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.