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Welcome to Amazing Tap Handles - The Tap Handle Museum. Here you will find photos of the Museum's collection of beer taps, along with brewery info. Have a look around the Museum, and use the contact form in sidebar to leave me feedback about the site, talk about taps, or if you have a rare tap handle you'd like to sell to the Museum. I'd love to hear from you! Please, no inquires about buying taps - they're not for sale.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Tap Handle #400: Labatt - Canadian Ale

Tap size:  10"
Rarity:  Rare
Mounting:  internal 3/8" nut

Well, here we are at another milestone: tap handle #400. Nearly a year ago this past July, I made a post about tap handle #300, saying I planned to keep going because I had acquired 350 taps. The pace of acquisitions has nearly doubled, as I'm now at tap handle #400 and I've acquired 500 taps, so there will be at least another 100 posts for you to look forward to. Though acquisitions have slowed recently, I plan to continue since I've eclipsed my goals for a personal collection and I'm now focused on acquisitions with a museum firmly in my future plans.

Tap handle #300 was a landmark post that was used to tie into a personal connection. Unfortunately I don't have any taps with a similar connection, so instead I'll present a tap for a company that sprang from one of the oldest breweries in North America: Labatt. The Labatt hatchet is a great tap, used only for the Canadian Ale variety, that I had always thought was small...only to be surprised that it is nearly the same size as similar taps like the Morning Wood ax and the Hook and Ladder ax. Most Labatt figural taps are hockey-themed, making this one fairly unique. They are rare but do appear occasionally and can be had for a decent price when they do.

Click through to read more about Labatt, their Canadian Ale, and to see more photos of this classic tap...

Labatt traces its origins to 1828 in London, Ontario, Canada, when an innkeeper named John Balkwill built the Simcoe Street Brewery. Balkwill turned over the operation of the brewery to his brother-in-law, George Snell and Goerge's brother William. The brewery was destroyed by fire in 1840 but was rebuilt in the same year with a capacity of 8,000 barrels. In 1847, John Kinder Labatt, an Irish immigrant who had been supplying the brewery with malt barley and who had returned from Britain where he had learned about brewing, took over the London brewery in partnership with Samuel Eccles, a brewmaster. The Labatt-Eccles team continued in partnership until 1853, when John Labatt became sole owner and renamed the company Labatt's Brewery. Labatt realized that the Great Western Railway, completed in the late 1850s, was the company's ticket to expansion outside London. No longer limiting beer sales to London and its surrounding areas, the railway opened new markets for Labatt in Toronto, Montréal and the Maritimes and formed the foundation for future aggressive expansion. His son, John Labatt Jr. became involved in brewing at an early age, and after an apprenticeship at a Wheeling, West Virginia brewery, he took over the family business when his father died in 1866.

Another fire burned out a major portion of the brewery in 1874, but later that year a rebuilt, larger brewery was open for business. John Jr.'s recipe for India Pale Ale won the 1876 silver medal at the Dominion of Canada Exposition in Ottawa and the 1878 Labatt's India Pale Ale wins a gold medal at the International Exposition in Paris, France. In 1899, steps were taken to meet an increasing demand for Labatt products in the Toronto area, where subsequently a sales office and small warehouse were opened. In 1900 John Jr. brought his two sons, John III and Hugh, into the business, and when John Jr. died in 1915, his sons assumed joint management. Their early years at the helm were troublesome, for World War I with its production restrictions was followed by Prohibition. Labatt survived by producing full strength beer for export south of the border and by introducing two "temperance ales" with less than two per cent alcohol for sale in Ontario. However, the Canadian beer industry suffered a second blow when Prohibition began in the U.S. in 1919. When Prohibition was repealed in Ontario in 1926, just 15 breweries remained and only Labatt retained its original management. This resulted in a strengthened industry position. After four years of relative prosperity, the Great Depression of the 1930's struck. It had scarcely run its course when World War II broke out, and again expansion was halted.

But from the end of World War II growth was rapid. In 1945 the company went public, and the next year entered the national market with the purchase of the Copland Brewing Company in Toronto. Further brewing acquisitions have been Shea's Winnipeg Brewery Limited in 1953, Lucky Lager Breweries Limited of British Columbia in 1958, Saskatoon Brewing Company in 1960, and Bavarian Brewing Limited of St. John's, Newfoundland in 1962. A plant was opened in Ville la Salle, Quebec in 1956 and one in Edmonton in 1964. Labatt also expanded by entering the pharmaceutical field and the Canadian wine market. In 1950, Hugh and John III created Labatt 50 to celebrate 50 years of partnership. In 1951, Labatt launched its Pilsener Lager; when it was introduced in Manitoba, the beer was nicknamed "Blue" for the color of its label and the company's support of Winnipeg's Canadian Football League (CFL) franchise, the Blue Bombers. The nickname stuck and in 1979 Labatt Blue claimed top spot in the Canadian beer market. Labatt was also the majority owner of the Toronto Blue Jays from their inception in 1976 until 1995.

In 1986, a strike shutdown the Labatt and Molson breweries, allowing enterprising young breweries such as Big Rock to make a name for themselves. In 1995, Labatt was acquired by the large Belgian multinational brewer InBev (at that time known as Interbrew), the world market leader. Labatt’s US headquarters were originally located in Buffalo for some years. Labatt then decided to relocate their headquarters to Norwalk, Connecticut for a time. In 2007 Labatt decided to relocate their US operations back to Buffalo due to strong sales in the city and closer proximity to their Ontario operations. Labatt's Toronto brewery ceased operations in 2006 and was demolished by 2007, thus ending the brewery's ties to that city. In 2009, the company sold Labatt USA, including the American rights to its core Labatt products to North American Breweries, and agreed to brew those brands on Labatt USA's behalf until 2012. This sale was mandated by the U.S. Department of Justice for competitive reasons following InBev's merger with Anheuser-Busch, since Budweiser and Labatt Blue were both among the top brands in upstate New York. The sale did not include U.S. rights to other Labatt products such as Kokanee or Alexander Keith's, which were distributed in the U.S. by A-B, and it did not affect Labatt's Canadian operations in any way; A-B InBev retained full control of the Labatt portfolio within Canada. However, sales of Labatt Blue declined by 28.3% between 2007 and 2012.

Another strike hit the Labatt brewery in St. John's in 2013. The strike was highly contentious between the brewery, union workers, and strikebreakers. However, in 2014 a new collective agreement was signed that ended the 11 month strike and lasts until 2020.

Labatt Canadian Ale, also known by its more common name of Labatt 50, is an award-winning blond ale that is fermented using a special ale yeast that has been in use at Labatt since 1933. Specially-selected North American hops and a good balance of dryness, complemented by a fruity taste, provide Labatt 50 with all the distinguishing features of a true ale.

Ratebeer weighted average:  2.27 out of 5
Beer Advocate:  70 out of 100 (okay)

Labatt Brewing
150 Simcoe St
London, Ontario, Canada

Source Material
Labatt website

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