On selling out

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You’ll never understand it
Try to buy and brand it
I win, you lose, cause it’s my job
To keep craft beer elite.
This beverage ain’t your fuckin’ industry.

~Fat Mike, if he were a beer blogger, probably. 

As it is with music, there is an important distinction in beer between what we might define as that which is indie and that which we might deem corporate.

Craft beer, you might say, is  something generally akin to your favourite band that’s still playing local clubs, manning their own merch tables, and banging out records on a small record label–or even no label at all. Much like craft breweries, indie bands maintain a devoted local following because they make a quality product and there is a perception that they do what they do because they love it and they’re not just in it for the money, man.

By the same token, we might readily compare big breweries to something along the lines of a boy band or the Spice Girls: a sort of fabricated version of the concept of a “band,” assembled by people with an understanding of the market and a unique ability to create a product that will have mass appeal. It’s often a profoundly successful “product,” but to those who are passionate about the scene, it’s a watered down, passionless version of what should be a good thing.

This is a simplified analogy for sure, but to me there are actually a lot of parallels between craft beer and independent music, the most notable of which is that rather icky feeling we all get when a treasured brewery or band suddenly becomes financially successful. Continue reading

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Toboggan Brewing Co: Mr. Smith’s Interesting Experiment

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If you spent any of your twenties (or earlier) in the city of London, Ontario, it’s pretty likely that you had at least an evening or two at Jim Bob Ray’s, a bar that has long been a staple of The Forest City’s student nightlife scene.

Indeed, if you went to the University of Western Ontario (I will not indulge my alma mater’s rebrand as *shudder* “Western”), your feelings about Jim Bob’s arguably shaped your approach to London’s nightlife. It was either “We’re going to fucking Jim Bob’s?” *groan* or “We’re going to fucking Jim Bob’s!” *fist pump, shotgun a beer*

Now, however, regardless of how you may feel about the (in)famous spot at 585 Richmond Street, the days of Jim Bob’s reputation as the quintessential London university drinking experience are numbered: Very soon the place will cease being “Jim Bob Ray’s” and will become Toboggan Brewing Co.

Opened in October of 1993 by Mike Smith, a longtime veteran of London’s bar and restaurant scene,  Jim Bob’s has actually already begun its slow makeover to a craft brew pub. Full disclosure: Mr. Smith is a longtime friend of my family’s. Mike spent Christmas eves at my house when I was a kid, my dad actually “worked” at an establishment he owns as something of a post-retirement lark, and a picture of me at age 12 is even hanging among the many that adorn the walls of one of his bars, the London institution, Joe Kool’s.

Personal connection aside, I find Smith’s plan to turn Jim Bob’s into a brewery fascinating for a number of reasons; not the least of which is that I think the success or failure of the move will serve as a perfect litmus test for the current state of Ontario’s craft beer scene. Continue reading

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Changes to Ontario’s beer: The good, the bad, and the WTF

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In case you are unaware–or you’re like me and were drinking copious amounts of great American craft beer at the annual Craft Brewers Conference in Portland when it happened–last week the province announced some proposed changes to the way beer is sold in Ontario.

Mostly contained in an announcement wherein Premier Kathleen Wynne confirmed that we’d be seeing beer sold in grocery stores (if the Liberal budget is passed, which it will since they have a majority), the full details of the proposed changes were outlined in the report Striking the Right Balance: Modernizing Beer Retailing and Distribution in Ontario

Given my Portland sojourn, I’m admittedly a little late to the party analyzing the impact of these possible changes, but better late than never.

If you’re interested, Canadian Beer News has a great round up of the various reactions to the report in the major dailies and some blogs.  I recommend Dan Grant‘s post for NOW Magazine for some reaction from brewers and Jordan St. John published an interesting post in which he takes a look at how we got here (and gets a terrific visit from a trolling Beer Store employee in the comments section for his efforts!)

In considering the report and its impact, I opted to approach the issue as I do most other things: I cracked a beer and first read what every one else was saying–but then I decided to take a critical look at each of the proposed major changes individually.

Here’s why I think the proposed changes are good, why they might be bad, and why they have me asking “wtf?” Continue reading

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Beer and Loathing: Pliny, dubstep, and hostile Mexicans

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Me: This is kind of a rough neighbourhood, man. I’m pretty sure that’s a gang over there.
Jeff: That one guy has a tuba!
Me: Oh, well then we should probably go wherever they’re going.

In retrospect, following the gang of Mexicans simply because they had musical instruments was clearly a mistake.

Our first tip should have been the bouncer at the bar that they led us to who, when patting down me and my 6’7″ drinking companion, Jeff, seemed far too surprised when told we didn’t have any weapons on us. “Not even a knife?” he had said.

Inside we were quickly abandoned by the band who would shortly undertake one of the most terrible live performances I’ve ever seen and we were greeted by a sea of brown faces looking up at Jeff. Continue reading

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Beer and Loathing in Portland

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As I write this, I am 30,000 feet in the air, screaming toward America’s west coast for what will surely be a week of the sort of debauchery you regret for about a week following, but reminisce fondly about for years thereafter.

I’m heading to the annual Craft Brewers Conference, this year being held in Portland, Oregon; a place with more craft breweries per capita than any other place in the world.

So yes, there will be beer.

Of course, the trip won’t be without its problems, the most notable of which being that somehow in the weeks prior to the journey, I have slipped inexplicably deep into overdraft in my bank account. While it was likely a compendium of too many shawarma lunches, afternoon coffees, and liquor store runs that had sent me irreparably on the course to minor debt, it was surely the gear I assembled prior to my journey that really did me in. Continue reading

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Ontario’s potential ‘off sale’ beer problem

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Recently, The Toronto Star wrote a story about the fact that Restaurants Canada would like their Ontario members to be able to sell retail beer.

Touting the fact that six other provinces already allow “off sales,” Restaurants Canada vice-president James Rilett was quoted as saying that the idea was “a natural evolution in Ontario’s retail system.”

And while that seems a logical statement at face value, it’s important to remember that there really is nothing natural about Ontario’s retail beer system. Indeed, legislated under almost century-old rules and controlled by foreign-owned entities and a government-endorsed monopoly, Ontario’s retail scene is not so much something borne of “natural evolution” as it is an ungodly, slapped-together, and agonized monster stumbling in the woods praying for someone to euthanize it.

That is to say, I don’t think this plan will work.

For one thing,  this not-so-new-idea doesn’t really seem to have Ontario’s brewers’ best interests at heart. Full disclosure: A nice guy from Restaurants Canada once bought me lunch to discuss this very idea in hopes that I’d help them shore up support from brewers for this plan. As I told them then, I think it’s a lovely plan for Restaurants Canada, but not so much the solution brewers need. Continue reading

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CONTEST: Win two tickets to Shakesbeer

Studio Session - 001 Brought to you by Classical Theatre Project, Shakesbeer will transform Artscape Wychwood Barns into a pop-up theatre and beer hall for the “The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)” on April 18, 2015, and Ben’s Beer Blog is giving away a pair of tickets to one lucky reader. 

And oh yeah, as the name might suggest “Shakesbeer” is  not only an evening of theatre focused on the Bard, it’s also a chance to take in said theatre with your favourite beverage in hand. 

Along with classy theatre, the event will feature a beer line up from Publican House, Junction Craft Brewery, Wellington, and Steamwhistle, as well as cider from Brickworks Ciderhouse.

 In keeping with traditional Shakespearean fare, there will also be…Australian meat pies (just go with it). To enter for a chance to win two tickets to either the 6:30pm performance or the 9:00pm performance, simply comment below and leave a Shakespeare quote that you’ve modified to include beer

I’ll place all entrants in a hat and choose a winner on Monday April 13th. As always, entries that I like the most will be entered into the hat twice as will entries from those who share a link to this contest on twitter. 

If you don’t win, fear not, you can of course still attend and Ben’s Beer Blog readers can receive a special discounted price. Simply use the promo code brew39, and receive $10 off your tickets. Good luck!


  •  If you write “To beer or not to beer” I’ll make sure you don’t win. Come on. You’re better than that. 
  • In case you were wondering, the tights wearing fellows in the lead image are actors Matt Drappel, Jeff Hanson and Kevin Ritchie.
  • Also in case you wondering, I received zero financial compensation for this contest, I just thought it sounded like a fun event in my neighbourhood and decided to help out.

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