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.