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Ice beer wars

The Story

What is ice beer and why is it so important to Molson and Labatt? Peter Gzowski poses this question to his Morningside business panellists. As it turns out, this new type of beer is made using an ice crystal process. It's supposed to make the beer taste smoother and more concentrated. But according to the panellists, it's really just another attention-grabbing gimmick for the major breweries, which are fighting over market leadership in a constantly tightening market.

Medium: Radio
Program: Morningside
Broadcast Date: April 14, 1993
Guest(s): Diane Francis, Giles Gherson, Chris Waddell
Host: Peter Gzowski
Duration: 5:16

Did You know?

• Beer author Paul Brent has dubbed the early '90s "the silly season" for Molson and Labatt. During these years, the two brewers were constantly trying to outdo each other with the introduction of new beer gimmicks. Each launched a number of brand variations on "dry" beer (a low-alcohol content malt liquor), "draft" beer (like real draught but in a bottle), and "ice" beer. The ice beer wars attracted extensive media attention at the time.

• Ice beer was first developed by Labatt in 1993. Labatt Ice was made using a low-temperature brewing process that would cause all the unwanted proteins and tannins to precipitate at a much faster rate and more completely. It was touted as a smoother-tasting, higher-alcohol content brew (5.6 per cent alcohol, as opposed to the average Canadian standard of around five per cent.)

• Several months after Labatt Ice launched, Molson jumped on the icewagon and launched Canadian Ice and Dry Ice, each at 5.7 per cent alcohol per volume.

• The ice beer wars reached a whole new level in September of that year as Labatt introduced Maximum Ice - an ice beer with an unprecedented alcohol content of 7.1 per cent.

• The group Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was extremely upset about Labatt's high-alcohol beer, which seemed to appeal to young people who wanted to get drunk faster and cheaper. The media was all over the story. In an effort to make it less appealing to young people, Labatt agreed to raise the price of Maximum Ice and alter the advertising.

• Before Labatt's Maximum Ice launched, Molson had actually begun lobbying government officials and alcohol abuse groups such as MADD after learning about the plans for the beer. In the public interest, Molson officials said they were trying to curb the potentially dangerous trend toward high alcohol beers. But less than two months after Labatt's launch of Maximum Ice, Molson launched its own high-alcohol beer, Molson XXX (or "triple X") with an even higher 7.3 per cent alcohol.

• These high-alcohol beers continued to attract heavy criticism, and soon they faded from prominence in beer commercials and on the shelves. However, both brands are still available today (2015).

• In Paul Brent's 2004 book Lager Heads, he wrote: "Depending on one's viewpoint, the ice wars were either the high-water mark or low point in the new product skirmishes between Labatt and Molson."



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