St. John’s Newfoundland offers the inquisitive traveler a number of delights worthy of venturing to Canada’s maritime region.
You can stand on North America’s most eastern point and watch whales, puffins and icebergs.
You can eat a local delicacy called cod cheeks (although I don’t recommend it) and play with adorable Newfoundland dogs in the place they call home.
But our favorite recommendations, the best reason to travel to Newfoundland, include beer and chocolate.
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Quidi Vidi Brewing in St. John’s Newfoundland
Quidi Vidi is a former fishing village that is now home to absolutely the best craft brewery ever. The building that houses the microbrewery was actually a fish processing plant. (We’re sure the smell of hops is much better than the smell of fish).
The fish plant, however, is an upgrade from where the business started. That was in a janitor’s closet at Memorial University in Newfoundland. That’s where owners Dave Fong and Dave Rees met and began practicing the brewing process.
Fast forward through their brief careers in the offshore oil industry to 1996 when they finally accomplished their dream of launching a business unique to Newfoundland.
The first ale they named 1892, the year a massive fire destroyed much of St. John’s. It’s based on a recipe from a British merchant ship from the period. To make it authentic, the Daves import hops from Europe.
They continued to introduce other flavors and the little business was doing quite well. That could be in large part to their location in Newfoundland. We were told that Newfoundlanders drink about 20 dozen beers per person per year. That’s supposedly more than any province in Canada except for the Yukon.
Newfoundland’s Iceberg Alley
The unique thing about Newfoundland and its neighboring province of Labrador is what happens here each summer. The coast becomes a meeting point for icebergs, which two or three years earlier, broke off of glaciers on the island of Greenland and began their voyage across the North Atlantic.
It’s quite the site to see. Sometimes you’ll see a dozen icebergs at a time, some 10 or 15 stories tall. They begin to break up here and float ashore in small “bergy bits.” Locals will often walk the shore with coolers to pick up iceberg ice for their home freezers. It stays frozen longer than normal freezer ice, thus keeping your drinks colder longer. Some restaurants in St. John’s serve iceberg ice in their drinks in season.
Barge operators collect the bergy bits, which are then melted to the freshest, cleanest, most natural water ever. And you know, when brewing beer, it’s the water that makes all the difference.
Brewing Iceberg Beer in St. John’s Newfoundland
In 2009, Quidi Vidi launched Iceberg Beer using 25,000 year old water tested for purity to 8 parts per million. When other breweries advertise theirs as “light, fresh, clean, natural” – forget about it. Iceberg Beer is indeed the freshest, most naturally clean beer we’ve ever tasted.
Each year since, Quidi Vidi has bottled about 60,000 dozen Iceberg Beers to great acclaim. The cobalt blue bottles themselves have become great collectors items to the point that the Daves had to put out a call locally for people to turn in their bottles so they could continue the bottling process. Quidi Vidi had run out of cobalt blue bottles.
Oh, another reason to visit – Iceberg Beer is only available in Newfoundland.
FYI – another great beer found only in Canada is from the Farmery in Manitoba.
Newfoundland Chocolate Company at Signal Hill
A favorite place to enjoy Iceberg Beer is at a picnic at the Signal Hill National Historic Site. The hill provides a spectacular view of the North Atlantic Ocean and the Narrows, the small channel that allows ships and small vessels access to the port. Military history has been made here over and over again.
It was from this point in December 1901 that Guglielmo Marconi and team first received a radio wireless message from Europe, basically launching this addiction we now have to our cell phones and other wireless technology.
And then, the Newfoundland Chocolate Company has a cafe in the Signal Hill Visitors Center. A chocolate fountain bubbles continuously in the cafe. The shop also sells, gelato, soups and paninis, as well as wine and Iceberg Beer. They’ll pack up a picnic lunch for you to enjoy at any of the picnic tables or hiking trails around the hilltop.
The Local Flavor of Newfoundland Chocolate
There’s much to love about the Newfoundland Chocolate Company. First and obviously, it’s chocolate. But other than the cacao beans that come from warmer climates, everything else is locally sourced, including the milk, the fruit flavors and much of the sugar.
You can learn a lot about Newfoundland by eating this chocolate. Many of the candies are named for streets in St. John’s or famous people. The Danny — a caramel, milk chocolate and sea salt combination — is the most popular. It’s named for Danny Williams, a well-liked former Premiere of the island. I know nothing about Newfoundland’s politics, but I LOVE The Danny.
The wrappings on a number of their candy bars include some of the unusual parlance unique to Newfoundland, little colloquial sayings that breathe life into this culture. For example, “Stunned as me Arse” means the person you are talking about is not very bright.
“Some Day on Clothes” references a pretty, sunny day, or a good day to hang clothes on the line. Almost everyone seems to hang their clothes outside in this part of the world. I love it.
“I dies for you” basically mean you are funny, as in “you crack me up” or “you make me laugh.”
There’s another one called “Lard Tunderin.” I can’t remember exactly what that was all about, but I think it is basically OMG or Holy Cow or some other generic exclamation. At least that’s what I’m going to use it for.
We bought a dozen or more candy bars to share with friends and family when we got home.
Lard Tunderin – like that’s gonna happen!