by RYAN BOLTON
Marc Garneau, Canada’s first astronaut in space, is a Canadian icon for copious reasons. First Canadian up in the dark, distant expanse. Current member of parliament. He’s honoured as Companion of the Order of Canada, which is impressive, I’m sure. He also has a string of abbreviations behind his name, like C.C., F.C.A.S.I, and Ph.D. A little known reason, however, that he’s a Canadian icon—his first beverage after returning to Earth? A beer. In the shower.
Now that’s a Canadian.
But where did Canada’s infatuation with beer begin? Next to the beaver and maple syrup, beer is stitched into our national fabric. Hell, by you reading this magazine, these very words about beer, in a magazine available at the Beer Store, illustrates Canada’s love for its suds. That’s saying something unto itself.
With the French jesuits coming on over in the 1600s to say “hi,” they brought their love of beer. Canada’s first brewery came to life in 1668, in fact, in Quebec City. But it wasn’t always this way. According to biographers, our first prime minister, that lover of drink that he was, Sir. John A. Macdonald was partial to whisky. Two bottles a day partial, it’s reported. And then there was good ol’ prohibition to drive the sale of beer underground. (Prohibition in Ontario ran from 1916 to 1924. It lasted until 1948 for those poor folk in P.E.I.) With prohibition brought the end to many breweries, but from the ‘20s onward, Canada’s drink of choice was cemented with large brewers coming into the picture.
Today, you can’t go over to a neighbour’s garage without bringing a six pack. You can’t watch the playoffs at the local pub without a pale ale to, you know, calm the nerves. You can’t in good conscience see a concert without that sweet, smooth, perfectly refreshing pint to make the experience, well, more enjoyable. And sure, full disclosure: I may or may not have a ice-cold beverage beside me to help guide these idle writing fingers. Like I said, national, beer-soaked fabric.
Then again, the numbers are just staggering and paint a perfectly clear, amber-tinged picture. In 2012, beer consumption for Canadians was at 44 percent in relation to all alcoholic beverages with total sales of beer exceeding $9 billion, according to Statistics Canada. Yes, you read that right; Canadians consumed more than $9 billion worth of beer—in one year. And get this, Statistics Canada literally declared beer: “the alcoholic drink of choice.” Why, of course. How perfectly Canadian.
But why? I asked Roger Mittag, Founder of Prud`homme Beer Certification and admirable beer drinker: “Beer is the ultimate socializer,” he says. “Low alcohol, thirst quenching, refreshing, sociable, approachable are all words that come to mind.”
And that’s definitely what the myriad of beer ads over the years has driven home. You can be athletic, good looking, charming, affable and in the presence of supermodels if you throw back a pint or two. “I am Canadian” is pure marketing genius to showcase this country’s love for beer.
But where’s all this love of beer going? With wine nipping at the heels of beer sales in recent years, is there need to sweat? And since the ‘80s, the emergence of craft beer and brew-it-at-home beer has become prevalent.
“We’re lucky to live at a time when there is enough variety on the market for each individual to find a beer flavour or style that resonates with them,” says master beer cicerone, Mirella Amato.
Mittag concurs. “I think there is a tremendously positive outlook,” he says of beer’s future in our fair country. “I do think we are going through a unique time where the interest in beer knowledge is greater than ever before. I think this thirst for knowledge is only going to grow.”
So, let’s raise our pints, cheers, and continue on our way. For beer is a part of Canada’s national identity (remember, our astronauts drink it). And it isn’t going anywhere.