Nanaimo and Beer: A 150 Year-Old Love Affair

June 29th, 2016

If you enjoy tales of brewmasters trying their hand at crafting the perfect beer or stories of rowdy sailors coming ashore in search of a cold brew, then look no further. Nanaimo has an exciting brewery history, tracing back over 150 years.

Similar to the explosive popularity of micro-breweries today, Nanaimo had a burst in demand for local brewing businesses at the turn of the twentieth century.

For example, in 1890, one of the most successful brewing operations was launched in the Harbour City – the Nanaimo Brewing Company. The first brewmaster of the Nanaimo Brewing Company, John Mahrer, was so prosperous he was able to save his extensive brewing profits to purchase the Nanaimo Opera House and the Newcastle Hotel. Soon after launching the business, Mahrer went on to buy the Red Lion Brewery before merging with the Union Brewing Company in 1892. Clearly, the Nanaimo Brewing Company had a strong following of local clientele.

Nanaimo’s Union Brewing Company also has an intriguing history. First established in 1891, Harold McAdie was contracted to build a brick building on Dunsmuir Street for Union’s brewing facility (fun fact, Dunsmuir Street was named after Nanaimo’s coal mogul James Dunsmuir). The brewery comprised of a 900-gallon copper kettle, weighing over a ton. Union’s complex refrigeration system was able to chill over 2,000 gallons of delicious beer a day. Today, the iconic brick building is now home to Nanaimo City Hall.

Interestingly, a group of sailors soon became acquainted with Nanaimo’s impressive brew-scene. According to the Nanaimo News Bulletin, in the dead of night in 1892 the Glory of the Seas quietly docked in the Port of Nanaimo and a gang of nine sailors slipped off the vessel in search of a good time. Unfortunately for the sailors, all the saloons were closed. Though, the sailors’ fortunes quickly changed as they stumbled upon one brewmaster working late at night.

Frightened, the brewmaster ran and hid in a broom closet from the group of men standing outside. Capitalizing upon opportunity, the sailors entered the brewery to quenching their thirst. As a small token of their appreciation, the sailors left $1.80 for the consumed beverages.

The next morning fortunes changed yet again, and the sailors were charged with intoxication and disorderly conduct. The brewmaster didn’t come out unscathed either. Since the brewmaster kept the $1.80, he too was charged for selling alcohol after liquor hours.

Over the course of 150 years, much has changed in the Harbour City. However, Nanaimo’s brewing history continues to live on in the fantastic local brews being produced and consumed today. We can raise our glasses and drink to that!

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