Local History Advent Calendar 2018 – Day 2 – salt in beer

When I am researching one topic I often come across random historical tidbits that I think might be interesting to research one day.  These tidbits sometimes end up as full-fledged stories and sometimes they just stay as random historical tidbits.  I have collected quite a few, so I thought it might be fun to present them in the form of “treats” for a local history advent calendar. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Vancouver history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

Day 2: Vancouverites used to put salt in their draught beer….

Though this may seem inconceivable to us today, in the current era of craft-beer, but in the 1920s to 1970s it was very common to see a shaker of salt on each table inside Vancouver beer parlours (and in fact all over Canada). Why salt?

“The practice of putting salt in beer to reduce the acidity and to ‘put a head on it’ is common in Montreal.” – Montreal Gazette, June 29, 1927

It was thought that flat beer could be “woken up” by adding salt, as sprinkling a bit of salt into a nearly flat beer helps pull the remaining carbonation out to give it a head again. I also found a contrary reference in the book Canada’s War Grooms and the Girls who Stole their Hearts by Judy Kozar that said that salt was used to “flatten the fizz of the weak, over-aerated beer”.  So, whether it was used to combat flat beer, overly gassy beer, or bitter taste, adding salt to beer parlour draught was once used to compensate for poor quality beer. We’ve come a long way, baby!

This short video featuring Irving Layton was shot inside a Vancouver beer parlour in 1966 and clearly shows a shaker of salt on the table.

For a more in-depth and fascinating history of BC Beer Parlours check out Robert Campbell’s book: Regulating Vancouver’s Beer Parlours, 1925-1954.



2 thoughts on “Local History Advent Calendar 2018 – Day 2 – salt in beer

  1. Dad was on the 7 O’clock Show once. I must have been pretty young because I was allowed to stay up late to watch.

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