Ice Cold Beer: Icebergs Take New Form at Brewery

There are four basic ingredients in beer: grain, hops, yeast and water.  Brewers routinely experiment with barley and wheat to distinguish their products in their competitive, creative field.  In Canada, one brewery uses one especially unexpected product to create a natural, pure taste: icebergs.

The blue bottle of Quidi Vidi’s Iceberg Beer (Source: twitter @QuidiVidiBeer)

The St. John’s, Newfoundland-based Quidi Vidi Brewing (QV) is capturing media attention for its beer that is brewed with the water from 25,000-year-old icebergs.

This past month a reporter from Vice’s Munchies toured the operations and sampled the “clean, crisp refreshing North-American style lager.” The company, the largest craft brewery in Newfoundland, also held brewing tours in July.

David Fong and David Rees, both engineers in the offshore oil industry, founded QV in 1996.  The two men converted an old seafood plant into a full-fledged brewery.  Not long after their start, the same year an iceberg drifted up the harbor that sheltered QV, the brewery brought their Iceberg Beer to market.  In March of 2011, QV changed the Iceberg bottle to the dark blue it is today.

After 10,000 to 25,000 years of formation on glaciers in Greenland, the calved icebergs drift southwest on ocean currents and then are harvested off the eastern coast of Canada.  The natural preservation and delivery of the pre-industrial water ensures that it is some of the purest in the world, the brewers have said.  

Harvesting icebergs (Source: Douglas Sprott/Flickr.com)

As QV brewer Les Perry told Munchies,“This is what water should taste like. This could be anything up to 25,000 years old…. By the time it [the iceberg] gets to Newfoundland, it’s shrunk in size, so we’re getting closer to the core, made thousands of years ago, long before we had any contaminants.”

Ed Keanone of the few men licensed to harvest seaborne glacial ice, supplies QV with icebergs.  Every summer Kean heads up the coast of eastern Canada to an area known as “Iceberg Alley.”  There, according to an interview between Kean and Canadian news talk show Breakfast Television, he harvests approximately 1.5 million liters of iceberg water to satisfy his buyers. They include QV, a winery and the Newfoundlander distillery Iceberg Vodka.

In a conversation with GlacierHub, Kean said it takes him and his crew of six roughly four to six weeks to get a full harvest of iceberg water. Kean says demand for iceberg water is growing at roughly 10 percent each year.

Obtaining a reliable supply of iceberg water for a commercial product seems no easy task, but Iceberg Vodka’s Brand Marketing Lead, Rachel Starkman, said differently in an email to GlacierHub: “Because there are a limited number of harvesting licenses available and Mother Nature has continued to bless us with fruitful harvests each year, acquiring iceberg water has not posed any difficulties.”

Despite legal disputes between the two founders that began in February of 2014, Quidi Vidi continues to produce its flagship Iceberg Beer and maintains a strong local following. QV did not respond to GlacierHub’s request for comment on its Iceberg Beer by time of publication.

QV has been in operation for 20 years and they have fought long and hard to gain their customers…. Right now they are in the middle of some challenges but all of their fans are hoping they clear soon and Quidi Vidi will be free to stretch their legs and start brewing new beers in line with many other craft breweries,” said Newfoundlander and beer critic Mike Buhler.

Quidi Vidi brewhouse in St. John’s, Newfoundland (Source: DPJanes/CC)

Buhler, aka “Beerthief,” and his wine connoisseur partner, Tom Beckett, founded the NL (Newfoundland) Artisanal and Craft Beer Club in 2012 and then in 2014 began writing a beer blog for the St. John’s daily newspaper, The Telegram.  The Beer Club hosts beer-centric events all year round and comments on all Newfoundlander brews.  In an email correspondence with GlacierHub,  Beerthief described Iceberg Beer as, “a clean refreshing lager that has earned a very loyal following making it QV’s number one seller.”

Some beer lovers disagree with Beertheif’s positive take on Iceberg Beer.  

Online reviewers give the beer an “okay” rating, saying the gimmick does not necessarily live up to expectations.  The beer received only a 2.75/5 on BeerAdvocate, a global beer review website. With the a price of approximately $20 (Canadian) on the NLC Liquor Store website, some reviews say the beer is overpriced for its quality.  However, most of the beer reviews fall under the neutral category of this BeerAdvocate’s comments when he says, “Overall an alright beer, though certainly one I will not jump to drink. Certainly a must-try for anyone visiting Newfoundland at the same time, as the use of iceberg water in brewing definitely makes for a unique experience.”

This author suspects that Iceberg Beer will be around as long as there are icebergs to harvest.

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