Books, Libations

Manitoba’s rich, sweet, tasty brewing history

A lot can happen in 300 years: generations come and go, the climate changes, radical new technology is invented. To put it in perspective, Manitoba officially became a province in 1870 – only 143 years ago. The modern automobile is about 177 years old. There are many changes that happen to the world in three centuries, but at least one thing has stayed more or less the same, and that is the fact that there are a lot of people who love, care deeply about, and ingest beer regularly.

Naturally, because there are so many people who love a good pint, some of them are curious about how it all came to be. It might not be hard to find information about the history of beer in general, but what about it’s story right here in our own backyard? Thankfully, Bill Wright and Dave Craig, through Great Plains Publications, have put together 300 Years of Beer – a 200+ page coffee table book full of beautiful colour pictures of beer labels, brewery photos, and print ads documenting the province’s love affair with the frothy stuff.

But that’s only the visuals. The book explores Manitoba’s brewing history in depth, starting on the shores of Hudson Bay with Zachariah Gillam, the captain of the Nonsuch, and ending with a section on Half Pints and Farmery, two breweries responsible for some of Winnipeg’s best (and in Half Pints case, internationally lauded) beer.

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Although it might sound a bit nerdy to those who are currently be clutching a Bud Light Lime Mojito, anyone who loves beer and has an interest in their province should be able to find something fascinating in 300 Years of Beer. So, just to give you a little taste (sip?), here’s five things from the book you might not know about Manitoba’s brewing history:

1. Patrick Shea, of McDonagh & Shea’s brewery, sold their popular team of Clydesdales, complete with trainer and handler Andrew Haxton, to none other than August Busch Jr. at Anheuser-Busch, where they eventually became the Budweiser Clydesdales.

2. On June 1, 1916, the Manitoba Temperance Act came into effect, signalling the beginning of what one can only assume was the darkest period in the province’s history.

3. Women were first allowed to work in beverage rooms in Manitoba in 1961 (45 years after winning the right to vote and hold provincial office), and the Bartenders Union was grumpy about it because they worried they’d lose their jobs to lower-paid female workers.

4. John and Hugh Labatt, the grandsons of founder John Labatt, launched Labatt’s 50 Ale, a favourite of dad-beer drinkers all over Manitoba, in 1950 to commemorate 50 years of partnership. So now we know where the number comes from.

5. There is no beer with as much local history in Manitoba as Standard Lager – it was introduced in 1927 to celebrate Drewrys fifty years in business. Eventually, Carlings won a court case in which Anheuser-Busch tried to stop them from using the Standard Lager label (because of the similarity to the Budweiser label). In 2009, Molson discontinued the 24-pack, which made a lot of Manitobans freak out about losing their favourite beer. But they just downsized to 12-packs. No big deal.

Matt Williams is a Winnipeg-based writer and musician infatuated by lady country singers. Follow him on Twitter @MattGeeWilliams.

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