Picturesque Quidi Vidi in St. John’s, Newfoundland is a surprising location for the province’s largest craft brewery. Against the backdrop of a historic fishing village, Quidi Vidi Brewing Company has been turning out beer since 1996 and today accounts for 2% of total beer sales on the island.
The brewery rose from the ashes of a former cod processing plant, which stood on the site from 1960-1992, when it was closed following a moratorium on the Northern Cod fishery. The location plays a pivotal role to the brewery, where visitors are regaled with not only a history of the beer, but of the surrounding area. When Quidi Vidi opened its doors, founders David Fong and David Rees aimed to not only compete for a share of the market predominately controlled by Molson Coors and Labatt in Newfoundland, but to brew an exceptional range for the locals. They initially set out to reproduce a light beer that could surpass the quality of what was available on the market; Newfoundlanders, or Newfies, prefer sessionable styles in particular. Light beers make up 60% of sales in the province.
They launched Quidi Vidi Light, a 4% American style lager, as a gateway beer – one to convince and entice drinkers to shift their brand allegiances and drink from a local brewery. This crisp lager did the trick and now accounts for more than ten million dozen beers per year per capita in Newfoundland.
Their most intriguing offering is Iceberg Beer, a lager brewed with twenty thousand year old water from icebergs. The brewery has an iceberg harvester contracted to extract iceberg water, a dangerous process involving cranes and grappling hooks. An unfortunate effect of climate change means that Iceberg Alley, a colloquial term used for the ecozone that stretches from Greenland to Newfoundland, is replete with icebergs traversing the waters. Some have been visible from St John’s harbour, according to the locals.
Iceberg Beer makes up 25% of the brewery’s sales and its clean taste shouldn’t really astonish – iceberg water contains virtually no impurities. In addition to this, the beer is bottled in a stunning electric blue vessel which has proved equally as popular as the beer. The brewery quickly began to run out of the bottles because they were being used for arts and crafts across the province, from makeshift vases to beach glass. To coerce the public to return them for recycling, the brewery offered them 20 cents per bottle, increased from the usual 15 cents offered .
The 1892 was their first beer, named after the year of The Great Fire of 1892, which was the worst disaster to befall St John’s and said to have caused $13 million dollars worth of damage in the day’s currency. A traditional ale, the beer is characterised by malt sweetness with some chewy caramel notes and nuttiness. It offers a departure from the lagers that the brewery focusses on.
If you needed further evidence of how Quidi Vidi successfully resonates with their local clientele, one must only consider the below poster, which was used to advertise their Eric’s Red Ale. After being pitched inane ideas by a big city agency involving women in bikinis in the freezing waters of the Atlantic ocean, the brewery took their own approach – and it was intended to give fellow Newfoundlanders something to talk about.
Despite the hospitality offered in spades at the brewery itself, its founders are reported to no longer be on speaking terms following a messy court battle over misappropriation of funds. There’s no sign of anything amiss to visitors, but the future of the brewery is uncertain. Given its market share in the province, it’s potentially an easy target for Big Beer.
Until then, the popular kitchen parties will continue and Newfie culture will be entrenched in the brewery and the beer; no matter what happens down the line, this local focus will hopefully continue, as it’s been the key to the brewery’s success.