Black Gold: Famous Newfoundland Screech

During the Napoleanic wars in the early 1800’s Newfoundlanders sold fish (when we say fish in Newfoundland, we refer to “codfish”) to parts of the Carribean, as markets to Portugal, Britain and other parts of Europe were too risky. In return these schooners would return to the island filled with rum. Still today, Famous Newfoundland Screech is imported from Jamaica and Bottled by the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation in St. Johns, NL. I sit and drink their Limited Edition tonight, which pays tribute to the past as it potrays an old-style image of years ago. This is a fine aged Jamaican rum, which is full flavoured and robust, yet remarkably soft, a well rounded rum……black gold.

For those who know me well, know I enjoy the sweet taste of our Famous Screech on occasion. However, it wasn’t always this way. In fact, most Newfoundlander’s I know depict Screech as strong and somewhat vile. I think my first attempt at a Screech and Coca-cola lasted near two hours. I remember it being somewhat unpleasant. However, I am resilient and never gave up with my attempts and now Newfoundland Screech is a rum of choice for me. I take great pride as I take each swallow of the black gold.

We have a famous ritual known as the “Screech-In”, which was adapted as a marketing campaign  developed around this liquor. I assume it was done to boost sales to visitors, as most locals I know still won’t stand to touch the stuff.

A Screech-in is a ceremony that enables first-time visitors to the province to become honourary Newfoundlanders. Many variations exists and it is a long time custom in many older bars, in which a person eats Newfoundland steak “balogna”, takes a shot of Screech, kisses a codfish and says “in’deed it’is me ol’ cock and long may your big jib draw” along with a few other tasks. If successful, the person gets a Certificate from the Royal Order of Screechers noting their special accomplishment. To explain the saying…

  • indeed it is: here we are
  • me ol’ cock: cock comes from Old English of your “buddy”, meaning my friend
  • jib: sail of a ship
  • draw: is a gust of wind

So here we are my friend, long smooth sailing. It is a fancy way of saying all the best for a worry free life or cheers. Leave it to us Newfoundlanders to make things complicated. 🙂

I had the opportunity to conduct a special Screech-in Ceremony, which at the Canadian Nation-2-Nation party while studying in Prague, Czech Republic at the Kamikaze (Face-2-Face) club in front of hundreds of people. Each week a different country had the opportunity to host a party teaching other exchange students and residents about each others Home Country. It was a Halloween celebration and about 20 Canadian Exchange students had the opportunity to host the party. We made Ceasars as a welcome drink, pancakes with maple syrup, nanaimo bars (a big hit) and lots of Halloween candy, pumpkins were carved and we were well dressed. I was a Mountie, we had cowgirls from Calgary, Canadian bacon and real lumber jacks. We showed a presentation highlighting our beautiful country and then played a game. It was elimination style…best two of three to chug maple syrup, next best to shotgun a giant can of Molson Canadian advances to have the opportunity to become an Honourary Canadian. Well, then I make my appearance…Captain Jack with my bright yellow rubber boots (thank you Theresa) from the waters of the Strait of Belle Isle with today’s catch “carp” (Czech speciality). I baptized the person with the salt water, got them down on their knucks, thought em’ how to do a jig, drink the screech, kiss the carp and say the words. Truly a great sport and totally deserving of being a resident of our beautiful island. We all danced the night away and I have many fond memories of that night. Thank you everyone….

Screech has become a big part of my tradition to pass on to others. This past Christmas I sent many mini bottles to past co-workers in Edmonton, to Tobias, Reto, David, Marcel, Valerie, Nacho (RIP) and many others. Soon too Benoit you will have the chance to become an honourary Newfoundlander….I hope you all enjoy the black gold as much as I do.



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