A History Lesson in Beer

May 18, 2018

As you carefully manage your malting barley crop this season, take pride in the fact that you’re contributing to a long-standing tradition. Millenia ago, when cereals were first grown for food, someone discovered that wet grains ferment. This fermentation process had a seemingly magical ability to transform water into a very palatable drink and so beer was born!

Early brewing

No beverage has a longer history than beer. In fact, there are hieroglyphics to prove that it goes back more than 9,000 years. All great civilizations in human history brewed a beverage that bears resemblance to beer.

Beers brewed during ancient times, however, wouldn’t be recognized by today’s consumer. One issue with early brewing was that the beer didn’t keep well. It couldn’t withstand a trip out of town and export was out of the question. It took until the thirteen century to perfect the beer-making recipe and process. German brewmasters discovered that hopped beer lasted longer; they introduced standard barrel sizes and began the beer export trade.

Beer comes to Canada

Beer made its way to Canada thanks to European immigrants. Louis Hébert, Canada’s first farmer, claimed to brew beer in 1627 to celebrate a birth, but Jesuit Brother Ambroise is on record as Canada’s first brewmaster circa 1646.

Not surprisingly, Québec was the epicentre of the brewing industry’s development and expansion in Canada. The first commercial brewery was founded in Québec City in 1688 by Jean Talon, the first Intendent of New France. Talon wanted to reduce the colony's dependence on imported brandy and he did just that. His beer proved so successful that it was eventually exported to places such as the West Indies.

Beermaking was expanded in Canada by a host of characters who are household names today. Here’s a timeline:

  •  1786 – John Molson established his first brewery in Montréal, which is today the oldest brewery in North America.
  • 1829 – Alexander Keith & Son founded their brewery in Nova Scotia.
  • 1836 – John H. Sleeman established his first brewery in St. David's, Ontario.
  • 1840 – Thomas Carling opened the Brewing & Malting Company in London, Ontario
  • 1847 - John Labatt also established his first brewery in London.

Modern beer

Fast forward to the 1980s and regional breweries start popping up across the country. Jim Brickman – considered the pioneer of present-day craft brewing in Canada – began Brick Brewing in Waterloo, Ontario in 1984. Today, Canada is home to more than 650 breweries and 7,000+ brands.

Cheers to malting barley growers like you who play an instrumental role in the diverse selection available to Canadian beer drinkers.

Sources: Beercanada.com, Manitoba Historical Society, Beertourism.com

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