced me to the “bomber” bottle. Used pretty much religiously throughout the United States craft beer scene,  a bomber was unheard of in Newfoundland before Storm. All of their current four beers are available in the very industry standard bomber.

Storm Bombers, c. 2011-2012, my collection.

In the above photo we can see their winter seasonal Coffee Porter, their all year-round Island Gold and Irish Red, and their summer seasonal Raspberry Wheat.

What’s also great about Storm is their dating system. What’s great about it? Well, (a) they have one – something which beer geeks in the United States lament not having even on some top-shelf beers, and (b) it’s clear and uncomplicated. In the dating system, Storm is, well, best kind.

Storm used to be a little more adventurous too. Take, for example, this beer.

Storm Hemp Ale, c. mid-2000s, photo credit Colin Power.

Aside from their lovely old logo (that lives on in their coffee porter symbol), it was a hemp ale! In Newfoundland! I remember really liking this beer and being quite sad when it was discontinued. Hemp ales are pretty rare, even on the mainland, so it was nice to have something pretty unique front-and-center in Newfoundland.

I suspect Storm’s solid economic situation is not pressing them to innovate too much anymore. I mean, if you’re at capacity and constantly in demand then you can take a “if it’s not broke don’t fix it attitude” with impunity. Something in my heart, deep down, however, really wishes they’d kick out a hoppy West Coast IPA or a high gravity Imperial Stout – just something that the drooling beer geeks and home-brewers of Newfoundland could point to and say “look Canada, Newfoundland is not so far behind.”

Will Newfoundland ever start to catch up to Canada, or even to the maritime provinces, in craft beer and modern beer styles? I’m not really sure. But one thing is for sure, in Newfoundland’s Beer History Storm wrote the chapter on making a modern North American style craft brewery, with recognizable craft beer styles, work in Newfoundland.

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Filed under Culture, Labels, Overview, Storm Brewing

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 Atlantic Brewery

Throughout this site I’ve covered a great number of Newfoundland’s former breweries. One that I’ve really neglected  has been the Atlantic Brewery in Stephenville. On the overview I link to this page which gives a good overview of the brewery’s history, so here I want to write a few interesting points from that article and include a few pictures from my collection.

The Atlantic Brewery, a high-budget ($2.5 million, that’s almost $4 million using a rough inflation calculation – that’s a lot for any brewery) project, opened in 1968 with a staff of 50 people. Within a year the brewery reduced its workforce and then shutdown. Why it failed doesn’t seem to be obvious. It might be a case of “too big, too quick,” but until I hit the archives for some old newspapers I can only speculate.

The Brewery produced, to my knowledge, two primary beers. Their flagship was Atlantic Lager.

Atlantic Lager, my collection, 2012.

It came in a pretty simply stubby with the Atlantic Brewery’s logo, which looks a bit like Poseidon to me. The bottles I have, I have two (the better condition one is pictured), both still have beer in them. According to the person at Livyers Antiques, who I purchased the bottles from, many of the bottles were left over as unsold surplus after the brewery closed and ended up not being drank. So, if you find a bottle it’ll likely be full! This might also account for why the brewery closed. How bad does a beer have to be that most of the old bottles you find aren’t opened?

Atlantic Cap (Red), my collection, 2012.

Atlantic Cap (Blue), my collection, 2012.

The brewery also made another, apparently less popular product called “Atlantic Draft.”

Atlantic Draft, my collection, 2012.

According to the person I bought this one from Draft bottles are considerably more rare. Considering the short lifespan of the brewery, it’s remarkable that any survive at all!

Once the brewery closed in 1969 it was purchased by the Bison Petroleum and Minerals Ltd. from the government. The brewery appears to have gone bankrupt and into receivership, so most of the $1.1 million purchase price was paid to creditors and the rest paid in bonds to the government of Newfoundland. Bison rebranded the brewery and increased production (from 200,000 cases to 400,000 cases) and invested new money to enter the export market.

Bison Brew Beer (Bison Brewing) see this post for more on this label.

The rest is pretty well put by the article linked above, so here is what they say:

By 1973, the Bison Brewing Company was on the way out of Stephenville. The brewery started laying off workers in the winter of the same year due to a slow period in the brewing industry. By the end of 1973 Bison Petroleum had left Stephenville. This was also due to a major flood that caused more than $1 million in damages to the facilities. However, at this time Stephenville Brewery started up and became a successful operation. Even though Bison Petroleum was only in Stephenville for three years, that three years was enough to get the area’s economy back up and running again. The brewery gave life back to the town after the base closed down. In 1974 Labatt Breweries began operations at the site. This establishment operated until the fall of 1981. At that time personnel were laid off and the Stephenville brewerie’s responsibilities were transferred to St. John’s.

So that’s the brief history of the rise and fall of the Atlantic Brewery. It’s useful to note for dating bottles that if a Labatt brand (like Blue Star or Jockey) says “St. John’s and Stephenville” then it’s likely from between 1974-1981. It’s too bad about the Atlantic Brewery, it’d be nice to have breweries outside of the Avalon today, even a small one making local craft beer (though the scope of the Atlantic Brewery certainly wasn’t to be a craft brewery like we’d recognize today). I also wonder how many more unopened bottles of Atlantic Lager are out there. Anyone want to drink 50 year old beer with me?

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Filed under Atlantic Brewery, Labels, Other Brewers