Canada was built on brawn, beaver and beer, according to veteran beer marketer Allen Sneath in his ground-breaking chronicle, Brewed in Canada.
Before turning to writing, Sneath worked with Carling-O’Keefe and then with one of the founding partners of Algonquin Brewing Co., which was at one time Ontario’s largest micro.
With beer “in his blood,” Sneath became intrigued with Canada’s rich brewing culture. He said in an interview, “This project started as a dream that would…celebrate the proud heritage brewing represents in our country’s growth.”
He’s accomplished this goal in spades.
Mercifully not starting with the Egyptians, Sneath prefaces many of his chapters with a snapshot history of Canada to place brewing in context. Highlighting such famous brewers as Bennett, Brickman, Dawes, Dow, Ginter, Keith, Labatt, Oland, Shea, Sick and a representative selection of the 1,300 plus breweries that opened across the continent from the frozen shores of Hudson’s Bay to the Yukon, Sneath demonstrates the role brewers played in the developing nation.
The book includes both Canadian and American Prohibition, pre-World-War-I brewing mergers, and the emergence of national breweries under E. P. Taylor.
As a former marketer and micro insider, Sneath brings a unique perspective to the last 30 years and helps the novice grasp the whole concept of brand image and positioning.
Every beer industry observer will enjoy Sneath’s essays about the draft in a bottle (or can), dry, and ice beer wars, along with the introduction of light beers, Miller and Bud.
With all due respect to the Campaign for Real Ale and Canadian microbrewing pioneers John Mitchell and Frank Appleton, you will find it impossible to suppress your laughter when Sneath describes “The Mega Breweries” going micro.
The book also has enough corporate history to satisfy the accountant but not overwhelm the general reader. After reading the chapters dealing with the near sale of Labatt to Schlitz in the 1960s, the Rothman’s purchase of Carling-O’Keefe and its subsequent demise, and sale and re-emergence of Molson, I think I almost understand what happened!
Selectively illustrated, the main part of the book ends with the thoughts of current and former industry leaders such as John Wiggins, John Sleeman, and Peter McAuslan.
The author caps the book off with a chronology of significant events of Canadian and American brewing history over the past 350 years, put together with the assistance of avid Canadian brewerianist Richard Sweet, compiler of The Directory of Canadian Breweries.
Sure to become a source book for years to come, the book, however, lacks an index, references, and a bibliography, sadly diminishing the scholarly value of this important work.
I asked Sneath what happened. He replied, “The compromises we (author and publisher) had to make were driven by economics, which meant black and white” photographs and, of course, no references.
Unfortunately, this popular approach and the absence of any technical discussion about historic beer styles, beer architecture, Canadian brewing patents, unionization and process have led to a number of errors. For example, the book fails to recognize the in-roads American brewers were making in the Canadian market before the first world war, and it attributes the manufacture of steam beer to a brewery in Barrie, Ontario, when the brewery was simply steam powered.
Sneath has relied on unverified secondary sources, often provided by the breweries themselves, to create an instant heritage.
Having said this, would I recommend that you buy this book? Sure. If you are interested in the evolution of the Canadian brewing industry, you can’t afford not to own this beer chronicle. Just don’t rely on it alone for your Canadian history.