Moosehead in New England

By Donald S. Gosselin

Quick question. Ten years ago, which brew was among the most popular imported beers in America? Corona? St. Pauli Girl? Watney's?

No, no and no. In the early 1980s, Moosehead was considered one of the kings of imported beer. However, much has happened to change that position in the last decade. What was once a handful of American and Canadian microbreweries in 1985 has evolved into hundreds. Package store shelves have burgeoned with new microbrews, exotic imports and even more interesting brews from the likes of Miller, Anheuser Busch and Coors.

With the changes in both the American and Canadian beer markets have been dramatic, very little has changed at Moosehead. Unlike the Canadian brewing giants of Molson and Labatt, Moosehead remains family-owned and independent. Founded in 1867 by Susanna Oland, perhaps one of Maritime Canada's most celebrated homebrewers, the brewery has been managed by successive generations of the Oland family. In recent years, Derek Oland has taken over the helm from his father, P.W. Oland, an octogenarian. Despite his advanced age however, P.W. remains active in the day-to-day affairs of the Moosehead brewery.

Aside from introducing innovative computer technology to assist production, Derek Oland has tinkered very little with this successful enterprise. Oland's technology is considered to be cutting edge. Hand valves have been replaced with computer-controlled hydraulic valves, and control panels have given way to elaborate computer monitors. These innovations now allow the St. John facility to crank out over 1,600 twelve ounce bottles of beer per minute. While the high-tech tinkering and gadgetry has greatly enhanced production, it hasn't been at the expense of craftsmanship. Moosehead's quality remains high.

For the most part, Moosehead's beers straddle the line between the light lager imports of Heineken and the American made lagers of Miller, Anheuser Busch, Pabst and Coors. Moosehead's beers offer a tad less hop bitterness than in the average European pilsner, but a bit more body than one would find in an American light lager beer. In short, Moosehead's beers are quaffers. Microbrew fans may turn up their noses at the lightness of such offerings, but in Moosehead's base of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, as well as in several of the United States, demand is extremely high for these products.

Ironically, from a beer writer's perspective, Moosehead's most flavorful beers are kept close to home. Moosehead Pale Ale is one such example. It contains 85% barleymalt and 15% adjunct, imparting a light malt bouquet as well as a vegetal hop note. Ten Penny Stock Ale is fruity, light and fairly well-hopped, though it too contains a bit of corn adjunct. Clancy's Amber Ale is similar in flavor profile to Moosehead Pale Ale, with a smidgen of black malt added for color. Visitors to the Canadian Maritimes will find these to be the most interesting among local offerings.

The microbrewing renaissance hasn't passed without notice at Moosehead. According to several brewery sources, Moosehead is studying the possibility of introducing a microbrew-type beer into their lineup. For the time being, however, New Englanders may choose from the following:

Moosehead Canadian Lager:
Golden colored with a clean aroma. Hint of malt. Flavor is neutral, clean and round. Light in body with a crisp finish.

Moosehead Canadian Ice:
Golden color with a hint of alcohol in the nose. Some malt. Unusually clean and smooth for an "ice" beer. Clean finish.

Moosehead Canadian Light:
not tasted.

© 1996 Donald S. Gosselin