Dawes Brewery originally distributed its beers in kegs of varying capacities, and beer was sold by the glass in taverns and other licenced drinking establishments. In the mid-1800s, as bottle-making capacity increased, sales of Dawes beers in bottles quickly took off. But kegs were still used to supply drinking establishments. Black Horse beer was sold in glass bottles in two formats: large, 22 oz., and small, 12 oz.
The bottles used by Dawes Brewery before 1844 had no identifiable marking. Later in the 1800s, the bottle bodies were embossed with the words “DAWES” and “LACHINE.” In the early 20th century, with the introduction of mass-production printing, labels were used to differentiate the brands. The Black Horse labels were typically printed in black, gold and red ink on white paper; the Cream Porter and Kingsbeer labels had their own distinctive colours. The black Percheron emblem on the Black Horse labelling – usually a neck and a main label – made for quick and easy recognition of the brand. The horse also appeared on the Cream Porter labels.
The early Dawes beer bottles were sealed with a cork or a mechanical stopper with a porcelain cap. These were replaced in the early 20th century by metal caps, which were easier and cheaper to manufacture. Caps also served as a new communication medium, stamped with the brand name or emblem. Some caps bore only the profile or head of the famous black Percheron, but consumers knew immediately that the beer was Black Horse.
At first, bottles of Black Horse were transported packed in wicker baskets. These fragile and impractical carriers were replaced by wooden crates (solid but heavy) and then by lighter, cardboard cases. Over the years, Black Horse packaging was repeatedly modified to facilitate transport. The availability of bottle-conditioned beer encouraged increased consumption of the product.
The Forerunning Dawes
Black Horse was the first Canadian brewery to sell beer in cans. In August 1948, it began distributing canned beers in Quebec and the United States. The 12-oz. cans were sealed with the same caps that were used for glass bottles. Cans were marketed in limited quantities at first, in order to test the market. Even though the tin apparently gave the beer a slightly metallic taste, consumers liked the lighter, more compact containers, which cooled faster and did not have to be returned. Practical arguments won out over recycling concerns.
In the fall of 1948, barely three months after it began, the canning of Black Horse beer was suspended: the federal government had banned the importation of tin from the United States. But in May 1949, canned beer returned to the market for good. Four National Breweries brands were available in cans: Black Horse, Kingsbeer, Dow and Frontenac. The Black Horse beer cans were manufactured in Montréal (today’s Saint-Laurent borough) by Continental Can Company.
In 1962, some provinces outlawed long-necked bottles because they could be used as weapons in bar fights. And so a little brown 12-oz. bottle appeared in Quebec, Ontario and the Maritimes. By 1964, the “stubby,” as it was called, had become standard all across Canada. Stubbies were solid and easily returned for deposit, since all breweries used them, but brands could no longer be distinguished by the shape of the bottle or the colour of the glass. In 1983, the decision to abandon the little brown bottle sparked angry protest in Canada, especially in Ontario. The long-necked bottle was seen as American, whereas the stubby was a Canadian invention.