By HAYDON DEWES
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the story of beer is the story of Canada.”
So begins beer historian Lawrence C. Sherk’s introduction to his new book 150 Years of Canadian Beer Labels, from Touchwood Editions. It has been released in time for next year’s celebration of Canada’s 150 birthday, showcasing a small glimpse of the Ontario-based historian’s stunning selection of beer labels dating from the late 1870s to the present day.
Sherk’s assertion that the story of beer is the story of Canada is evident by his beer label collection, which numbers about 20,000. Scanning through the labels is like flicking through an old atlas; the book features page after page of some of the country’s most iconic beer labels providing a snapshot of the country’s must-sees and well-travelled locations: Prince Albert Beer. Stampede Beer. Alpine Lager. Niagara Spray. Prairie Steam Ale. Vieux-Montreal Red Beer. Yukon Gold. Iceberg Beer. Mokinstsis Beer (the Blackfoot name for Calgary). Capital Cream Ale.
Moose! Beavers! Jolly Bavarians!
As well as geographical elements, history is captured too. The labels show the gradation of beer culture in Canada. From the fiercely patriotic (Empire Lager and Canada’s Best Lager Beer), to the stereotypical (images of moose, beavers, jolly Bavarians, waterfalls and mountains abound) to the attempts of breweries to stay afloat during prohibition by switching to low or no-alcohol products (such as Elk Valley Brewing’s (BC) Temperance Brew, our very own Medicine Hat Brewing Company Ltd’s Hat’s Porter, which it proudly claims is “non-intoxicating!”, and the hysterically named Kuntz Brewery brands Half and Half and Lagerine, both clocking in at about 1.2% alcohol).
Alberta beer, from way back when
Alberta is well represented, with 15 labels. Only one of the breweries – Big Rock – is still in operation even if the beer featured – the Chinook Dry-Hopped Pale Ale from 1998 – is not. The other beers to be featured are:
- Golden West Beer, Golden West Brewing Company, Calgary (early 1900s)
- Hat’s Porter, Medicine Hat Brewing Company (1913)
- Bohemian Maid Beer, Northwest Brewing Company, Edmonton (1924)
- Yellowhead Beer, New Edmonton Breweries (1927)
- Horn Brand Beer, The Big Horn Brewing Company, Calgary (1940s)
- Rex Pilsner, Sicks’ Edmonton Brewery, (1944)
- Mokinstsis Beer, Calgary Brewing and Malting Company Ltd (1950s)
- Labatt’s Pilsener, Labatt’s Alberta Brewery, Edmonton (1967)
- Stampede Beer, Calgary Brewing and Malting Company Ltd (1967)
- O’Keefe Stein Beer, Bohemian Maid Brewing, Edmonton (1970s)
- Uncle Ben’s Malt Liquor, Uncle Ben’s Breweries, Red Deer (1970s)
- Gentle Ben Beer, Uncle Ben’s Breweries, Red Deer (1970s)
- Beer, Rocky Mountain Breweries Ltd, Red Deer (mid-1980s)
- Prairie Steam Ale, Brew Brothers Brewing Company, Calgary (1997)
A life of collecting beer history
Larry Sherk began collecting beer labels in 1975. His passion started a few years earlier in February 1972, during a holiday in San Fransisco. he visited a house where all the walls were covered in beer nostalgia. He returned to Toronto, got a few beer trays, a few coasters – then all hell broke loose. His first beer labels were a set of sixty circa 1890-1910 when he found an old printer’s sample book. The bulk of his labels are now at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto.
Overall, the 320-page hard cover book would be a great addition to any home library or coffee table. Beer historians will reminisce over the old breweries. long closed. Graphic design fans will appreciate the transition over the years from simple to elaborate art. Non-beer-lovers will love the kitsch pictures and slices of life from Canada past.