My Kind of Beer with Chris Goddard
Canada is turning 150 years old this year and it seems that everyone and their uncle is doing something to pay tribute to this milestone – I am not immune. But the thing is, beer has been apart of Canada before Canada was even a glint in the Queen’s eye. In fact, many of our big breweries pre-date confederation and some of them still have original family members involved. So let’s take a look at our rich brewing history shall we?
SPRUCE BEER — A version of this was served by the St. Lawrence Iroquoians to Jacques Cartier on his maiden voyage to their settlements along the shores of the St. Lawrence River; it was a simple, yet life-saving tea brewed using young spruce shoots. Rich with vitamin C, this brew helped stave off scurvy which was plaguing the sailors. It worked so well that spruce beer became a staple of a sailor’s life — though, like with many things that sailors touch, it only took a brief while for them to figure out how to ferment it and make one of the first distinctly Canadian styles of beer. Some nonalcoholic versions exist (mostly in Quebec) but occasionally you will find a craft brewery that has experimented with a batch or two.
MOLSON BREWERY – You simply can’t write about beer in Canada’s history without giving the Molson Brewery its fair love. Founded in 1786, it’s not only Canada’s oldest brewery but it’s also North America’s oldest brewery (America’s oldest brewery is Yuengling – founded in 1829) and one of the oldest companies in North America. They have seen a lot of change over those years but through it all there has been someone from the Molson family involved for almost all of those 231 years — and that is pretty darn cool.
ALEXANDER KEITH’S BREWERY — Founded in Halifax in 1820, the Keith’s Brewery is also one of the oldest breweries in North America. Keith was trained by his uncle to be a brewmaster in England before setting sail for Nova Scotia in 1817 at the age of 22. We all know him as a brewer but he spent quite a chunk of his life in politics as the Mayor of Halifax.
LABATT BREWING COMPANY & CARLING BREWERY — I don’t mean to lump them together but they do share quite a few things in common. Both John Labatt and Thomas Carling got their start as farmers in London, Ontario, both opened their breweries in the 1840s and both grew their businesses to great heights. Labatt has managed to live on and still brews in London but Carling did not fare as well. It was swallowed up by Canadian Breweries Limited in the early 1900s and eventually became Carling O’Keefe.
MOOSEHEAD BREWERY — Founded in the year of confederation itself — 1867 — by Susannah Oland and her husband John (though she did all the work). The founding recipe of the brewery was a “Brown October Ale” which she first created in her garden shed in their backyard. Six generations later, Moosehead remains Canada’s oldest independent brewery and still boasts Oland family members at the helm.