Monday, 12 January 2015

Brewing in 1960’s Canada – sales by type

This is a bit of a departure for me. I’ve not really written about Canadian brewing history before.

I’ve be prompted by an old post I stumbled across announcing the arrival of a new book, filled with lovely numbers. That book was “Brewing in Canada” and for almost six years it’s been sitting on top of a bookshelf unread.

Which is a real shame as it does have some particularly good numbers. We’re going to start with the ones related to sales by type – in this case Ale, Lager or Stout.

But first something general about Canadian beer brands:

“Many an old-timer laments the disappearance of this ale or that lager, and becomes nostalgic about the glories of some fondly-remembered brew, when he is really mourning the passing of his youth. But in answer to the plaint that "beer's all the same these days, from one end of the country to another," it is remarkable how well served Canada is in its variety of beers. In all there are 119 brands of ale, lager, stout, porter and bock brewed across the nation, ranging from light taste to heavier, from the most delicate hint of the hops to fairly bitter, varying in body and flavor.

Although there are about a dozen so-called "national" brews there are another 107 brewed to the individual taste of particular regions, familiar brands which have won local loyalty over many years — or generations.”
"Brewing in Canada", Brewers Association of Canada, 1965, page 38.

Well-served for variety with just 119 brands of beer? That sound like a tiny number to me. In the 1980’s, for example, there were over 750 brands in Belgium, a far, far smaller country in terms of both size and population.

It seems that drinkers’ favourites, on the other hand, were very diverse across the different provinces.

“Clearly marked preferences are discernible in different areas. Maritimers are ale drinkers, although some more so than others. The highest popularity enjoyed by lager among the Maritime Provinces is in Nova Scotia, which splits 82.3% ale, 17.2% lager, leaving a tiny .5% for stout.

Newfoundland, as usual, has its own pattern of doing things, and differs from the three Maritime Provinces in being predominantly a lager fancier.

Quebec drinks 95.5% ale, and here too you find the largest proportion of porter and stout — 1.2% — consumed by sturdy adherents of the dark brews.

Ontario is 64.4% ale vs. 34.9% lager, standing as the ale bastion against the West. From Ontario to the Pacific is lager-drinking country, the highest proportion of ale consumption being in Manitoba, with 4.1%.”
"Brewing in Canada", Brewers Association of Canada, 1965, pages 38 - 39.

The biggest surprise for me is that in French-speaking Quebec overwhelmingly Ale was drunk. That Ale was more popular in the East and Lager in the West makes sense. There was the same pattern in the USA, though Lager became supreme everywhere after WW II as the East Coast Ale tradition faded.

But overall it’s crazy how different the proportions were in different provinces. I can’t ever remember seeing a country so split by region. Is that telling us something about Canada?

“For the country as a whole, however, there has been little change in the ratio of ale vs. lager, as the table on this page indicates. (Figures on this subject have only been collected since 1957) If anything, there has been a slight trend toward lager.”
"Brewing in Canada", Brewers Association of Canada, 1965, page 39.

Here’s the accompanying table:

Consumption of Ale, Lager, Porter and Stout as a Percentage of Total Consumption
Ale Lager Porter & Stout
% % %
1957 59.4 39.7 0.9
1958 58.6 40.5 0.9
1959 59.0 40.1 0.9
1960 58.8 40.4 0.8
1961 58.3 40.9 0.8
1962 58.8 40.4 0.8
1963 58.4 40.8 0.8

I reckon Canada must have been the last country outside Europe where a majority of beer was top-fermented. I’m amazed at how high the percentage of Ale still was even into the 1960’s.

A comparison with the USA shows how well Ale had done in Canada:

“The United States pattern is very similar to that of our own Western provinces. The 1958 U.S. Census of Manufacturers (the latest available) showed that 97.1% of the beer brewed in the United States was lager. Only 2.8% was ale and .1% other types of malt beverages.”
"Brewing in Canada", Brewers Association of Canada, 1965, page 39.

Of course, the figures would look different today, as the vast majority of beer from America’s new breweries is top-fermenting. Even so, I would be surprised if Ale made up much more than 10% of sales.

The UK was still very much a top-fermenting country back then:

“In the United Kingdom the pattern is more like Eastern Canada except that more stout and less lager is consumed. In 1962 It is estimated that 89% of the beer consumed was ale, 8.5% stout and only 2.5% lager.”
"Brewing in Canada", Brewers Association of Canada, 1965, page 39.

That actually constitutes quite a surge is Lager sales. In 1960 it had only a meagre 1% share.

Next time we’ll be looking at sales by package.


Gary Gillman said...

Ron, well-taken, however the ale and lagers were quite similar in palate by the 1960's. You tasted a couple of the ales during your visit here, one was Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale, and had the same impression. The distinction therefore was more apparent than real. True, ales were somewhat more hopped than today, but the lagers were too.

The initial quote about people not recollecting well the beers of their youth is interesting, kind of defensive, I'd say, and not justified when one considers that cold-conditioning and filtration had become the norm for ales by the 20's. Some of the beers replaced would have had character, and some were bottle-conditioned. IMO this is the modern industrial zeitgeist, not wishing to acknowledge the changes that had occurred.


Bryan said...

Is that telling us something about Canada?

It tells you about where Canadians came from. The eastern provinces were the first settled, and were settled by the French (Quebec) & English (everywhere else); it should be of no surprise that the English brewing traditions dominate - especially when you consider that France lost Quebec to the English in 1759, meaning that French influences disappeared at that time.

The West was settled by Europeans much later; mostly in the mid-to-late 1800's, and mostly by people from northern and eastern Europe. I grew up in the west, and even in the 1980's it wasn't uncommon to find yourself in small towns where the main language spoken was German, or Ukrainian, or Norwegian. To too surprisingly, the brewing traditions of the old country came along with the old language and food.

Korev said...

I can recommend Ontario Beer by Alan McLeod & Jordan St. John - was given it as an Xmas Pressy - a good read