photos by aonghus kealy/metro toronto
This is the first part of a two-part series on Moosehead. Suds enjoyed a tour of the company’s Saint John, N.B., brewery in October. More on Moose next week in Metro Toronto and at www.metronews.ca.
According to Moosehead executive chairman Derek Oland, the moose is the “king of all animals.”
The regal appearance of the animal’s antlers was the reason his father Philip named the brewery Moosehead, quite the prominent animal in New Brunswick and today, the brewery is the undisputed king of Canadian brewing.
Well, um, make that undisputed fully-Canadian owned king of brewing. It’s kinda like holding just the WBO belt (when asked, Oland says their won’t be a reunification of the belts any time soon; a sixth generation of Oland now works at the brewery).
Holding the title of Canada’s largest independent brewer — just don’t say “largest Canadian brewer” to any beer industry type, or someone will have a fit — has rankled at least one Molson exec.
“I must admit,” the exec wrote in an e-mail a while back, “being here at Molson ... Canada's and North America's oldest continuous brewery since 1786 and still family directed ... I get a little smile on their ‘independent’ positioning.”
See what I mean?
Molson, Labatt and Sleeman — known in Ontario as The Big Three for their joint ownership of the Beer Store — are controlled by brewing giants Miller Coors (United States), InBev (Brazil and Belgium) and Sapporo (Japan), so none of the Canadian-based macrobrewers can lay an undisputed claim to being the largest Canadian brewer either.
Moosehead first fired up a kettle in 1867, and moved to the now Moosehead-dominated Saint John, N.B., in 1928, after the Halifax Explosion destroyed their original brewery. There is no disputing the presence of Moose — as in, “I’ll have a Moose” — in the Saint John and New Brunswick — at the airport, outside of pubs, on draught, you’ll find many of the company’s 17 brands and branding, including Moosehead Pale Ale (red instead of trademark green surrounds the antlered beast on the labelling) and Alpine, drinks we don’t see in Ontario.
New Brunswick is one of the uncharted bastions that Molson has targeted, opening a $35-million brewery in Moncton last month, the first new brewery to open in the province in 52 years.
Winning over beer drinkers is a tough business, and Moose chairman andPresident Steve Poirier says his company knows exactly what and how to sell their beer to East Coast folks.
“We have a better feeling for what the Maritimer consumer wants,” Poirier told Suds. “Maritimers really don’t drink microbrews (or imports). Martimers are looking for something a little more traditional.”
In light of the Coors’ merger with Miller in the U.S., Molson has a lot of more to deal with than just breaking into Moose territory, Poirier says.
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen, but they all seem to agree it’s not beneficial for Molson.”
Moose is no stranger to mergers. The company scooped up the Niagara Brewing Company in Niagara Falls and are part owner of Brasserie McAuslan in Montreal, strategic partnerships, Poirier says, so their beer can be shipped west to Ontario and Quebec respectively.
Don’t expect them to buy up many more across Canada, unless they can determine that they’re profitable. Poirier says “95 per cent” of the micros in Ontario are not.
“We’ve had many microbreweries, that have called us to ask us to buy them. You have exceptions, like Steam Whistle. They’re really an exception.”
Microbreweries have trouble breaking past the “50-mile radius,” Poirier says.
Microbrews aren’t a big part of Moose’s business, but some of the big boys you know are.
About half of the 1.4 million hectalitres (about 420,000,000 330-ml bottles) the brewery makes is for five big brands — you likely know all of them, both domestic and import brews, much of that for export.
The flagship lager comprises about one-quarter of what’s made at the brewery each year.
Next week: Tasting and touring with Moosehead brewmaster Darrell Little.
Clancy’s Marinated Tenderloin With Ale-Battered Onion Rings
Mussels Steamed in Moosehead