1786: John Molson & Other Quebec Curios

Part of “A Colony in Transition, 1763-1791”

Life without John Molson might be a bit drier had he not come back to Montreal in 1786 to establish his own brewery. An Englishman by birth, he entered the brewing business early in his life, but wished to enter farming. Luckily, for many Canadians’ sakes, he didn’t.

The young eighteen-year-old entrepreneur had initially come to Montreal back in 1782 when Molson had initially entered the brewing business with Thomas Loyd. However, affairs turned sour and Molson ended up suing his former business partner because Loyd didn’t pay back Molson for some money he had lent him. Loyd was unable to pay his debt back, and thus his property went up for auction. By the end of this legal battle, the brewery belonged solely to Molson, and he set sail back for England to some supplies and learn more about brewing beer.

The rapid influx of Loyalists after the American Revolutionary War meant that there were more people, and Molson decided to capitalise on their thirst for beer. Upon his return to Montreal, Molson’s brewery started up, and the people of Montreal started to literally drink up the products of his business, even, to Molson’s surprise, the French-Canadian people, who traditionally were not known for their appetite for beer.

Molson’s beer was not the Molson Canadian most people are used to. To be more technical, Molson’s beer was an ale, meaning that the drink was produced using a fermenting process called “top fermentation”. This type of fermentation process would use the temperature of the cellar in which it was produced. In contrast, Molson Canadian, introduced in the late 1950s, is a lager, which requires a fermentation in colder temperatures, which is why lagers were often historically produced in caves, the coldness sometimes supplemented with ice blocks.

John Molson soon introduced his three sons to the business of beer brewing and together, the Molson family grew in prestige and power. John Molson would be elected to the House of Assembly in the 1800s, and he was one of the founders of the Montreal General Hospital that would initially be set up on Dorchester Street on a plot of land that Molson bought.

The Molson Company merged with Coors back in 2005, but one of its headquarters remains in Montreal to this day. Molson’s brewery on Notre Dame street in Montreal is still in operation.