Oh Canada, what good beer you brew. Compared to our neighbors to the south, the average Canadian beer is stronger and more flavourful. Many Americans look forward to their nineteenth birthday and making the trek up north to get drunk on Canada’s “strong” beer. Canadians take pride in their beer. Not only is our hockey team better then the United States, but our beer is too. However there are more similarities then differences between the two countries brewing histories.
Both the United States and Canadian governments had prohibited the sale and production of alcohol from 1918 to 1932. In Canada it was replaced with strict rules controlling the production and selling of alcohol that continues to restrict the market today. Taxes on alcohol are among the highest in the world with tariffs making up 53% of the price. Therefore making beer in Canada is very expensive. Also local laws prevent the selling of beer across provincial boundaries.
In the province of Ontario, the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) is one of the biggest purchasers of alcohol in the world. The LCBO has a monopoly on selling beer throughout its stores. As a result the Canadian beer market is controlled by two huge public companies:
- Molson (recently purchased by Coors)
- Labatt (part of Belgian conglomerate Interbrew)
Within this demographic is one brewery that is staying strong and independent. Moosehead is Canada’s oldest and largest independent brewery.
In 1928 George B. Oland acquired control of the James Ready Brewery in west Saint John, New Brunswick. This brewery would become Moosehead Breweries Limited. George B. was the son of George W.C., whose mother Susannah Oland raised five children and ran her husband’s (John J.D. Oland) brewery when he died in a riding accident. The Oland’s family roots were from Sweden, however their brewing heritage originated in England in the 1800’s. The family of seven had arrived in Nova Scotia from England in 1865.
Upon arriving in Nova Scotia, Susannah brewed the first Oland beer, a popular brown October Ale. When friends had a taste they talked the family into selling the brew to the public. In 1867, the Oland family opened their first brewery in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. This brewery would later be named S. Oland Sons & Co. in 1877. The Oland family had been through a lot, prohibition, the depression, the Halifax explosion and two world wars. Some 130 years later, the family continues to be a part of the Canadian brewing tradition to this day. The current CEO of Moosehead is Derek Oland.
The name Moosehead was adopted in 1931 when George Oland renamed the breweries main beer “Moosehead”. This idea proved so successful that he in turn renamed the brewery Moosehead Brewery in 1947. The beer stayed local until the late 1970’s when it started to be distributed in the United States. The brand was very popular in the US, and continues to be one of the countries top selling imported beers. Moosehead beer is now distributed to 15 countries around the world and all 50 U.S. states.
Susannah Oland’s original recipe was for a brown October Ale, but it’s Moosehead’s lightly golden lager that is now its flagship beer. Moosehead is a smooth, clean-tasting lager that is well balanced between malt sweetness and hop bitterness. It is brewed from a blend of Canadian barley malt, two types of hops to balance aroma and bitterness and fresh water from nearby Spruce Lake. The use of an age-old yeast culture is also of great importance within the brewing process.
The final step is for the beer to age for 28 days in the breweries cellars. As a result of this brewing process Moosehead lager has become one of the finest premium lagers in North America. It has been recognized by the European organization, Monde Selection, for its standards in quality.
- Former Moosehead brewmaster Henry R Hudson designed the “whirlpool hot wort tank”, which is used throughout the world today and has become a very important part of the brewing process
- John Oland’s brewery had won the contract to supply beer to the Canadian forces and it later became known as the Army and Navy Brewery
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