It is the company’s flagship brand but in the 1930s it didn’t look as though Moosehead lager – now distinguished by its famous green bottle and winner of numerous awards, including a gold medal this year – would ever be more than a phantom in Moosehead’s famous lineup of premium ales and stouts.
So the story goes, Philip (P.W.) Oland, of the legendary Oland family of brewers, had studied beermaking in England at the University of Birmingham, and in Copenhagen at the famous Brewing High School. He then apprenticed at the renowned Carlsberg Brewery. Carlsberg had developed yeast for lager and so, armed with this knowledge, Oland returned home and tried to convince his father, George B. Oland, that the business should be expanded from ales and stouts. But George refused, perhaps thinking there was no market for it in Canada.
Then the cat went away on winter vacation to Florida and the mice stayed at home and brewed a batch of lager; Oland’s father returned, and soon warmed to the idea of the lager, to which his son reportedly replied, “That’s good because it’s already in the tank.”
And so Moosehead’s first lager, called Alpine, was born. Today its descendent, Moosehead Lager, has since taken its place alongside the Heinekens, Molsons and Coors of this world; it holds a top spot in Ontario, where the brand has enjoyed double-digit growth during the past decade making it one of the best-selling premium beers sold through the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.
Now, after a 25-year presence in the United States, the company has begun to reposition its brand by asking the question: What is similar between the moose and the average young beer drinker?
It’s all in the moose
“We did extensive research a few years back and talked to consumers across the country,” relates Glenn McDonald, president of Moosehead USA, a subsidiary of Moosehead Breweries Limited. “We discovered that the moose really defines the beer. So, with input and help from our marketing director (Shamus Hanlon of Gambrinus) and our Chicago ad agency, Tom, Dick and Harry, we devised a whole new approach that focuses around the moose. We realized we had underplayed the value of the moose.”
One interesting finding, he adds, “was the way in which the young adult seemed similar to the moose: they both have a desire to stake their independence. That’s been the real key, being able to reposition the brand with the moose icon and refocus the brand toward 21- to 27-year-olds.” With a new catch phrase – Live Big – meaning “enjoy the moment,” Moosehead has been able to further establish its presence in the U.S. market. Here, improved supermarket sales of Moosehead Lager in many regions has helped the brand grow more than double the rate of specialty/import brands, and 7.5 times the overall market growth. (The beer enjoys a strong following in Hawaii, where it is the third most popular imported brand behind Corona and Heineken.)
“I was in Philadelphia and Boston when we launched the campaign and I saw a number of young adults tearing down our Moosehead iconographic posters, hauling them away to keep,” McDonald recalls, adding, “The main thing for beer is how can you capture the consumer? We feel our beer speaks for itself and we know it’s good. We have strong brewing credentials.”
Those credentials extend to Nova Scotia from where it derives its heritage. The year was 1867 when John James Dunn Oland and wife Susannah made the long trek, along with their seven children, from England to Nova Scotia. Susannah began brewing a few batches of an old family recipe for “brown October ale,” a beer that had been brewed on their estate in England. The brew was so good, friends and neighbors persuaded the family to produce it on a larger scale and sell it to the public.
In 1867, the Oland family opened its first brewery in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. It was known as the Army and Navy Brewery, because the majority of its clients were servicemen, and it was located on the banks of Halifax Harbour.
The family’s first tragedy occurred when John Oland died in a riding accident. Susannah, 52 at the time, was left to manage the brewery and raise five of the seven children still living at home. Susannah lost control of her livelihood when, in 1874, the controlling shares of the Army and Navy Brewery were turned over to a local Halifax businessman. But things began to look up for Susannah in 1877 when she received an inheritance from a family member in England. The Oland family repurchased the controlling shares in the brewery and renamed it S. Oland Sons & Company.
The second disaster hit in 1917, when the tragic Halifax Explosion devastated the family and the brewery was destroyed. The explosion occurred after the collision of two ships in the harbor: one of them, the Mont Blanc, was carrying 3,000 tons of munitions. According to reports: “A colossal tidal wave was created by the blast, and it hurled itself upon the shores of the harbor. Smokestacks were obliterated, buildings were wrenched from their foundations, and wooden houses were completely annihilated. Beyond the flames, the shear force of the explosion toppled stoves, setting homes alight. The heart-shaking underground rumble was followed a few seconds later by the terrifying crash of breaking glass and splintering wood all over the city, as windows were shattered and doors forced by the terrific air blast.”
Such tragedy may have consumed some, but the hearty Oland family once again regrouped and by 1928, with compensation money from the explosion, purchased the James Ready Brewery in West Saint John, New Brunswick. One of the James Ready brands was Moosehead Ale, which, in an historic move, the Oland family rightly chose as the name of their beer, renaming the business Moosehead Breweries.
Moosehead Breweries has continued expanding and is now distributed in 15 countries, and all 50 states in the U.S. The strong family tradition of brewing also continues as two of current Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Derek Oland’s sons, Andrew and Patrick, have become the sixth Oland generation to work in the family business.
“It has always been the quality of the product and the smooth, distinct taste that distinguishes us,” McDonald says. In addition, Moosehead brews its beer longer: 28 days versus the industry-wide average of 18-21 days, which further helps to bring out the full essence of the beer.
The beer with the big taste
Although Alpine was the company’s first lager (launched in 1937), its Moosehead Lager has become world-renowned as the foremost high-quality Canadian beer. Moosehead Lager uses 100-percent Canadian-grown, two-row barley for its malt, which, along with high-quality corn, is the source of sugar for converting into alcohol. Local water from a large undeveloped watershed, after treatment with appropriate hardening salts for traditional lager brewing, makes up most of Moosehead Lager and the company’s other brands.
The yeast used to convert sugar into alcohol for Moosehead and other lagers is a classic European strain, known for cold fermenting. It was carefully selected by P.W. Oland to produce a clean beer, with no fruitiness or off-flavors. The bittering hops are North American grown, but the aroma hops are European varieties that give the beer a slight floral nose.
Moosehead Lager has a distinct flavor, with more character than mass-market commercial lagers like Budweiser and Blue; Moosehead is also more approachable than typical European imports like Becks.
Other beers within the Moosehead portfolio include:
• Alpine Lager: an award winning 5 percent alcohol by volume beer that is slowly aged to give it a light color and medium body;
• Alpine Light: a 4 percent alcohol by volume beer that is cold aged, fully fermented and uses a European aroma hop imparting a fleeting bitterness creating a lighter bodied, refreshing beer with no aftertaste;
• Clancy’s Amber: a smooth, full-bodied amber ale made with two types of malt, hops, corn and true top fermenting ale yeast, to create a medium bodied English style beer. Clancy’s is craft brewed and aged longer for taste, giving it a sweet, malty aroma with a hint of coffee and a fleeting bitter taste;
• Moosehead Light: known to many as “Moose Light,” contains 4 percent alcohol by volume and is a true Canadian-style Lager. It is fully fermented and cold aged, also being aged longer, producing a crisp, highly refreshing beer with a smooth aftertaste and well balanced flavor;
• Moosehead Pale Ale: a full-bodied 5 percent alcohol by volume ale. It is brewed with premium malt and European hops using the traditional top fermentation process, to produce a flavorful smooth ale with a remarkably clean finish.
• Moosehead Premium Dry: a smooth, real beer taste without aftertaste. It is fully fermented, lightly hopped and dry brewed, creating a lightly colored beer with less body, little aftertaste and higher alcohol content (5.5 percent alcohol by volume);
• Moosehead Dry Ice: a light colored, well balanced beer with a sweet finish and little aftertaste. Brewed longer and ice filtered, Moosehead Dry Ice is the drinkable strong beer at 6 percent alcohol by volume;
• Ten-Penny Old Stock Ale: a robust ale brewed using top
fermenting ale yeast, more malt and hops for extra body and higher alcohol content (5.3 percent alcohol by volume). Its unique
flavor has made it the choice of Maritime traditional ale drinkers
• All Moosehead products are produced out of the company’s Saint John, New Brunswick facility and shipped to distributors around the world. The brand has been distributed in the U.S. since 1997 by The Gambrinus Company, which also has the rights to the Modelo brands for the Eastern U.S.
Moosehead describes its typical Lager customer as “an athletic, well-educated professional, who prefers a ‘step-up’ beer. This means it is premium compared with mass-market beer, but is not aggressive in taste.” In Canada, Moosehead Lager’s advertising targets active individuals who appreciate both the outdoors and a high-quality beverage.
In the U.S., in addition to focusing on the moose, the company has repositioned the brand to appeal to a sophisticated consumer who wants something different and out of the mainstream – a step-up brand, McDonald says. “It is our objective to establish Moosehead as a step up (in taste and image) to the premium domestic brands they drink most often.”
McDonald explains that there are two main trends currently affecting the beer category, which will continue over the next number of years. “First, as you have probably read, the beer industry has been taking a back seat to the wine and spirits manufacturers. This is true only to a certain extent and it masks the real opportunity for a company like Moosehead. What consumers are really looking for is an opportunity to trade up to something they perceive as better; in beer, it’s imports that have grown year over year for the past decade. The second trend deals with consumers, especially young adults, age 21 to 27, who are becoming more and more experimental, which means they are open to trying new brands.” In fact, McDonald claims much of the company’s recent success is attributable to its marketing campaign, which focuses on the iconic value of its famous moose in and around selected university and college towns.
To help give its brand a stronger footing the company has promotions planned for 2006, starting in April with an in-pack Win Moose Gear catalogue followed in the summer by a repeat of its successful Moosehead and Tails promotion tie in with lobster. For the latter, consumers get a chance to win a free lobster at their local market with the purchase of Moosehead products.
“I feel very optimistic that the Moosehead brand is well positioned to compete in the fast growing import segment of the beer industry,” McDonald says. “It is an exiting time for the Moosehead brand. We appreciate the support the brand receives from our distributors and, ultimately, from our customers. We believe if we can sell the moose, we can sell the beer.”