Newfoundland Beer History

All posts tagged Newfoundland Beer History

In honour of this weekend’s St John’s BrewFest, we wanted to lead this week’s post with the great beery news from The Rock. While the number and reach of locally-owned breweries in Newfoundland and Labrador was lacking for many years, the past few years have seen an explosion in number and variety of offerings available to the public. For a more thorough overview of that history, as well as the present and future of beer in Newfoundland (and soon Labrador), check out the Newfoundland Beer History site, and the latest post from writer Chris Conway (himself part of the opening-late-2018 Landwash Brewery in Mount Pearl). The local alt-paper The Overcast also keeps an eye on the latest Nfld Beer News, and has summarized the history in The Overcast’s Guide to Beers of Newfoundland, out this month. After reading those and getting excited for the rest of 2018, here what’s new this week:

• Port Rexton‘s retail shop on Torbay Rd is open again this weekend (Friday 4-8pm, Saturday 12-6pm), and will have 3 varieties in cans: Chasing Sun New England IPA, T-Rex Porter, and the return of Mixed Opportunity, their 5.6% ABV mixed fermentation Saison, employing multiple strains of Saccharomyces and Brettanomyces yeasts to ferment, giving funky farmhouse flavours and aromas. On growler fills are Baycation Blonde and T-Rex Porter. With their brewery taproom opening May 4th, they will continue to operate the retail location in town, concentrating on growler fills and merchandise sales, as they will be winding down their canning offerings.

• Also keep an eye open this weekend for Port Rexton’s Barrel-aged Brett Porter, which was a collaboration brewed back in September with Jana of Motion Bay Brewing (coming soon to Petty Harbour), and our own acbbchris. This beer was fermented in a freshly-emptied red wine barrel with Brett D (a specific strain of Brettanomyces bruxellensis), where it sat for several months before conditioning and packaging (sorry, kegs only!). The lovely wine notes complement the funky nose and flavour from the Brett fermentation, with the dark malt providing a pleasant base. It debuted at the Melee in the Market Port Rexton x 2 Crows Tap Takeover last night, and should be available this weekend.

• YellowBelly Brewery launched a new beer earlier this week, Patridgeberry Wheat. The Wheat Ale base was enhanced by the addition of local partridgeberries, known for their tart kick and full flavour, for a true taste of the Island. At 5.0% ABV, and quite quaffable, you could certainly be forgiven for going back for a second. It is on tap at the brewery and Takeaway (down the street at 264 Water) now, and in 1 litre bottles at the Takeaway and select NLC locations this weekend.

• Renovations continue at Quidi Vidi Brewing, as they expand their retail shop and transform their event space into a full-time taproom, which will offer visitors great views of the gut, and a fine pint to pair it with. The recent additions to their beer line-up, Calm Tom’s Double IPA and Mad Mike’s Big Belgian, will be around for the summer months, and complemented by beers brewed on their 350 litre pilot brewing system. We’ll let you know when the renos are done and the beer is pouring once again.

A few NL events for you this week, too:

• Believe it or not, a few tickets for tonight’s St John’s BrewFest are still available, and if you don’t already have yours, you’re best served to grab one now. In addition to beers from Mill Street, Port Rexton, Quidi Vidi, Split Rock, Storm, Western Newfoundland, and YellowBelly, there is a good showing from the rest of the Atlantic Provinces, including New Brunswick’s Hammond River, Loyalist City, Maybee, TrailWay, and Yip Cider; PEI’s Gahan and Upstreet; Nova Scotia’s 2 Crows, Bad Apple, Big Spruce, Garrison, No Boats on Sunday, and Spindrift. Plus from (further) away, Blindman, Flying Monkeys, Half Hours on Earth, and Other Half. The full list is available here. And all attendees receive a code for the pre-sale for the St John’s Cider Fest, which is June 22nd and 23rd.

• For those wanting to meet up with other beer fans in the area, The Brewnettes Beer Appreciation Club are holding a bottle share next Thursday, April 26th at 7pm, at Common Ground on Harvey Rd. This is a BYOB event, where you can share your latest homebrew or a cool bottle you picked up while traveling or your current fave from around town, and talk with friendly folks who love beer as much as you!

• If this weekend’s BrewFest isn’t enough, the NLC’s Beer Expo is happening May 11 and 12th at the Delta Hotel. As it is an NLC event, most of the beer will be those currently available at the stores and/or available after the event, though Quidi Vidi will be debuting several small batch beers at the event. The full list is available here, to plan your attack. The ticket includes pub grub, and a $10 Taxi Voucher to get home safe. There is also a separate Saturday afternoon Tasting Panel from 5:30-7pm, with speakers tasting and discussing 9 products in a more relaxed setting. Tickets are available online, or at the Mile One Box Office.

Let’s jump into the rest of our region now. Not surprisingly, with the weather warming up, we’re seeing a steady increase in the beer release frequency, the patios of the region are being set up and enjoying a beer outside seems like a fine plan, and not the crazy idea my neighbour yelled at me for last week.

• Starting a ferry ride from Newfoundland in Nyanza on Cape Breton Island, we mentioned last week that Big Spruce had some big releases coming up and we weren’t kidding. They’ve clearly been busy preparing to make a splash for NS Craft Beer Week. As we mentioned (late) in our Friday Wrap-up last week, The Gose of Christmas Past is already pouring at the Sprucetique and tap accounts around the Province. This is a 3.8% ABV beer in the Gose style, of course, brewed with Indian Coriander and French Sea Salt back in December with Merit Brewing of Hamilton before being racked into Tequila barrels for 2 months of aging. Also released this week, to strong reactions of every stripe, is The Real McNeil a Red IPA that was brewed with our Province’s Premier, Stephen McNeil. Weighing in at 6.8% ABV and 48 IBUs, however bitter the beer actually tastes, it’s almost certainly not nearly as bitter as some of the public response to it. Seemingly forgotten is the open letter to the province owner Jeremy White penned last year, detailing many of the frustrating laws in place holding back the flourishing of small business, and is still actively pushing for changes in those. While some progress has been made on these issues, further improvements aren’t likely to come without education and engagement, which is the stated point of this exercise. And if it also yielded tasty beer? Well, that’s surely a bonus. If you can stomach it, you’ll find it in red cans featuring a typically masterful caricature of the Premier by Bruce MacKinnon at the private stores in Halifax and coming on April 30th to 35 select NSLC stores around the province. Probably only in Liberal ridings, wha? Meanwhile, those who’ve pledged never to buy Big Spruce beer again surely won’t care that the first batch of their incredibly popular Silver Tart Raspberry Kettle Sour is ready and will be available at the Sprucetique this coming Wednesday, April 24, before hitting the private stores in Halifax next Saturday.

• Speaking of next Saturday, fans of Big Spruce’s Ra Ra Rasputin Barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout are probably feeling the itch, knowing that it’s traditionally released around this time each year. But this year Jeremy White and the gang have upped the ante considerably. Yes, you’ll be able to buy the Ra Ra you know and love, aged in Whiskey Barrels from Glenora Distillery in Cape Breton. But you’ll also see a version aged in French Cognac barrels. And another in California Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. And another in good ol’ American Bourbon Barrels. And finally one that spent time in Nicaraguan Rum barrels. Yes, that’s five, count ’em FIVE different variations of Ra Ra Rasputin available for your dilection. Whether you’re an existing fan of Ra Ra Rasputin, a fan of big beers in general, or just BA-curious, we can vouch for all five of the variations. Have you ever done a bottle share? It’s a great way to try several beers without a serious financial commitment. Consider getting some friends together to split a set of 2018 Ra Ras and figure out which are your favorites before going back for more. Tasting the same beer with 5 different treatments can also be an excellent beer education experience that shows just how much influence a single variable (barrel type in this case) can influence otherwise identical base beer. These will be available a week from tomorrow, Saturday, April 28th, at the brewery and in private stores in Halifax! Some bottles of the 2017 vintage are still around if you want to do a comparison and some tap accounts may see the 2017 version on tap to open craft beer week!

• And lastly in Big Spruce news is the release of another annual spring tradition, Cerberus Double IPA. Brewed this year with Tatamagouche Brewing and Port Williams’ Sea Level Brewing, this is an organic beer whose recipe has been rejigged for 2018. Weighing in at 7.5% ABV, it’s described as “abundantly bitter and deeply aromatic,” with late-addition hops in “lip-smacking” quantities that produce a complex, yet balanced beer. Also new for this year is availability in cans. You’ll find them as of today at the private stores in Halifax and, we believe, at each of the participating breweries.

• Continuing with Tatamagouche Brewing, after more than a year’s hiatus, they’ve brought back Square One, their 6.2% ABV dry-hopped Saison. With a fairly simple grist made up mostly of Pilsner malt, with some Oats, Spelt, and Rye in there as well, it was bittered with Chinook to 32 IBUs, and dry-hopped with a blend of Citra, Hallertau Blanc and Amarillo, giving tons of fruity, citrusy goodness. Fermented with the New World Saison blend – which includes both Sacch and Brett – from Escarpment Labs, this year’s bottles have been bottle-conditioned to let the Brett funk develop further with time… so, buy some now to enjoy the hops, and cellar some to compare over the coming months! Don’t want to wait? Stillwell has a keg of this year’s batch AND one from the last batch, both of which will be tapped alongside one another today. For bottles, pick up yours at Tatabrew now, and at the private stores in the HRM next week.

• Halifax’s Garrison Brewing was among several breweries in the region to brew a beer with Angus Ross from Canadian Yeast producer Escarpment Labs and theirs is, we believe, the first to come ready. Country Road Farmhouse Ale was brewed with Honey from Wolfville’s Cosman & Whidden Honey and dry-hopped with modern German variety Huell Melon hops. Slightly funky from the use of the Brettanomyces-esque Saccharomyces strain known as Sacch Trois provided by Escarpment, and deliciously hoppy from the healthy dry hop, this is a refreshing beer at 6% ABV. In other Garrison news, their traditional spring seasonal maple beer has undergone a metamorphosis this year as Sugar Moon Maple Ale is now Sugar Moon Maple Porter! Featuring a base grist of Maritime Pale Ale, with Crystal,Chocolate and Amber Malts for color and character, it was hopped to 28 IBUs with Polaris. But the key ingredient, as always, is Maple Syrup from Sugar Moon Maple Farm in Earltown, NS. With dark and sweet flavors and an ABV of 6.3%, this is one to sip under a cold sugar moon as you anticipate the turn of Spring that will almost certainly happen any month now…

• Earlier this week, 2 Crows released another of their one-off, taproom-only beers, created by Assistant Brewer Miles Bishop on the brewery’s pilot system. Great Plains is a 6.2% ABV, 22 IBUs American Wheat Ale brewed with a high percentage of Wheat malt to help boost the mouthfeel, as well as provide a dough-like character to the beer. Hopped with Falconer’s Flight and Mandarina Bavaria to give a burst of citrus, it was fermented with wine yeast and Brett C, lending “subtle grape and pineapple notes, as well as a small amount of funk”. If there’s any left, it’ll be available for by-the-glass only at 2 Crows; stop in today to give it a try before it’s gone!

• Not too far away, at Good Robot, you can expect the return of Awesome Beer, Great Job!, an “Autumn Saison” originally released by the brewery back in 2016, next Thursday. At 6.4% ABV and in the low-20s for IBUs, it has notes of plum, banana, and burnt sugar. For next week’s Beta Brew, Frank Robb from the Lion’s Head helped design Clifford the Big Red Brew, an American Amber Ale. Aiming to have lots of malt character and low bitterness, they went with Pale malt, Red X, Vienna, Crystal 60 L, and a “secret malt” in the grist, and threw in a little Green Bullet to get to about 18 IBUs. It should come in at about 4.5% ABV, and will be available on tap next Tuesday.

• It’s another second Friday (arguably, isn’t it always?), which means it’s time for another entry in Upstreet‘s Neon Friday, a series of hoppy beers. This week gives us West Coast Session IPA, a 5.5% ABV, 65 IBUs golden-coloured brew that was hopped solely with Falconer’s Flight. Some Melanoidin was included in the mash to provide a “nice, round malt finish”, complemented by the citrus character from the FF. You can find this one today at Upstreet and the Craft Beer Corner, and a couple of kegs may even be heading to Halifax. Upstreet is also releasing a limited number of bottles of Bourbon Barrel-Aged Wee Heavy with Spruce Tips, the next beer in their barrel-aged series, Million Acres. Head brewer Hogie made a concentrated spruce tip tea, which he blended with the 9.5% ABV beer at bottling, to help balance that massive malt character from the base beer. Bottles are available at both Upstreet and the CBC (the beer CBC, not the other one), and a small amount will also turn up in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

• If you live near/in, or are passing through Chester, Nova Scotia, drop by Tanner & Co. Brewing to give their new Saison a try. The grist was made up of Pilsner, Vienna, Munich and Wheat malt, with the wort being hopped in several stages with East Kent Goldings (a dry-hop addition was made with the same hop as well). Fermented with the lovely French Saison yeast, giving aromatics of pepper and lemon, the EKG additions also lend some earthy, spicy notes to the beer. The brewery describes the entire experience as having “flavours of lemon, honey, cereal, and roasted pear, with a dry finish”, which is definitely more eloquent than we would may have come up with! It’s available right now, and weighs in at 6.8% ABV and 34 IBUs.

• A blast from the not-so-distant past is back at Spindrift Brewing in Dartmouth’s Burnside Industrial Park. After brewing stints at Gahan Harbourside in Halifax and consulting to help get The Good Word Brewing up and running in Atlanta, Georgia, Kyle Jeppesen is back where he spent time as Quality Manager and Assistant Brewer earlier in his career. With a new brewer in the fold there are bound to be some changes and we’ve been advised that though Spindrift will remain a primarily lager brewery, some ales are definitely going to creep into full production. If you’re in attendance at the NS Craft Beer Week Full House event you’ll have a chance at a first taste of two new brews, the core Hurricane IPA and the seasonal Wheel House Radler. Look for more info on those in coming weeks. We’ll keep an ear to the ground for any other new brews or tweaks to existing brews as time goes on.

• Meanwhile, Steve Crane, Spindrift’s Assistant Brewer and Admiral of the Seventh Wave Pilot Batch Fleet has a new brew available today that he’s calling Fill Yer Boots. Born of a deal with Mother Nature to hasten the arrival of Spring (we think you might’ve been played there, Steve), it’s a lovely and light 4.0% ABV wheat-based beer bittered to a barely-there-but-you’d-miss-it-if-it-wasn’t 6.6 IBU and backed with a serious Blood Orange kick. As with all entries in the Seventh Wave series, this one is available for fills only at the brewery.

• The PEI Brewing Co. has brought us their latest IPA and After Hours entry, Snowbird Juicy IPA (just in time for most of Canada’s “snowbirds” to arrive back to give it a taste). This 6% ABV, light-coloured beer was brewed with the type of grist – Pale malt, Wheat, and Oats – that you just know will allow the hops to be the star of the show. The hops chosen for this one were El Dorado and Ella, giving big aromas of tropical fruit and floral/spice, with low bitterness in the finish. It’s available on tap at all the Gahan House locations (including Gahan House – Riverside, which just opened in downtown Fredericton earlier this week), and in cans in PEI and New Brunswick.

• And speaking of Gahan, we managed to track down the very busy Spencer Gallant, who has been splitting his time brewing at the Gahan locations in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, to find our what’s on next on tap at each location. Let’s start in Fredericton at the Riverside, with the first two beers brewed on their 5 BBL (600 litre) DME system debuting next week. The first is a 5.2% hoppy lager, with a malt bill of Belgian Pilsner malt and Oats, and features loads of Mosaic, Citra, and Columbus for hopping to about 30 IBUs, and plenty of flavour and character. The second beer is a 6.0% ABV mixed-grain IPA, with barley, oats, rye, and rice, featuring Azacca and Simcoe for a 45 IBU bitterness and flavour. Down Highway 7, you’ll find Gahan Port City, where Gallant brewed up a New England-style IPA, featuring Pale Ale and Wheat malts, and oats for a creamy and smooth mouthfeel, and iconic haziness. Using Vermont Ale from Escarpment, and generously hopped with Amarillo, Vic Secret and Palisade. This 6.8% ABV beer will be debuting next week as well.

• Looks like Loyalist City is giving us their first new beer in some time, after weeks of brewing and packaging several of their core brands. Refraction is a Session IPA, a style that head brewer Mark McGraw has been working on tirelessly to pack in plenty of flavour and aroma, while keeping the mouthfeel from becoming too thin, always an issue with low-ABV beers. Well, low-ABV this beer is (4%), and with Perle and Citra used in the boil, and two dry-hop additions of Vic Secret, expect “an intense aroma of tropical fruit, with some awesome pineapple and passion fruit notes that are accompanied by moderate citrus aromas of grapefruit and tangerine”. Yellow and hazy, with a medium-light body, you can find it on tap only, at your favourite Loyalist City account.

• We’ve got the details on the latest release in the Something Different series from Annapolis Cider Company, which is coming out today. Mixed Berry & Pear is a 7% ABV sparkling cider that features a blend of strawberry, black currant, and Bosc pear juices with their signature dry cider. The black currants help darken the colour of the cider, as well as add tannins, resulting in a medium-bodied cider with a rose colour, and “vibrant notes of ripe strawberries and subtle hints of aromatic pear”. Drop by to get your fill, where $0.50 from each will help support The Ross Creek Centre for the Arts.

• Fredericton’s TrailWay is taking a breather from the hoppy beers – for a moment, at least – with the release of Beans, their latest Coffee Stout. Returning to their earlier days by brewing what they describe as basically the same recipe as their Whitney Coffee Stout from 2014, Whitney Coffee is still featured in the brew, with a “slightly-adjusted technique of adding the coffee” to create a stronger coffee aroma. It comes in at 6.3% ABV and is available as of today, at the brewery, on tap and in cans. And look for their hugely popular Hu Jon Hops in the fridges of the four private stores in HRM in the next few days.

• Back to Nova Scotia, Annapolis Brewing Company has been brewing up a storm on their new 5 BBL (600 litre) system, preparing themselves for the warmer months, and the opening of their taproom next month. A 1500 square foot location, it will have seating for 60 people, and feature 20 taps (including 4 for nitro beers!), for a showcase of their own lineup, plus guest beers. They will be offering growler fills, 355mL stubby bottles (their first packaged product), and kegs to go, as well as merchandise. They are currently looking for craft beer and hospitality fans to join their taproom team on both a full- and part-time basis, so email them today! And look to their social media (Tw, FB, IG) Sunday for the fun as they join with the crew from Horton Ridge for a collaborative brew day, with all Maritime-grown malt and hops, to be released in time for the Craft Beer Farmers Market in Annapolis Royal, which opens for the season May 13th. We’ll have lots more details on the Market, and the beer, next month.

• As yet another school year starts to wind to an end, it’s the perfect time for some news from Windsor’s Schoolhouse Brewing. First, Schoolhouse is the latest brewery to bring in mobile canning company Craft Coast Canning to fill 5 pallets worth of cans with their Principal Ale. You’ll see these in NSLC locations across the province by the end of the month with a pre-release event scheduled at the brewery for this coming Tuesday, April 24th. Brewer Leigh Davison has also been working on some tweaks to a couple of beers, with both Skratch Plaskett and Vice Principal IPA getting recipe re-works. The Skratch Plaskett now features organic Horton Ridge Wheat and Pilsner malts and is heavily hopped with Galena and New Zealand Summer hops; you’ll be able to try the new formulation of this “slightly hazy, subtly fruity, refreshing and easy drinking ‘Festival Ale'” in early May. And already on the market, and quickly becoming the brewery’s best seller, the latest batch of Vice Principal IPA has twice the hops of previous batches, with a heavy dose of Simcoe leading the way and Amarillo also in the mix yielding a piney and juicy hop character with “just the right amount” of bitterness. At 5.6% ABV it comes in a bit higher than previous batches, no longer fitting the Session IPA label. Regardless of classification, if it sounds like the kind of IPA you like to drink we recommend looking for it at the brewery.

• Last year, British Columbia’s Central City Brewing celebrated Canada’s 150th birthday by releasing Across the Nation, a variety of collaboration beers brewed with all ten provinces and two territories, each represented by one of their local breweries. Released as a 12-pack, it was extremely popular and the beers sold out quickly, and as a result, they’ve – luckily for us! – decided to do it all again for 2018! With this year’s 12-pack (which will be in 355 mL cans this time around) scheduled to be released in May, let’s get into what our regional breweries who were selected to participate have brewed up!

• New Brunswick (TrailWay) – Keeping true to form, the TrailWay folks brewed up something pale and hoppy with Central City, an American IPA named Three Beasts. The name refers to three of TW’s favourite hops to brew with, Citra, Mosaic and Galaxy, all of which were used in copious amounts. As with most of their beers, expect one with low bitterness, yet plenty of tropical fruit in the aroma and taste. And don’t worry if you’re anxious to try this one and don’t get to purchase a 12-pack… TW has assured us they will be brewing the same beer on their own system in the future, to be released sometime in June.

• Newfoundland (YellowBelly) – Brewmaster Liam McKenna of YellowBelly made the long trip West to Central City, and brewed up Me Ol’ Trout, a Cream Ale. Partially based on a previous collaboration McKenna had brewed with Australia’s Top Shed Brewery, this version is a new take on the style, with plenty of Mosaic hops used to keep you excited. At 4.8% ABV, 18 IBU, the Newfoundland-brewed release is currently available at the brewery and Takeaway shop, and in 1 litre bottles at select NLCs.

• Nova Scotia (2 Crows) – Jeremy Taylor travelled to Central City to brew Coast 2 Coast, an “Ancient Grain Rustic Saison”. Borrowing off an idea from one of his earliest small batch beers at 2 Crows, Sunny Days – a Brett Saison brewed with sunflower seeds – Jeremy concocted the recipe, taking a grist that included Flaked Rye and Spelt, and added a pretty-healthy percentage of malted sunflower seeds. It wasn’t long before everyone involved regretted that decision, however, as we can now confirm that sunflower seeds are a b**** to brew with. Let’s just leave it at that, emotions are still too high to get into details. Regardless, the resulting wort was fermented with Wallonian Farmhouse II (from The Yeast Bay), with Sacch Trois being pitched at roughly 60% attenuation as well. The goal is a 6.6% ABV beer with an “earthy, restrained ester profile, and a touch of rustic fruitiness”.

• PEI (Upstreet) – Moving from hops to Belgian to Lager, Upstreet certainly didn’t go with what most people think of when they hear the “L” word, with their collaboration, Singing Sands, being entirely different. Described as a “Salted Caramel Lager”, a high amount of Medium Crystal malt was used in the mash, with brown sugar and lactose added to the beer to up the sweetness even further. But they didn’t stop there! Salt, vanilla, and Cholaca (a pure liquid cacao) were also added, post-fermentation, giving you an idea of the flavours and aromas you can expect to experience with this beer. Upstreet plans on brewing their own batch of Singing Sands for a mid-May, draft-only release in Charlottetown.

If you’re wondering when and where all the Nova Scotia Craft Beer Week events will be, look for a separate post on those this coming week. Until then, here’s what’s happening in the next few days:

• This Sunday, April 22nd, is Earth Day, and Picaroons is celebrating with the release of likely their most popular seasonal, Dooryard. Rather than just making this 4.5% ABV American Wheat Ale available to the masses, however, they’re holding a special Launch Party that involves more than just drinking beer. Starting at 11 am, you’ll be taking part in Clean Up Fredericton, where you’re encouraged to pick up trash around the city, before returning to the Picaroons Roundhouse for lunch. Then, at 2 pm, there’ll be plenty of live music thanks to the Flourish Festival, which will continue until the Roundhouse closes up shop for the day at 6 pm. Of course, beer will be available throughout the day, and Monks & Jonesie Gastro Truck will be on hand if you get hungry again. Your entry fee is by donation.

While I’ve called this blog the Atlantic Canada Beer Blog, I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t had enough Newfoundland content which is why I’m very excited about this post.  Chris Conway is a beer enthusiast and home-brewer from Newfoundland currently pursuing a PhD in the history of technology at the University of Toronto.  In his spare time he blogs about the history of Newfoundland Beer.  I recently exchanged emails with Chris in order to complete the following Q & A:

Atlantic Canada Beer Blogger (ACBB): How did you develop your interest in the history of Newfoundland Beer?
Chris Conway (CC):  Primarily it developed from my love of both beer and history. As long as I have been drinking I have had a desire to try every different beer that I could, which, in Newfoundland, wasn’t a whole lot. I’ve always been fascinated by the different beers with Newfoundland imagery that were available at corner stores and gas stations and how they all had very loyal cult followings. I didn’t really notice that these were local beers until I got away from the province, especially when I noticed (at a brew pub in Montreal – Le Réservoir) an india pale ale. It was the first I’d heard of the style, which was unheard of in Newfoundland (even though this was years ago, there are still no regular IPAs in Newfoundland)! After that I was curious why there was a beer in Newfoundland called “India Beer,” considering it had none of the same flavours. The idea sort of stuck at the back of my mind as I learned about more beer and travelled around other places. One day when I decided to search around on the internet for a definitive reason for the name of Newfoundland’s “India Beer.” To my surprise, there was very little in the way of an answer on the internet about Newfoundland beer except for a little postulation from surprised tourists (is this an IPA?!) and an article in the Newfoundland Liquor Corporations’ Occasions Magazine. Even more surprisingly, I found many comments from fans of particular brands that had no idea many of these Newfoundland brands were brewed by either Molson or Labatt. At that point my inner historian had enough and I started digging through archives and old magazines (along with bottle collections) to find some answers and to make the answers that I did find as clear and available as possible.
ACBB:  Tell me about your website.
CC:  The site was originally designed around a timeline that I put together from the Encyclopaedia of Newfoundland and my collection of Newfoundland beer labels. The main goal was to illustrate that many Newfoundland beers were owned by either Molson or Labatt and that, back before 1962, they had been products of three different independent Newfoundland breweries. As I kept researching I started a “research blog” where I added more old retired Newfoundland beer brands and pictures of their labels. Soon the research blog became the main site and I was researching everything from old brands to finding obscure advertisements . After I noticed a lot of traffic coming from international sources (largely people wondering what to drink when in Newfoundland), I decided to put a little “Newfoundland Beer Brands” post together which outlines which beers are owned by which big brewery now and to give them a little introduction to the craft beer scene in Newfoundland (including links to the three craft breweries Newfoundland currently has). I’ve continued to work on adding new content to the site discussing more interesting “breweriana” that I find and telling other historical stories.
ACBB:  Tell me about Newfoundland’s operating craft Breweries:  Quidi Vidi, Storm Brewing and Yellowbelly Brewing.
CC:  I absolutely love craft beer and the craft brewing industry, so for the last few years I lived there I was a big champion of all three Newfoundland craft breweries. Every time I return home I try to drink Newfoundland craft pretty much exclusively, so I’m still a big booster for all three breweries. Quidi Vidi was always very close to home – literally it was only a few minutes from my parents’ house – so I always used to drink a lot of their beers. I loved them partially because they are tasty, partially because they are the only ones who sell widely available 6- and 12-packs of craft beer, and partially because if you buy them directly from the brewery you get a free dozen every fifth dozen you buy! They produce mostly beers that a fermented at lower temperatures (Lager, Light, Eric’s Cream Ale, and the legendary Iceberg which is made with real iceberg water), but they do have a few Ales including their Honey Brown and, my favourite, 1892.
Storm is a little more elusive. I have a post discussing some of my thoughts on them, so I won’t go into much detail here, but they are the most North American looking of the breweries in Newfoundland. Storm is more an ale-focused brewery than Quidi Vidi. In recent years Storm hasn’t really made anything different from their four main brands (Irish Red, Island Gold, Coffee Porter, and Raspberry Wheat). Unfortunately their small production, lack of a visible brewery (it’s apparently in Mount Pearl somewhere), and lack of any social media presence make them a pretty elusive brewery to find out about! Their beers rotate seasonally, though I’m not exactly sure when either one of them is in season. They sell in 6-pack “long necks” and 650 ml “bomber” bottles. They usually deliver to the Liquor Stores and a few select corner stores on Thursday, and usually they sell out over the weekend, so sometimes finding their beer can be a bit of a chore. But often worth it!
Finally, Yellowbelly is a relatively recent addition to the scene, acting as St. John’s brewpub and also doing some distribution to the Liquor Store. It’s young enough for me to remember going down as soon as they opened to try all of their beers! They have filled in some important gaps in Newfoundland’s current beer line-up. They make a stout, a light American-style wheat, a hoppy Pale Ale, and a red ale. That might sound pretty typical for mainland standards (especially by American ones), but prior to their opening these some of these styles were not really available anywhere in the provence (Guinness was the only stout and there were no real pale ales)! They sell larger format bottles at the pub, plus at some Newfoundland Liquor Corporation locations. Personally, I think that the brewpub is beautiful and certainly one of the nicer places to go for a pint in St. John’s (if not anywhere).
ACBB:  What would you describe as the most noteworthy events that took place in Newfoundland’s brewing history?
CC:  I guess I’ll go over a little of the timeline in four big events: prohibition, the 1962 sales, the beer strike, and the craft movement. Like most places, Newfoundland struggled with prohibition in the early 20th century, which closed out a good number of brewers like the Lindberg Brewing Company. The ones who survived did so by making “aerated waters,” basically turning the brewery into a soda making plant. After the prohibition experiment was over, three breweries, the Bennett Brewing Company, the Newfoundland Brewery, and the Bavarian Brewing Company, emerged as the big players and made some iconic beers (more on those later). The next big event was in 1962. In 1962 the big three Canadian Brewers, Carling-O’Keefe, Molson, and Labatt bought one of the breweries apiece and used them as their operations in Newfoundland. They kept on some of the old brands and brought in a few new ones. (See – linked already above – for more detail.) The the credit of Molson and Labatt, they still operated regional breweries in St. John’s to this day which keep brewing jobs in Newfoundland. So while the independent breweries did disappear the breweries themselves and the role they played in the community never did.
The beer strike of 1985 is young enough to still be remembered by many Newfoundlanders and I’ve written it up on the blog. The short story is that one brewery had some labour issues which prompted the other breweries (not the other unions!) to lock out their workers. This lasted so long that the government had to import American can beer, which most Newfoundlanders hated. When the strike eventually was resolved the cheep American beer was sold off. I think that the beer strike had an impact on the tastes of Newfoundlander’s, who to this day often prefer lighter tasting beer, but I can’t really prove it!
The final noteworthy event is in 1996, when both Quidi Vidi and Storm started brewing beer. For the first time in many years beer was brewed independently in Newfoundland which, for most nationalistic Newfoundlanders, ought to be a point of pride. I’m pretty sure the history of most of North American beer is reflected in Newfoundland – through the prohibition movement, the consolidation of the big breweries, and the emergence of craft beer – so I think it’s an interesting for anyone interested in beer history and the craft beer movement in general to look at Newfoundland as a reflection of the broader trends.
ACBB:  Tell me about some of the brews created by macros that are exclusive to NFLD.
CC:  I’ve got a post about this, but I’ll summarize it here.
There are five: Black Horse, India Beer, Dominion Ale, Jockey Club, and Blue Star. O’Keefe’s Extra Old Stock was around for a long time too, though that disappeared in the mid-2000s (though I’ve heard it lives on in on the prairies). “Created” isn’t really the right word, inherited is more correct. These beers are very much like the Alexander Keith’s brand in Nova Scotia. They were once brewed by local brewers but when they were bought by bigger Canadian interests they were inherited and, depending on their market success, continued. Like Keith’s, most of these don’t have a lot of marking letting you know who brews them now and some people get the impression they aren’t as close to Canadian, Blue, Budweiser, and Coors as they really are. I call any beer that’s actually owned by a big macro brewery but that harkens back to a smaller brewery (like Keiths or Rolling Rock) a “nostalgia-macro.”
Molson inherited India Beer from the Newfoundland Brewery and Dominion Ale from Bennett Brewing (it’s still sold as Bennett Dominion Ale). Molson also inherited Black Horse, a Newfoundland favourite, from another brewery – but not a Newfoundland one – it was a Carling-O’Keefe brand. I’ve written a fair bit about Black Horse largely because its so typically associated with Newfoundland, but is really a beer dating back to 1811! Black Horse and India Beer were the beers that I used to see the most at concerts and both have a fairly strong following in the downtown scene. The Molson brands are more obviously Molson brands because they use a simple Molson cap for the bottles! The Labatt brands, Jockey Club and Blue Star, both came from the Bavarian Brewing Company. Blue Star is another cult favourite, though, from what I’ve noticed, it’s more of a rural (“out around the bay”) beer compared to the urban (“un past the overpass” – St. John’s) India and Black Horse. Each of these five beers has a following, though, honestly, in a blind taste test (I recently did two!) it’s really quite hard to tell them apart based on appearance or taste. There was another brewery on the western part of the island – it had several names over the years – that you can find out more about in this post .
ACBB:  What would you describe as the major differences between NFLD beer culture and the mainland (bottle shapes, tastes, etc.)?  How has Newfoundland beer culture changed over the years?
CC:  The first thing most people notice when they come from the mainland is our shorter-neck bottle. I’ve gotten so much traffic on my blog from people looking for the answer to that question I’ve written up a short history. Taste-wise most people from the mainland who know beer (beer geeks, nerds, snobs – whatever) seem to be pretty disappointed when they see the range of beer options available in Newfoundland. Even the craft breweries tend to be a little timid when approaching Newfoundland’s historically very limited tastes in beer. There aren’t many flavourful beers here at all, even compared to the rest of Canada, and none of it is exported outside the province. Newfoundland’s beer culture has always been a little more “functional” than most other parts of the country, so taste is having a little renaissance here now. I was very happy to see Quidi Vidi make an British IPA this summer, the first IPA to be made commercially in the province for many years (there aren’t even any imported IPAs from other places in Canada or the US), and that Yellowbelly has really started to try making styles in their seasonal collection that are usually not seen in bars around (a Hefeweizen and a “Ginger” Ale, an Irish Red with Wild Yeast – no ginger). In Newfoundland’s past, English-style stouts and porters used to thrive, so it would be nice to see more historical English influence back in the province and, with the craft beer boom in the United States slowly propagating thorough the bigger provinces now, I’m hopeful that some more American-style IPAs and ingenuity will be soon either imported or, preferably, brewed in Newfoundland. It’s time to get some hops on the rock.
ACBB:  What NFLD beers do you miss most while in Toronto?
CC:  Newfoundland beers are a little bitter-sweet for me now that I’m in Toronto. I think it’s important to support the three Newfoundland craft breweries, but, with access to more Canadian, European, and American breweries in Ontario, the beers that are in Newfoundland feel a little tame by craft standards. I do miss Quidi Vidi’s 1892 and I always try to keep a small stash of it in my fridge up here. 1892 was the year of the St. John’s fire where most of the town burned down and Quidi Vid has kept with that historical note in brewing it with the ingredients that might have been available at that time (English Malts and German Hops – Saaz if I remember correctly). It’s a really unique beer and really a taste of home for me. The Duke’s Own is another one that I really miss, but part of that is likely that I miss drinking pints of it with friends and family at the Duke of Duckworth. The Duke, now famous for its staring role on the Republic of Doyle, used to brew it themselves but now have Storm brew it for them. It’s really one of the best English Ales to have never been served on cask!
ACBB:  You’re a home brewer; tell me about the home brewing scene in NFLD.
CC:  Most people that I know who homebrew in Newfoundland do so in large part because they cannot get many different styles of beer locally. A selection of stouts and Belgian-inspired (doubles, triples) beers are pretty much impossible to get in Newfoundland (though some of this might be changing with the “Beer Thief” ordering club ). For IPAs or even a hoppy pale ale, well, there you’re out of luck. So, for many folks, home brewing is the only option (aside from the occasional smuggled Boneshaker IPA or Twice as Mad Tom DIPA from Ontario). Fortunately, St. John’s has two locations of a great local brew store, Brewery Lane (they also run a web store ). Both locations are excellent sources of hops, malts, equipment for brewing, and, most importantly, good advice. I’m not aware of any brewing clubs in Newfoundland outside of my circle of friends, though they likely exist given how quickly certain varieties of hops sell out at Brewery Lane. For my part I’m looking forward to my trip home at Christmas to try some of my friends’ newest brews and to try out a collaboration brew I made awhile back with a friend for Christmas: a chocolate clementine imperial stout.
ACBB:  Do you have any plans to work in the brewing industry after graduating and if so in what capacity?  Do you plan on returning to NFLD to work?
CC:  This is what everyone’s been asking me since I’ve started this blog! Lots of people, when they notice that all I ever talk about is the current Ontario beer scene, the history of Newfoundland brewing, and home-brewing, start to wonder why I’m not in the industry. Honestly, right now it’s really hard to say what my plans are. I really do love my “day job” research and I’m really passionate about continuing it. But, where history is one of those fields where job competition is tight and job openings are few and far between, I like to keep my options open in many different directions. I have a running fantasy of opening a small (American influenced) brewpub in St. John’s to make some big, exciting beers there, but that’s -really- just a fantasy at this point. For now, brewing history is a big passion of mine that fits well with both my academic and brewing interests. Plus, I’ve still got big backlog of material, “new” old labels, and topics that I’ve been working on getting blog posts written about. The history of brewing is pretty underdeveloped as I see it and the beauty of academic freedom is that I can continue my professional research and researching brewing history at the same time. For now I’m really happy with remaining a part of the consuming and enjoying side of the beer industry.
Thanks for the questions and the interest in Newfoundland’s Brewing History!
Newfoundland Beer History also has a Facebook page and Chris has to Twitter accounts:  a personal account ( @groulxsome  ) and one that provides updates related to the blog ( @NLBeerHistory ).

Chris Conway is a native of Newfoundland and a current PhD candidate at the University of Toronto who has created a website dedicated to tracking the history of brewing in Newfoundland aptly titled Newfoundland Beer History.

The main section of the website contains timelines and labels from brewers’ past.

The research blog section of the website is updates of recent posts related to brewing history and also has overviews of brewers past and present with their related brands and timelines.

There is also a related Tumblr account with a hilarious poster for Oland’s Export Ale (would love to know what year this is, far before the term politically correct was invented).

Definitely a site worth checking out for history and / or beer enthusiasts.