My uncle doesn’t give a shit about craft beer

Not my uncle

My uncle doesn’t give a shit about the The Beer Store monopoly.

He also doesn’t really care to ponder the finer moral issues of the LCBO. 

Instead, he’s content to consume large amounts of Budweiser and, when the mood strikes him, Bud Light, and he has been happily doing so for virtually all the years I have been alive.

I think you’ll agree then that my uncle is a consumer of beer. Yet, if you were to scan the conversations currently happening in relation to beer in the province of Ontario, there’s not a lot out there that would interest my uncle.

Indeed, “raging against the Beer Store” and “bitching about the LCBO” probably rank among the most popular of all tropes when it comes to beer writing (see: this blog)–and with good cause. That the Beer Store–a foreign-owned private entity–is allowed to exist as the only alternative to the province’s state-run liquor distribution seems to me to be a fucking travesty. Similarly, said state-run liquor distributor, the LCBO (which I happen to thoroughly like) is far from perfect.

And yet, oddly, my uncle couldn’t care less.

While you might ask yourself why you should give a shit what my uncle thinks, I raise him as an example today because I think it’s important to remember, as we preach to each other and argue the merits of craft beer in our own little craft beer bubble, that people like my uncle are the real beer drinkers in this province. That is, while we snobby, bearded, stout-sniffers would like to think we represent beer drinking Ontarians, we really don’t. In fact, most beer drinkers couldn’t care less about the selection or the system or the state of the beer industry as it exists now and they are in fact quite satisfied with the beer that’s available.

Take, for example, this list of the LCBO’s five top-selling items in the beer category for 2013:

1. Corona 6-pack bottles
2. Coors Light 6-pack tall cans
3. Molson Canadian 6-pack tall cans
4. Budweiser 6-pack tall cans
5. Old Milwaukee Ice 6-pack tall cans

I’ll give you a minute to wipe up your collective beer-nerd rage-induced diarrhea before we consider this list which clearly runs the gamut from pee, to urine, to pis (i.e. Mexican pee).

This list dropped into my inbox a few weeks ago by way of a press release from the LCBO at a time I was actively arguing some snobby craft beer miscellany and it served as an important reminder to me: Most people actually drink boring beer–that beer of the sort that we beer nerds so frequently compare to urine.

It probably seems like an obvious statement, but it’s one that’s all too often forgotten as we beer nerds get wrapped up in debating the merits of contract brewing and the smell of cascade hops, the best beers of 2013,  what beer to drink this winter (shameless, eh?), and the effect of fucking brettanomyces: Regardless of all the hootin’ and hollerin’ we do about the “state of craft beer” and for all the attempts we make to elevate the station of the humble craft brewer, we don’t really represent much more than a tiny, bourbon-barrel-aged drop in the massive pint-glass of urine-esque lager.

 I admit, I’m probably among the worst offenders when it comes to jumping angrily on my soapbox, but I just thought I’d take occasion at the end of the year to reflect publicly on how effective that approach might be sometimes.

I frequently attempt to convert my uncle, for example, and I am always amused at his reactions to craft beer. His response to Muskoka Brewery’s Mad Tom, for example, arguably one of the most successful currently available “craft” beers, was that it tasted like “burning tire.”

His questionable palette aside, his reaction is an important touchstone: My uncle is the average beer consumer, and he has a notion of what “beer” is supposed to taste like. And craft beer doesn’t meet that expectation. No matter how hard I preach, I probably will never change his mind. Most of the people who drink beer are like him and so, in response, most of the beer that gets sold in Ontario caters to the needs of people like him.

So, while we read the plethora of “state of craft brewing” end of year posts that this year seem to have coincided with the bi-annual re-emergence of the Beer Store debate, I thought it was important to deliver the healthy dose of cynicism that I hope you have come to expect from my corner of the interwebs. Craft beer in this province is growing and improving, but we have a long way to go.

Happy New Year, fuckers.

9 thoughts on “My uncle doesn’t give a shit about craft beer

  1. When you consider that the discount share at the beer store is bigger than craft by miles, you’ve really got to find a way to take that stuff seriously. Well made cheap beer, you know?

    1. Yep. I actually had a lot of thoughts about that originally incorporated into this post, but I ultimately decided it’s worthy of its own later post–tentatively titled “You must respect the piss.” The provinces runs on the cheap stuff. Even the craft guys with some cred now, to some extent, built their empires on the financial success of a pissy beer.

  2. Yesterday, someone like your uncle told me that if our beer was twice as good it would sell. He thought the hop flavour and bitterness meant our beer had gone bad and that we should try to be more like Canadian. Now that’s a good beer, he told me.

  3. Thanks Ben. As the owner of a bar that specializes in craft beer but sells a lot of domestic bottles, I have seen the change in (some) customers’ taste , going from Bud to porter in several cases. I agree, most people need the tutorial! And most will stick with domestic average stuff. I personally am hoping for some movement in the realm of the foreign ownership of the Beer Store. I’love to have more reasonable. Pricing in the bar.

  4. In representing Molson Coors online, I get chirped on a regular basis from ‘beer lovers’ who absolutely resent the fact that we (and other large-scale brewers) exist. Your post here may be one I start to point them back to. I always explain that ‘we don’t make Molson Canadian and Coors Light for you’, we make it for the million-or-so people like your uncle, who choose to buy them regularly, ahead of all other available options.

    The thing lost on a lot of people is that there was no grand conspiracy in the 60’s and 70’s to get rid of anything above 30 IBU’s – the spike in domestic lagers, and then light lagers was driven by consumer demand.

    There’s undoubtedly a resurgence in big, bold, diverse flavours, and more options than we’ve ever seen before, but still a core group who love their traditional options. IMHO, continuing to use words like questionable to describe their palettes is one of the barriers to actually getting them to try new things.

    1. Just to be clear, I’m not calling his personal tastes “questionable”–everyone’s entitled to their own preferences–but rather I’m questioning his ability to give real tasting notes given that you’d be hard pressed to find something resembling “burning tire” in a Mad Tom. I.e., it’s not ‘rubbery,’ or smoky. Anyway, my uncle’s not a cicerone, is what I was getting at.

      1. I hear you, just playing devil’s advocate.

        Do you think he’d say the same thing the next time someone told him he was drinking water? or piss? Doubt those are the tasting notes he gets from Bud or Bud Light. My point there was just that dissmissiveness is quite frequently the first card laid against anyone who says they prefer their mainstream brands. Interesting piece.

  5. Ben, you are correct, most people in Ontario are just like your uncle as far as beer is concerned. I do think things are starting to change, but we are a long way from our neighbours to the south. I blame that on our Ontario gov’t and their relationship with the owners of the beer store. I make my own beer and have been for a long time. I refuse to go to any Ontario beer store and never will until the monopoly that they enjoy is gone. I had a conversation with an American a few years ago and told him how we buy beer here in Ontario. He was shocked and said, “Why do you put up with it?” I replied, “I don’t, I homebrew”.

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