In 1962, competition among big breweries buried the beer scene in Newfoundland. 56 years later, in 2018, 8 local microbreweries are cooperating to cook up a better craft beer scene than we’ve ever enjoyed.
WHERE DID ALL OUR BREWERIES GO?
Back in the 1800s, right up until 1960s, the brewing scene of Newfoundland & Labrador was composed solely of small, local breweries making beer for the people of the province. We were more or less exclusively drinking local beers. There were some imports: Molson, Labatt, Guinness. But they weren’t what was flowing at local pubs. Not really. We were an English colony drinking English-style, locally made ales like pale ales and porters.
As a result, local breweries enjoyed basically 100% of the market share of beer sales in our beer-loving province. Today, beloved local breweries like Quidi Vidi, Yellowbelly, and Port Rexton see about 2% of those sales. Molson and Labatt, and imports from other international corporations, 98%.
What happened? A cross-Canada wave of Big National Brewers buying out local ones swept across the country, and it came crashing down on Newfoundland. In 1962, Molson, Labatt, and Carling-Okeefe bought up, then closed up every local brewery.
These 3 breweries kept a few local favourites alive because they were good sellers and they now owned rights to them: India Beer, Blue Star, Jockey Club, and Dominion Ale. But recipes for those have changed from the originals to accommodate mass production, popular tastes, and to get them more in-line with those brewery brands.
Some old beer labels, from some now extinct local breweries:
WHY MICROBREWERIES ARE MAKING A COME BACK
Ironically, a monopoly of megabrewers turning Canada’s beer output into a sea of sameness between the 60s and the 90s played a huge role in the recent craft beer revolution. The variety of beers in Canada was seriously lacking by the 1990s. We were basically a land of light and fizzy lagers.
There was no one making West Coast style IPAs, Wheat Ales, Porters, Red Ales, Goses, Ciders, not really, and that left niches unfilled. Also, the big national brewers were competing with each other to offer the cheapest beer at this time, not the best, so craft brewers started to appeal to people looking for quality beer over cheap beer. Decades of limited beer options put demand back on the table for something different, and enough breweries started popping up to fill that demand. Like Quidi Vidi and Storm here in Newfoundland in the 1990s.
And yet, in Canada, Molson-Coors & Anheuser-Busch InBev (who own Labatt) get 2/3rds of beers sales, and the other 600+ breweries split roughly a third between them. If that sounds bad, it’s worse in Newfoundland & Labrador, where local breweries get about 2% of the market share.
As with anything here on our landlocked island, we’re slow to catch up to Canadian trends. But as of March (Craft Beer month by the way), eight local microbreweries — Quidi Vidi, Storm, Yellowbelly, Port Rexton Brewing, Western Newfoundland Brewing Company, Split Rock Brewing, Bootleg Brew Co., and Scud Runner Brewing — are banding together to build a better beer scene here for all of us.
They’re forming the Newfoundland & Labrador Craft Brewers Association. Several other breweries which are nearing start up will also be welcomed to join.
Some of Canada’s Most Popular Craft Brewers Today:
NEWFOUNDLAND & LABRADOR CRAFT BREWERS ASSOCIATION
The Newfoundland & Labrador Craft Brewers Association has a few broad mandates, but in a nutshell their intention boils down to supporting each other, and helping each other grow, which will in turn help the local craft beer scene bloom. Because as more of us drink local craft beer, its market share widens. Broadening our palates will broaden our beer scene. “We’re at 2% of market share now, and we have so much more room to grow. As more breweries open here it helps,” says Justin Fong of Quidi Vidi, over a lunch meeting about the NLCBA. “Every time a craft brewery pops up, it’s basically a sales rep for craft beer in general. You get more people in that region experiencing craft beer for the first time. They get excited about craft beer, and when they travel, they make it a point to go to other craft breweries, which feeds the industry.”
Breweries are obviously also good for local business in general. The Bonavista peninsula will agree that Port Rexton Brewing has been a people magnet. Having breweries in places like Twilingate, Gander, and Port Rexton is definitely drawing more tourists and staycationers to these hubtowns, and neighbouring businesses and BnBs are loving it.
Craft breweries are like vacation days: the more the merrier, and the growth of our industry is already happening, exponentially. Quidi Vidi Brewing and Storm Brewing appeared in the 90s, and Yellowbelly in the 2000s, and that was it. 3. For a long time.
Out of nowhere, 4 more appeared between 2016-2017: Port Rexton Brewing, Western Newfoundland Brewing Company, Split Rock in Twilingate, and Bootleg Brew Co. in Corner Brook. Any day now, the Newfoundland Cider Company will be open for business, and same with Scud Runner Brewing in Gander. Thirteen more local breweries claim they’ll be open in 2018/2019.
There are more breweries in Newfoundland than ever. The boom is booming. But, even at this rate of growth, we’re years behind other Canadian provinces, in terms of craft sales per capita. A big part of why our amazing craft beers see such a low market share comes down to a lack of public awareness of and enthusiasm for craft beer.
The Eight Great Local Breweries Launching the NLCBA:
EDUCATION & AWARENESS A NECESSARY STEP 1
When it comes to any product in Newfoundland, we’re used to what we’re used to here. We panic at change. Throw a roundabout up at the airport and look out! Hand a person a beer other than the brand they’ve drank loyally since 19, and they’ll scrunch up their face.
This attitude runs contrary to the very joy of the craft beer movement, where the idea is variety. Not only something for every taste, but a new taste every time you buy beer. Having hundreds of Canadian breweries instead of a handful ensures you’ll never be bored of the same old, same old. Apps like Untappd exist so craft beer enthusiasts can
keep track of all the beers they’ve tried. Craft beer is like food: you want a buffet, you want to try it all, to be surprised, fall in love, rave and share your enthusiasm for new finds.
The craft beer movement is not only about variety, or the patriotic feel-goodness of shopping local and supporting local. It’s about bang for your buck quality. Talk to Liam McKenna, brewmaster at Yellowbelly, and he’s full of apt analogies. Like this gem from issue 2 of The Overcast: “To brewers, beer is a kind of liquid bread. I would not buy bread from Germany or Mexico, so why would I buy beer from there? It doesn’t travel well.” Makes sense, right?
“There’s a few reasons that we are forming the NLCBA, but the main ones right now would be to help support each other, to grow, and to educate the public about craft beer,” explains Quidi Vidi’s Justin Fong.
“Many people don’t know the difference between an ale and lager, and think that all beer should be ice cold and clear yellow. There’s so many different styles of beer, and people need the chance to experience all the amazing flavours and aromas, and not just the light lagers their parents grew up with.”
THE KEY IS COLLABORATION. IN SOME CASES, LITERALLY
Fong says it’s an extremely positive and collaborative industry. He puts his money, or glassware, where his mouth is: Quidi Vidi were quick to send more flight glasses out to Port Rexton when their popularity outgrew the amount of glassware they had on hand during the tourist season in their first year.
Yellowbelly also sent Port Rexton some malt when they ran out. Likewise, Liam from Yellowbelly and the women from Port Rexton were out to Twillingate to share some wisdom with Split Rock when they were getting off the ground. Many of these breweries offer each other’s beers in their taprooms, to spread the love of not only their own beers, but other local beers as well.
In fact, craft brewers not only support each other, they actively collaborate and learn from each other, to produce new beers. In the craft beer world, brewers make small batch beers and seasonals: these are brews available for a limited period of time, until they’re all drunk up by beer-o-philes looking for a fix of something they haven’t tried. It keeps the job fun too, the brewmasters are always tinkering with something new.
Often these are collaboration brews, where 2 brewmasters work together, across company lines. For example, Port Rexton’s latest collaboration brew was with Split Rock. They partnered up to a brew a double dry hopped saison. As Alicia says, collab beers let two different brewmasters learn from each other as well. Split Rock and Port Rexton saw how they each other do things, and they can, if they choose, incorporate the tricks of one company’s trade into their own. “Craft beer is about fun and local,” Alicia says, to which Fong adds, “There’s no other industry like it. No one collaborates and shares all their secrets and suppliers like we do.”
Fong says this kind of camaraderie among craft brewers is exactly what’s helped the craft beer revolution take root in Canada. “As more craft breweries open, we all don’t fight over the same 2% piece of the pie, the craft pie gets bigger. Just look at other provinces like BC, where over 140 breweries have driven the craft share up to 23%.”
Since the 1960s, our landlocked island has been flooded with basically one kind of beer: fizzy, bright yellow, and easy drinking lagers. For a lot of Newfoundlanders, the most difference in flavour between two beers they’ve experienced is not, say, a hefeweissen versus a stout, but a Molson Canadian versus an Alexander Keith’s, or a Corona and a Bud Light. The tongue almost needs a chemical enhancer to detect the difference there, relative to lining up a flight of say, Yellowbelly’s Wexford Wheat, Port Rexton’s Horse Chops IPA, and Storm’s coffee porter, which would awaken the palate to the vast world of craft beer, because these beers are as different as burgers, salads, and pizzas.
Check Out Some of Quidi Vidi’s New Offerings:
It’s Craft Beer Month:
Party with a Local Brewery Near You!
To celebrate craft beer month, the NLCBA is raising awareness and creating buzz around local breweries in fine style, with a weekend-long party every weekend in March, all across the island, so you can taste their wares instead of just reading about them here in media.
WESTERN REGION: March 1st – 4th
@ Bootleg Brew Co, Corner Brook
Come out and taste a variety of local NL craft beers on tap all weekend long! Ticket and event details on Bootleg Brew Co.’s Facebook Page.
EASTERN REGION: March 9th – 11th
Brewski at White Hills @ White Hills Ski Resort, Clarenville
Check Out White Hill’s website for more details, but this one’s a weekend-long series of fabulous events, from an 80’s party night on Friday (whip out your hairspray and acid washed jeans!), to events like beer yoga, cooking with beer, a Beer 101 class, and a full-on BrewSki Craft Beer Festival Saturday night. Tickets to the latter include 12 samples.
CENTRAL REGION: March 16th-18th
@ Split Rock Brewery/Stage Head Pub, Twilingate
Split Rock is our second newest brewery. The main event on the 17th is a great chance to check out their beers, and enjoy a Q&A and tour of the place with brewmaster Matt Vincent, as well as a sampling of beers from other NL microbreweries. A new beer release is slated for the weekend.
AVALON REGION: March 30th-31st
@Quidi Vidi Brewery, Quidi Vidi
@Yellowbelly, St. John’s
Quidi Vidi have been reinventing themselves, and their current small batch beers are delicious. On March 30th, stop by their new taproom and see for yourself, whilst also trying craft beers from across the island. On Saturday, hit up Yellowbelly for a Brewmaster’s Dinner. See their social media accounts for further details.