Welcome to the bottom

When Doug Ford challenged Ontario brewers in August with a non-announcement that they could now sell beer for $1 a container, many beer commentators, myself chief among them, opined that no quality beer could be brewed at a profit for that price and that lowering the price floor on beer was nothing more than an invitation to big brewers to see how cheaply they might make beer to take advantage of a weird news cycle.

The announcement was, in essence, the firing of a starter pistol to mark the beginning of a new race in Ontario beer to find rock bottom.

The race has slowed in the interim and a few of the participants dropped out along the way, but it seems clear that the finish line is now clearly in sight because this morning, Loblaw Companies Limited announced the arrival of no name® branded beer.

My friends, welcome to rock bottom.

Packaged in bottles and emblazoned with the distinctive non-logo logo of Loblaw’s discount “simple product” brand, no name beer will launch just in time for Family Day weekend. Because nothing says family like pouring dollar beer into your suckhole.

This is the inevitable and predictable end-result of Premier Ford’s “announcement” of beer for “the people.” Slapped into a plain, yellow package, taking store shelves in time for a long weekend, and announced with no information about its ingredients, who brews it or where. We know only that it is a “distinctly Canadian lager” and it will cost $6.60 for a six pack for promotional weekends and $10.45 thereafter. This is where buck-a-beer gets the industry. It has all the prestige and culinary appeal of a fucking can of discount tuna.

The worst part, of course, is that this beer will sell.

There is a large swath of alcohol-consuming Ontarians who most certainly will purchase this beer based entirely its price point. They will wait in line for it on discount weekends. They will stock their garage fridges with it. They will drink it simply because it is in their budget and 5% of its volume is alcohol.

That demographic also increasingly overlaps with a sort of “post-craft” demographic who, either overwhelmed by choice and the growth of a dynamic and interesting subset of the beer industry — or in an irony-dripping effort to be contrarian — have opted to dismiss craft beer as something fussy and effete. They are a sort of proud philistine who say things “I like beer that tastes like beer” and then they put on a designer jacket to ride a $900 bike to go buy Pabst Blue Ribbon. The minimalist branding of no name beer is sure to appeal to this subset and they too will definitely buy this beer. These are are both demographics with which I share very little, but I can’t deny that they have spending money — $6.60 each to be precise — that they will happily trade for this toilet water en masse. I predict this might become one of Ontario’s best-selling beers.

But of course, this isn’t actually end times. All beer isn’t suddenly going to be reduced to lowest-common-denominator fizz purchased from No Frills along with the cat food and a bag of Cheetos. Economies of scale mean that mass-produced cheap beer is simply not a sustainable business model for most brewers, as the failed buck-a-beer attempts of Barley Days Brewing and Cool Brewing show.

So it won’t be every where, but it will be most places, juxtaposed with the real deal. And in that sense, this might actually be a good sign for fans of craft beer in Ontario. No name beer might actually be something like a natural symptom of our awesome beer industry in this province. What I mean is, perhaps we’ve swung so far to the side of good, we need something supremely shitty like this to balance the force. It’s kind of like the movie Twins where a genetics laboratory combined the DNA of six ideal fathers to produce the perfect child. In the movie, the embryo split and twins were born. One Twin, Julius, was the result of all the best genes, and the other twin, Vincent, was formed from all the useless, undesirable genetic material. He was, in essence, the leftovers. No name beer then is surely Ontario beer’s rock bottom, but that’s OK because it is essentially craft beer’s Danny DeVito.

And now that the brewing industry knows where the bottom is, we can all once again focus on reaching the top.

9 thoughts on “Welcome to the bottom

  1. Hi Ben,

    No “failed” attempt by Cool Brewery at Buck-a-Beer. Cool’s participation allowed us to suggest the government look at provincial tax rates on beer (to keep beer affordable for hard working Ontario beer drinkers). Mr. Ford’s government froze the (Liberal) scheduled tax hike last September. In addition, Cool created more brewery jobs, more visits to Cool’s retail outlet, and more awareness, interest and trial of Cool (in general) and our Award-Winning Cool Blonde Lager (specifically). Keep in mind Price is but one of the four strategic “P’s”in the marketing mix to accomplish AIDA (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action).

    Cool welcomes affordable beer pricing for hard working Ontario beer drinkers. When not on sale, No Name beer is $1.75/bottle (industry pricing).

    Cool intends to be Ontario’s Most Affordable Beer (everyday) by offering our award-winning Cool Blonde lager 4 beers for $5 Bucks in selected LCBO and Beer Store locations and 25 beers for $30 Bucks (plus refundable deposit) from our Cool on-site brewery retail outlet. Cool is targeting summer long weekends to bring back Buck-a-Beer pricing…starting Victoria Day long-weekend. Who doesn’t like a deal?

    Cool…helping beer drinkers save money (everyday) by enjoying Cool’s easy drinking, award-winning, Blonde Lager.

    Ontario Brewing Awards (Cool Blonde Lager):
    – 2018 Gold Medal
    – 2017 Gold Medal

    Cheers
    Kevin Meens

    1. I remember you tried to frame it as a conversation about taxes, but most consumers could see it was a pretty transparent attempt to either ride a news cycle or curry favour with the province to aid your efforts to produce cannabis extract on site.

      Thanks for the condescending marketing lesson and the copy and paste of your talking points though.

  2. Purely speaking, the “buck a beer” is aimed at people who drink beer for the alcohol content rather than the enjoyment of the taste. If you’re an alcohol-dependent beer drinker, you’re already most likely drinking the budget brands as it’s financial sensible. $6 for six bottles is an incredible value if you just want to get sloshed quickly. Pick up a few boxes and have at it.

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