On my way home from work this past Friday, I stopped by the local liquor store (as I often do before the weekend) to pick up a six-pack of beer. During my visit, I spotted a new brand on the ‘imported’ shelf that immediately caught my eye. It was called Spitfire Ale.
Named for the legendary British fighter plane from Word War Two, the bottle features a Union Jack design, a RAF-style blue, white and red roundel on the cap, and a wartime Keep Calm and Carry On-style label on the neck. I’d never seen this particular beer before so when I spotted it I decided to grab a few. That’s because Ontario’s provincially-owned liquor stores (yes, our alcohol retailers are government run) tend to introduce and then withdraw imported brands with little or no warning — I wanted to assemble a small squadron of Spitfires before the liquor store mothballed them.
Now, I’m sure the readers of this blog who live in the U.K. have known about this beer for a while, but if you’re from elsewhere and enjoy English beer, trust me — you’ll want to get your hands on a Spitfire. In case you’re curious, it’s a darker ale that has a bitter, hoppy taste with hints of fruit (in fact I thought I tasted a bit of citrus). But, just as memorable as the flavour is the advertising campaign that goes along with Spitfire Ale – it’s a perfect blend of delicious irreverence, nostalgia and patriotism. “Downed All Over Kent, Just Like the Luftwaffe” reads one ad, “No Nazi after taste” reads another.
Interestingly enough, Spitfire isn’t the only beer with a historical tie in. Here are some others you may or may not have heard of.
Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale
According to the Alexander Keith’s Brewing Company’s own advertising campaign from a few years back, this popular ale was first made for British troops stationed in Halifax way back in 1820. I always assumed that beer made for the common 19th Century soldier would likely be nasty, but this stuff is quite good – flavourful yet refreshing. Because of this, Keith’s is enjoyed across Canada and the brewhouse itself, located in the city’s historic waterfront district, is a popular tourist attraction to this day.
Upper Canada Rebellion
The Upper Canadian Brewing Company of Guelph, Ontario crafts this beer to commemorate the failed 1837 anti-British and pro-republican uprising in Toronto. Led by a Scottish Canadian newspaper editor and general rabble-rouser named William Lyon McKenzie, the rebellion was launched, appropriately enough, in a bar known as Montgomery’s Tavern. More than 200 rebels led by MacKenzie marched from the famous watering hole down Toronto’s Yonge Street towards the seat of power for the colony. A force of loyalist militia quickly intercepted the insurgents. A number of shots were exchanged in the brief encounter and one loyalist was killed along with three rebels. The uprising stalled in the face of this opposition; when British regulars and militia were called out in force the following day it crumbled entirely. MacKenzie fled to the United States. Today, Montgomery’s Tavern is a national historic site in Canada and
Also located in Guelph, Ontario is the Wellington Brewery, yet another small beer maker located in this obscure mid-sized city about an hour north west of Toronto. Wellington brews a full line of ales, bitters and stouts, all named for Sir Arthur Wellesley, the legendary Duke of Wellington. His face adorns every bottle, while the ads for the beer, which invoke the duke’s own famous riding boots, urge Canadian beer drinkers to: “Try A Welly On!”
America is in the midst of 150th anniversary celebrations of the Civil War. Accordingly, the Monocracy Brewing Company of Frederick, Maryland is marking the occasion by producing a special beer to commemorate the War Between the States. One of its beers, Antietam Ale was released this past fall on the anniversary of the famous 1862 battle at Sharpsburg, Maryland — the single bloodiest day in American history. More than 22,000 fell in the battle, which was fought between Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. Although the North claimed victory, the battle itself was largely a draw. However the perceived triumph for the Union provided President Lincoln with the win he needed to issue the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves.
Tirpitz Wheat Beer
It’s odd that an English brewery would come up with a drink to commemorate a German battleship, but that’s just what the makers of Tirpitz Wheat have done. The beer, which is produced by the Newby Wyke Brewery in South Lincolnshire, is named for the 52,000-ton Bismarck class battleship from the Second World War. Why a brewery would name a beer for a fighting vessel that saw so little action, and anNazi one at that, is beyond me. Unlike Germany’s other battleships, the Tirpitz was largely sidelined during the war. Other than a bombardment of British positions at Spitsbergen, Norway in 1943, her massive 38 cm guns would remain silent for the duration of the conflict. After being damaged by Royal Navy submarines, the Tirpitz would be sunk in 1944 following a strike mission by RAF Lancaster’s. The ship went to the bottom of a Norwegian fjord after being hit be a spread of 6-ton tallboy bombs dropped by the bombers. Now British beer fans can down their own Tirpitz whenever they are thirsty. Perhaps that’s what the brewers intended.
Have I missed any beers? Is there a Pearl Harbor Pilsner or a Lepanto Lager I have left out? Let me know.