Friday, January 14, 2011

Beer: History, Trivia and War

Brew North by Ian Coutts is a fascinating look at the history of beer in Canada. I particularly enjoyed the archival photos and beer labels. Here are some tidbits from Canada’s brewing history:
     In 2007, Canadians drank 71.67 litres per capita with the Yukon leading the way at 139.75 litres per person, followed by Alberta at 98.54

     The first criminal trial and hanging in Upper Canada was held at Finkle’s Tavern, which opened near Bath, Ontario, in 1793.

     Two skeletons at the bar were props for Charles McKiernan’s tall tales (told in rhyme) at Joe Beef’s Canteen in Montreal. Customers shared the bar with a variety of animals, including a succession of beer-drinking bears.

     Empty beer bottles were originally stored in crates filled with straw, a favourite spot for mice to nest. And the bottles were dark green, so it was hard to tell if the bottle was already occupied when it was filled with beer.

     During Prohibition, many breweries switched to making soft drinks. The Saskatoon Brewing Company made a non-alcoholic drink called Malta.

     Advertising companies are endlessly creative. When beer advertising was prohibited, Quebec farmers were offered black Percheron horses for stud free of charge or for sale at a very good price as a means of advertising Black Horse beer.

In 1939, Labatt’s introduced a bright red, teardrop-shaped semi-truck, an unmistakable sight on Ontario’s highways (graphic: Three Dimensional Computer Models).

American beer wars
The Beer Wars (available on Netflix) documents the challenges faced by small microbreweries as they try to compete with the large multinational beer companies in the United States. The film profiles several individuals as they try to establish a new variety of beer or expand their microbrewery.

One of the biggest challenges is competing for shelf space in the liquor outlets and ensuring that the microbrews are included in the transportation distribution system. By offering a wide variety of products in a wide variety of formats, the big breweries can dominate more shelf space. They also introduce copycat versions of the popular microbrewery options.

As always, I am so impressed by the passion and determination of the microbrewery owners who gamble everything they possess to try and make a go of it.

The bruising business of brewing in Alberta
A December article in Alberta Venture magazine (via Only Here for the Food) goes into detail about the challenges facing microbreweries in Alberta.

The problems range from customers who believe that imported beer is of higher quality than a local beer, to government regulations that place a minimum annual production quota on any new brewery of 250,000 litres (about 733,000 bottles), to large breweries offering all sorts of financial inducements to ensure that their beer is on tap in local bars.

Winter beers
And if all this talk about beer is making you thirsty, Beppi Crossariol of The Globe and Mail recommends chocolate stout, coffee porter, and beers laced with honey, berries and spices for winter beer drinking.

Ontario drinkers can try the Muskoka Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout. The Howe Sound Brewing Co. in Squamish, BC (which also has a very nice restaurant), has a Rail Ale Nut Brown and a Diamond Head Oatmeal Stout, while Granville Island Brewing has a Chocolate Stout. Alley Kat Brewing Co. in Edmonton offers Coffee Porter, while Phillip’s Brewery in Victoria, BC, has a Chocolate Porter.

And last, but certainly not least, Saskatoon’s Paddock Wood Brewery has a Winter Ale Grande Reserve (only 300 bottles) that has undergone a second fermentation in the bottle as well as a London Porter and a BĂȘte Noire.


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