Ben's Beer Blog

A place for all things beer.


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Under the influence: Beer and political donations

“Republicans buy sneakers too.” ~ Michael Jordan

 

Should we refuse to buy beer from breweries whose politics don’t seem to align with our own?

That’s the question that was raised on twitter over the weekend when a handful of “beer personalities” stumbled upon the fact that certain Ontario-based breweries had donated to the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. At a time when Doug Ford is helming this party and appears to be taking an axe to all manner of social service, educational, and healthcare funding, the perceived association of breweries with the PC party was not something to which the twitterati took kindly. Tweets flew mentioning the breweries by name, demanding an explanation for these donations, and even calling for boycotts of the offending companies.

As it turns out, the outrage-machine that has become twitter appears to have failed to vet their sources and, the database used to induce their rage (The National Post’s Follow The Money campaign donation database) actually only lists data up to 2017—meaning none of the donations discovered by angry tweeters actually even went to Doug Ford’s current iteration of the PC party. It’s not clear to me if this means the boycott is still on or if the torches and pitchforks have gone back into the rhetorical shed for now, but the skirmish got me thinking: Why are we so concerned about the political affiliations of brewery owners, especially when we typically don’t seem to be that concerned with the makers of other commodities? Continue reading


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From Graft to Glass

This piece originally appeared in print and online for in the December 2018 edition of The Growler, Ontario’s Beer Guide.

As a paying customer in a bar, you might think that the beer on tap is chosen to suit your tastes. It feels like a safe assumption that not only the food but also the beer pouring from the gleaming row of taps is selected to appease you, in order to make you spend money, return, and maybe even invite friends along.

But it usually isn’t. Those beers are there for different reasons and that bar isn’t actually a really big fan of the 12 very similar lagers that Labatt offers.

The truth is, most bar and restaurant owners treat their draught taps, and often their fridges of bottles and cans too, as not much more than prime real estate, available to the highest bidder. Brewery sales reps come into bars with an arsenal of free shit in order to “influence” their way onto these tap lines. They’re flush with “swag” like t-shirts, patio umbrellas, bar mats and chalkboards. They have budgets to offer keg deals, buy five get one free, for example; and they often simply hand over cash or offer to pay for a bar to install draught lines so that the brewery can make sure their beer is always in that line. There is no loyalty in the hospitality business. A bar manager’s love for a brewery is really only as good as the last rep who walked in the door with free tickets to a Ti-Cats game and a fucking snapback hat. Continue reading


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When is it OK to send a beer back?

This piece originally appeared in print and online for in the November 2018 edition of The Growler, Ontario’s Beer Guide.

I recently had occasion to visit a nearby outpost of a franchise steak restaurant.

It was one of those rare moments in our lives as parents when my wife and I realized that we were out, childless, hungry at the dinner hour and could actually sit down and enjoy a meal together.

This is, of course, what franchise steak restaurants are for. They are a known entity: You will have a large and decent piece of meat that you will pay a large and decent price for. You will have the same two appetizers you always order at their other locations. And you will enjoy timely and courteous service. Deep booths, dim lighting, these are all things you are familiar with.

I like an independently-owned, funky, and unique restaurant as much as the next casual food snob, but when you’ve got 90 minutes and no margin for error, give me the comforting sameness and uniform service standards of a reasonably solid franchise every time.

Of course, the one unknown at places like these is always the beer selection.
Continue reading


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London’s Beerlab! is finally ready to open

London beer’s worst kept secret is now out in the open.

Beerlab!, the small batch brewery owned and operated by Nick Baird and Adil Ahmad, is finally set to open its doors June 7th. Beer drinkers in London are, of course, likely already aware of both the duo and their fledgling brewery given that the location of the soon-to-open small batch venue is adjacent to Milos’ Craft Beer Emporium, and both Baird and Ahmad have spent time working (and drinking) at Milos.

For those who haven’t tipped pints, talked local music, or chatted beer with Nick or Adil (or hounded them endlessly about when they were going to open their fucking brewery so you could blog about it), the Coles notes version is this: these guys are super into brewing, have been working on opening their doors for a long time, and next week Londoners are going to get another cool spot to drink great beer made by passionate brewers. Continue reading


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Joel Manning, professional brewer


It would be difficult to overstate Joel Manning’s impact on craft beer in Ontario and, indeed, Canada. Manning was the Brewmaster for Toronto’s Mill Street Brewery from 2005 to 2018 and he passed away yesterday after suffering a heart attack.

My own memories of Manning are tied to the Brewmaster’s Dinners he hosted; specifically, those he hosted for Robbie Burns Day.

For a few years in a row, I attended Mill Street’s annual Robbie Burns’ Supper, which Manning always hosted. In 2013 I was lucky enough to actually get seated next to Manning. He hosted the evening as he had in previous years, with a sort of determined reluctance. It is difficult to describe exactly, but in my interactions with him he always seemed infinitely more comfortable brewing beer or talking about brewing beer than he did hosting these sorts of events, yet it was also always abundantly clear to me that he was fully committed to the importance of hosting these things properly. Continue reading


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It’s time for better beer: An open letter to Blue Jays CEO Mark Shapiro

Dear Mr. Shapiro,

Your promise of discount beer at the Rogers Centre today was a nice gesture, but it is not going to cut it. It is time to offer Toronto Blue Jays fans locally-made, independently-owned beer at the Rogers Centre.

Today you offered up the idea of $5 beer at the Rogers Centre and, while that sounds great, and is already grabbing you the headlines you probably hoped it would, you don’t need to be a cynical basement-dwelling, impossibly handsome beer blogger to see what this transparent ploy really is. You have in the past given lip service “improving the fan experience” at Jays games and you even seemed to publicly flirt with the idea of bringing in craft beer, as they did in Cleveland when you were there. I fear that you will now use $5 dollar beer to show that “you listened” and will claim the beer has improved. Reports are that the $5 beer will include 355ml cans of Bud and Bud Light so I wanted to clarify to you that selling the same shit at a lower price point in a smaller format is not actually an improvement. Indeed, it seems to me this might be the solution that Rogers and AB InBev came up with together to “improve” the beer situation at games in hopes that the conversation would go away:

FANS: “We want better beer!”
BLUE JAYS: “This small beer is now only five dollars! Isn’t that better?”
FANS: “It’s the same be–”
BLUE JAYS: “FIVE DOLLARS!”

I want to let you know that this conversation isn’t going to go away. (For the record though, I’m loving the dollar hot dog days. Definitely do that shit, please).

And it isn’t just me that wants this, I assure you.

Actual craft beer at Jays’ game would go a long way toward improving the fan experience to a level that is currently experienced literally everywhere else in baseball: The Toronto Blue Jays are the only team in major league baseball who have yet to offer fans a significant, readily available craft beer experience.

When it comes to this part of the overall product for which you are ultimately responsible for, you are literally losing to all 29 of your competitors—but not to worry. This part is an easy fix. Forget for a second the unceasing competition to find the right mix of players on the field, coaches in the clubhouse, salary caps, your pitching woes, scouting, etc. Here is a thing you can do better, right now, that will improve the Blue Jays “product.” Give us better fucking beer. Continue reading


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The 15 most important Ontario beers ever

Ontario’s beer scene is still very much in its infancy.

Accordingly, it’s a little tough to identify the beers that have been “game changers” here just yet.  The game, that is, is still very much changing.

That said, in our still-short evolution toward better beer, there have been a handful of beers that most certainly helped Ontario’s craft beer scene get to where it is today.

Here are my picks for what those beers are. These aren’t the best beers, nor are they my favourites, rather they are the beers that have helped transform Ontario’s getting-closer-to-world-class-every-day beer culture thus far.

Upper Canada Brewing Company’s Rebellion
I’m not sure this two-row pale ale made with Cascade and Cluster hops (when the fuck is the last time you heard of someone using cluster hops??) would float anyone’s boat these days, but back in tha day, this was the only Canadian Pale Ale listed in the 1998 World Beer Championships and it scored an 85. So it wasn’t something to sneeze at.

More importantly though, this is THE gateway beer. This beer actually opened the doors for craft beer in the province. For a generation, it was like, oh shit, there’s another kind of beer?

Jason Fisher is the owner of Toronto’s Indie Alehouse and he points to this beer as a gamechanger. “Upper Canada Rebellion (and even their Lager) was the first beer in Ontario made with an eye toward flavour as opposed to filling a place in the market,” he says. “They didn’t give a fuck what any marketing people said. They brewed what they wanted to and, for a time, it was great. They brought in fresh German hops to make beer with which, at the time, was unheard of in Ontario.”

*real talk: I was 17 when Sleeman took over Upper Canada, got rid of this beer, and fired three guys that would go on to build another brewery in Toronto, so I never actually drank this one. But I gotta show love to an OG craft beer. Continue reading