Sunday, 18 January 2015

Brewing in 1960’s Canada – on and off sales

We’re continuing our slowly rake the leaves from the lawn of 1960’s Canadian brewing. Now we’re going to have a look at on and off sales.

You’ll remember from last time that when prohibition was repealed, many provinces didn’t allow on sales at all. Some restrictions remained until after WW II.

From "On-Premise" to "Off"
Between the two World Wars, only in Quebec were beer, wine and spirits for sale for consumption on the premises. Newfoundland, which was not in Confederation at that time, by 1935 had licensed outlets for the sale of beer, wine and spirits. Today such outlets exist in all provinces.

This has obviously played its part in the trend from draught to packaged beer, because the new bars don't serve draught. At the same time the great increase in home construction in Canada has meant more entertaining at home by Canadians. The advent of the "recreation room", the family room, the television room, the workshop, has meant that Canadians spend more time at home, follow their hobbies there, enjoy themselves there. This has meant that a greater proportion of beer is consumed at home than in licensed premises.

Figures for consumption on and off licensed premises are available for only three provinces, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Manitoba. The following table shows beer consumed on premises as a percentage of total consumption in these three provinces.

Nova Scotia Ontario Manitoba
% % %
1949 n.a. 51 58
1950 n.a. 50.6 59.3
1951 n.a. 50.9 59.4
1952 34.7 49.5 58.7
1953 35.4 47.8 58.6
1954 36.5 47 59.3
1955 38.6 45.7 58.7
1956 38.5 44.3 56.2
1957 37 43.7 52.7
1958 36.6 44.5 53.1
1959 37.6 42.1 52.5
1960 36.1 41.5 51.2
1961 35.7 41.1 49.7
1962 34.4 40.2 49.1
1963 38.2(1) 39.8 47.6
(1) Increase probably due to issuance of more licences.
"Brewing in Canada", Brewers Association of Canada, 1965, page 42.

The trend of declining on sales has been repeated all over the western world since WW II. Will it ever stop? I guess it has to. There must be a base level below which sales can fall no more. Mustn’t there?

Do people really spend more time at home than they used to? I certainly do. When I was younger I’d be down the pub most days. Now it’s rarely more than once a week, unless I’m on holiday.

By comparing the figures for on sales and draught sales, it’s clear that a considerable amount of bottled beer was being drunk in bars. For example, in 1963 17% of sales in Manitoba were draught, but 47.6% on premises. The gap wasn’t quite so big in Nova Scotia and Ontario: 18% draught, 38.2% on sales; and 23% draught, 39.8% on sales.

What next? Bottles, perhaps.


Gary Gillman said...

Just a few points of anecdote. A Molson Porter was being sold into the 1970's and early 80's. It was fairly good, somewhat like Yuengling Porter or Stegmaier's, on the light side but clearly connected to the "real thing". Unfortunately Molson Coors has not brought it back much less sought to give it an earlier character (say from the time of the ad you printed).

In the 70's in Montreal taverns, there was a lore about bottles vs. draft. People had their practices. Some would never drink draft, considering that bottled was better even though the reverse was probably true since bottles were pasteurized. Some favoured a brand, a specific taste, which by definition was not draft since draft was generic at the time, at the most you knew which brewery it was from although I do recall some tavern owners would tell you "this is Labatt 50 draft" or mention another brand (usually Molson Export or O'Keefe Ale). A very few people drank bottled because it was "tablette", meaning off the shelf and not chilled.

People had brand preferences, and usually stuck to one brand. Lager had a small market starting from the 1970's in Quebec but slowly grew due to increasing popularity of Carlsberg (then made locally IIRC), Miller, Budweiser and Labatt Blue Pilsener. Today, in the mass market area in Quebec, it is mostly lager that is sold from what I can see and the great brands of the 70's such as Export, 50 and Laurentide Ale are hard to find or just have a small sale.

These ales did have something distinctive about them, a touch of fruitiness, Laurentide in particular was very good. The good old days.

I agree about the continuing decline of on-premises and I think it is due to cost and also drink and driving regulations. Income has remained fairly static in the last 20 years but retail prices slowly rise over time and factoring taxes and tipping, having a few beers out is an expensive proposition for most people today.


Doug Warren said...

Draught beer had a very bad reputation with many Canadians. From the time I turned legal in 1978 through the late 80s, I knew many people who didn't trust draught for good historic reasons.

First, you literally didn't know what you were getting. There might be a Molson or Labatt sign on the wall somewhere, but absolutely no indication of an actual brand on tap. I suspect whatever surplus was left in a bright beer tank after bottling was run into kegs and sent out.

The distribution monopoly was - and still is- run jointly by the big brewers, so it was possible bars didn't even know - or care - which brewery supplied them. I never dared ask a waiter (they could be pretty intimidating) what brand was on tap. The answer would have been "It's draught, fer chrissakes! Who the hell cares! It's all the same!"

Secondly, beer was pushed to the tap with compressed air, meaning that the product all too often was oxidized, thereby justifying its poor reputation.

Well into the 1990s, there were old-time publicans who refused to acknowledge the reality of quality control and held on to the old Ontario mindset of "take what you're offered and shut up!"

Gary Gillman said...

I don't recall the draft in Montreal ever being oxidized, however I agree that many distrusted draft beer albeit for reasons which were not always logical. Bartenders would tell you which draft it was without rancour (in Montreal) but it is true no one chose a pub based on its draft.

Many customers would add salt to their beer, which I never saw anywhere else. It helped a head to rise, but I've wondered if it was an unconscious repetition of the 19th century practice to add salt in the kettle or in mashing.


Cameron Lewis said...

It's worth pointing out that while prohibition had ended, anti-drinking attitudes and regulations remained.

In Manitoba (where I'm from) the on premises drinking was done in beer parlours that were intentionally dreary. Until 1957, mixed gender drinking was forbidden. There's a neat timeline here: