Not so long ago, I started writing about beer on a regular basis.
Initially my involvement with beer was a pretty casual affair, allowing me to pair two things I’ve always loved; drinking and writing.
Though after a few months writing about beer, meeting with local brewers, attending beer events, and drinking great beer, it became clear I was becoming a little obsessed with beer.
These days I spend a considerable amount of my time reading about, talking about, writing about, and of course drinking, beer and it’s my hope this obsession will soon expand into the world of making beer–but more on that later.
So while I currently cover general beer happenings for the Toronto-centric blogTO, I thought it was high time I had my own place to collect my thoughts on all things beer and document the sure-to-be-messy process of learning how to make my own.
And so, given that I have this new forum, I thought I’d use my inaugural post to pose a question to the city’s beer drinkers: Why are you still drinking shitty beer?
In all other areas, you take an interest in the production of the products you purchase. You care about where your food comes from. You appreciate quality. You pride yourself on finding and supporting bands, film, and art that is new and independent. You appreciate authenticity and originality and you’re averse to mass-production and mass-marketing.
So why, when it comes to your choice of beer, do you so often settle for the beverage equivalent to shopping at the Gap while listening to Nickelback?
You’re a discerning consumer and wouldn’t typically buy something just because everyone is doing it. Yet for the majority of people whose beverage of choice is beer, that beer is typically a mass-produced beer from a big corporation.
In fact, Canadians, such a proud beer-drinking people, are more often than not drinking beer brewed by a multinational conglomerate, not a Canadian company at all. Far from supporting Canada’s brewers, most beer drinkers in Ontario are unwittingly supporting massive corporations based at least in-part in the States, in Brazil, in Belgium, or in Japan.
Molson isn’t really just Molson anymore. It’s Molson-Coors, a company with equal ownership in Canada and the United States. Labatt Brewing Company is owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, a Belgian-Brazilian multinational company headquartered in Leuven and, since 2006, Sleeman has been owned by Japanese brewer Sapporo.
So if you’re a person that typically supports the little guy, you really should be drinking small, local beers. Going up against these companies, with millions to spend on advertising, there really is no guy littler right now than Ontario’s Craft Brewers.
And it’s not just advertising dollars that make it a tall order for craft beers to compete in the marketplace. For myriad other reasons, it is very difficult to be a successful craft brewer in the province of Ontario. We’ve got laws governing who can sell beer, where it can be sold, what purpose it can be sold for, where it can be consumed, how much it can sell for, and even in what quantities it can be sold.
On top of that, Labatts, Molson-Coors, and Sleeman are the co-owners of the province’s biggest beer retailer, The Beer Store, and they have created a set of standards and fees to which a brewer must adhere if he or she wants The Beer Store to stock his or her products. Furthermore, TBS has the ability to charge these smaller breweries a fee just for the right to stock their beers there.
So essentially, unless you’re fairly well established, or willing to invest considerable capital into getting your product out there (by paying your competition), it’s exceedingly difficult for craft brewers to even get their product represented where most beer drinkers do their shopping.
The LCBO is a little better.
In late 2010, the LCBO unveiled a new mandate to support Ontario’s domestic wine industry and craft brewers and, from what I’ve heard from small breweries, they are very supportive of craft brewers who are looking to bring bottles or cans of their product into the LCBO’s lineup. However, in most LCBOs, Ontario’s Craft Beer is still relegated to some rather limited shelf space and craft brewers are further limited by the fact that the LCBO only allows them to sell their products in singles or six packs.
Given that you typically avoid large corporations that have a monopoly on their given industries, why is it OK for your beer?
Similarly, given that you tend to shun these big companies that sacrifice quality in the name of profits, isn’t it about time you accepted nothing less than that same attention to detail from your brewer of choice?
Ontario, and Toronto specifically, has a vibrant and growing population of craft breweries, and for the most part, they all are in business for one reason: They are passionate about beer. That passion is reflected in the attention they pay to how their beers taste. Believe me, I’m speaking as a reformed consumer of Budweiser. Once you realize that a beer’s most important characteristic is not your ability to drink a dozen of them, you start to like beer on an entirely different level.
Put down the mass-produced lager and pick up some local beers. Get to know the roasted coffee taste of Black Creek Stout, the crisp, citrus hops of Muskoka’s Mad Tom IPA, the caramel nuttiness of a Cheshire Valley English Mild, the creamy, nitrogen-charged goodness of Mill Street’s Bob’s Bearded Red Ale.
You’ll find out that beer can actually be…interesting.
And if you do a little digging, it really isn’t that hard to drink good, local beer. In addition to the smattering that’s offered at most LCBOs, Toronto is full of bars that make an effort to support the little guy. Places like barVolo, C’est What, Victory Cafe, The Rhino — and a host of others — all boast a pretty fantastic selection of craft beers on tap and from time to time they’re also host to beer-centric events meant to welcome the uninitiated or promote the new brewer on the block.
It’s a whole scene, man.
And you know you’re into cool scenes. You don’t blindly follow the masses when it comes to the other products in your life, so why not take some time to consider which brewers you choose to support the next time you down a few beers?
I’m not saying that the Gap, Nickelback, and big breweries don’t have winning business models. Clearly, Nickelback is producing music that a hell of a lot of people like to listen to and, if I’m ever in need of a reasonably priced, light-weight merino wool v-neck, the Gap will be my first stop. Similarly, if you like easy-to-drink watery lagers mass-produced to appeal to a broad, uneducated audience, by all means, go ahead.
Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with listening to Nickelback, shopping at the Gap, or drinking Molson Canadian.
Except, of course, there totally is.