The History of Canadian Beer


Beer has played a vital role throughout human history and Canada is no exception. Canadians are known to be beer lovers. Beer has been the most popular alcoholic beverage drink across the country. In fact, they consume beer more than any other alcoholic beverage. You can also find lots of Canadian brands of beer in stores, restaurants, as well as bars across the country. Some of the top selling styles of Canadian beers are the pale lager which is also known as North American Style Lager, and Budweiser.

Beer has been a part of Canadians’ national identity and heritage. But have you ever wondered how the creation of beer started in Canada? We will guide you through Canada’s illustrious past through this well-known malt drink.


Introduction of Beer in Canada

Beer was first introduced to Canada in the 17th century by European settlers who brought the process of brewing into their new land. They introduced their methods, customs, and foreign culture to the nation, which included the practice of making their own beer. They chose Canada because of its cold climate which is ideal for making beer before refrigeration was introduced. The very first commercial brewery was opened in Montreal in 1650 by Louis Prud’homme. In 1668, it was followed by Jean Talon’s larger brewery in Quebec City. His brewery, was so successful that it marketed its beers  to the West Indies, making it the first Canadian beer to be exported.

The Talon brewery was only in operation for five years, but its ruins, known as the Talon Vaults, are still visible in the ancient Québec city’s lower city.

During the 17th and 18th century, British soldiers in Canada were considered as benefits to breweries since each troop was entitled to six pints of beer every day. Most of them preferred ales and other heavy beer over lager.

From 18th to 19th centuries, there were many commercial brewers that thrived and some of those were the ones who became the staple of the Canadian industry. Here are some of them:

  • John Molson: founded a brewery located in Montreal in 1786. This is Canada’s oldest surviving brewing enterprise.
  • Alexander Keith: founded a brewery in Halifax in 1820.
  • Thomas Carling: founded a brewery in London in 1840.
  • Susannah Oland: founded a brewery in Halifax in 1867.
  • Eugene O’Keefe: founded a brewery in Toronto in 1891.

On July 6, 1842, the very first patent was given to G. Riley by the Canadian Government. It was for an enhanced method of brewing ale, beer, porter, and other malt liquors.

Prohibition in Canada

Breweries grew more efficient as the brewing process got more contemporary and simplified, and sales increased dramatically. 

Soon after, several activists decided to curb the country’s “drunkenness and outrageous behaviors”. The temperance movement was largely responsible for the establishment of prohibition in Canada.

The Prohibition era in Canada did not last as long as in the United States. By the mid-1920s, it was largely over apart from Prince Edward Island where it ran from 1901 to 1948 compared to the temperance act in Ontario where it ran from 1916 to 1927. The large and powerful beer manufacturing sector, as well as the huge working class surprisingly purchased their products. However, they failed to convince any of the provincial governments to reverse their stand on prohibition.

After that era, the selling of alcoholic products in each of the provinces in Canada remained controlled by liquor boards and publicly owned stores. The effect was the same as during the Prohibition era, leaving very few brewers. But when the late 20th century came, craft brewers and microbreweries were revived.

The Revival of Brewing in Canada

people drinking beer

With the repeal of prohibition in 1933, commercial beer production in Canada restarted. 

By the 1970’s, brewing in Canada became extremely concentrated and it was dominated by just three companies namely Molson, Labatt, and Carling O’Keefe. According to Ian Coutts book, “Brew North: How Canadians Made Beer and Beer Made Canada”, the revival of craft brewing dates from the early 1980s as a result of desperate and random factors such as the revival of small brewers in the US, the deregulation of beer prices in British Columbia, and the resulting price hikes by the incumbents.

Ultimately being dominated by a limited number of brewers like Molson and Labatt, that is, until the 1980s, when craft breweries and craft beer began to become more popular.

The Horeshoe Bay Brewery opened in June 1982 in West Vancouver and was considered as one of Canada’s first microbreweries.

The craft brewery industry in Canada or also known as the microbrewery industry has been experiencing rapid growth. There were 88 operations in Canada in 2006 but when 2015 came, it increased to 520 operations. This growth was particularly noteworthy in Ontario where craft brewers experienced an increase of 36 percent in sales in that same year. And in the mid-2016, there were 140 breweries operating in Ontario.

Because of the popularity of beer in Canada, an annual Canadian Brewing Awards is being held up to the present time to recognize their best beers. They do this by using blind taste tests. For the past years, craft beers usually win but beers made by lager brewers have also won this event.

Styles of Beer in Canada

drinking glasses with beer

The most popular types of beer in Canada are macro pale lagers such as Molson Canadian and Labatt Blue. But aside from these, there are also other indigenous and semi-indigenous Canadian styles of beer. Here are some of them:

Spruce Beer

This style of beer came from the 16th century New France. Its primary benefit was to prevent scurvy and was used for that purpose by Jacques Cartier and his explorers when they arrived in Stadacona or what is now known as Quebec in 1535. After a few decades, it turned into a formal style of beer that is more commonly consumed by Canadians compared to any ale or lager.

Ice Beer

This style of beer originated in Canada but it was based in the German Eisbock beer style. Molson Ice was the first ice beer that was marketed in the United States. It was introduced in April 1993. However, the process was first patented by Labatt, which instigated the “Ice Beer Wars” in the 1990s. Some of the common ice beers in Canada today are Carling Ice, Molson Keystone Ice, Busch Ice, Old Milwaukee Ice, Brick’s Laker Ice, and Labatt Ice.

Cream Ale

Despite the name of this beer, it does not contain lactose. It was fermented like ale at warm temperatures but stored at cold temperatures for a period of time like a lager or using a kegerator right here. This process gave it the crisp characteristics of a light pale lager and the aroma that ales provide. Sleeman Cream Ale is the most widely distributed brand in Canada for cream ales. It was crafted in the late 1800s by George Sleeman.

Canadians claim that their beer is more flavorful and less watery compared to the beer in the United States. They also believe their beer has a higher alcohol content than American beer. But this actually doesn’t matter, because better or not, we can say that Canadians certainly love their beer, and it is indeed an excellent introduction to the culture of Canada. There’s no doubt that beer has played and will continue to play a significant part in the Canadian economy and the way of life of its people.

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