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:
© 1996 Donald S. Gosselin