Side Launch Brewing is discontinuing Mountain Lager, breaking my heart a little

I don’t usually take to the ol’ blog just to talk about a brewery discontinuing one of their beers, but sometimes a thing will just stick in my craw and I gotta get into it. Plus I’ve had a couple beers tonight. So come with me on a grumpy journey, won’t you friends?

I can now confirm some shitty news that I first heard rumblings about through social media: Collingwood’s Side Launch Brewing Company is discontinuing Mountain Lager, their near-perfect 4.9%, 27 IBU Helles lager.

This will no doubt come as disappointing news to many an Ontario beer fan because, quite simply, Mountain Lager is one this province’s best made lagers. It fairly quickly become a fan favourite after launching and is arguably the beer that ushered in this province’s current “crispy boi” (sorry) obsession. It is a staple in my home and if you too enjoy having a subtly-hopped, impeccably crisp beer in your fridge for in between hop bombs and puckering sours, it is likely a staple in your home, too.

I first heard that this great beer might be going away after posting an image of Side Launch’s new Northbound Light Lager to my Instagram feed, when someone suggested this was a beer that would replace (replace!) Mountain Lager. Shortly thereafter, some LCBO employees forwarded me emails they had received from Side Launch’s inside sales team confirming that yes, Northbound Light Lager will be replacing Mountain Lager and taking over its SKU in the LCBO.

(The emails also noted, incidentally, that Side Launch is releasing a New England Style IPA called “Getaway” and that they are, for some reason, rebranding their Dark Lager as “Midnight Lager.” If you’ll allow me a brief sub-tangent here, this is also weird news. This beer recipe is roughly 30 years old and now getting its…third rebrand? It was once known as Denisson’s Royal Dunkel, because Prince Luitpold of Bavaria was an early investor in Denisson’s, the company Side Launch’s master brewer founded and whose recipes Side Launch uses today. I’m not making this shit up!)

But I digress.

Faced with pretty clear-cut evidence that one of my go-to beers was about to go the way of the dodo, I reached out to the brewery to be 100% sure the unthinkable was true and, today, I heard back from Bianca Santos, Side Launch Brewing Company’s Marketing Manager who confirmed they were no longer offering Mountain Lager.

“The team at Side Launch loves and believes in our legacy brands,” she said in an email, “but due to the ever changing and exploding Ontario Craft Beer world we need the ability to change and grow in our product portfolio.”

Santos also thanked me for my support of Side Launch and noted they “can’t wait to continue to grow and learn with feedback from our consumers.”

So I thought I’d offer some consumer feedback: This fucking sucks.

Sure, some of this is just me being personally annoyed because I really liked Mountain Lager. It is one of those still-rare beers in our youngish local scene that is widely available in Ontario and is consistently fresh and of good quality. But much of the other reasons I think this decision fucking sucks is because I get the sense this could be symptomatic of a downward slide for Side Launch (an up-til-now mostly great brewery).

Here’s why: In overly simple terms, the secret to running a successful brewery is finding a balance between letting a talented brewer make whatever the fuck he or she wants, recognizing and responding to changing industry tastes and trends, and finding a way to make beer that is as profitable as possible. I would suggest that, if you’re scrapping an impeccable-tasting lager made from a recipe one of Canada’s best brewers has been tweaking for about 30 years, and you’re doing so at a time when the industry is trending toward lagers and pilsners in favour of a beer that my first impression of was “this tastes like Budweiser*”, the balance has tipped way too far in the direction of that profit part of the scales.

Mountain Lager is quite simply a great beer and I can see no reason for ceasing its production other than some version of “we can make something else cheaper,” and if that’s what’s calling the shots these days, it’s only a matter of time for the rose to come off the bloom at Side Launch, in my opinion.

I hope I’m wrong. I really do. That wasn’t hyperbole about their brewing pedigree. Michael Hancock is one of this country’s best technical brewers hands down. He has created and subsequently duplicated some this province’s best beers (ever) and has shown he could do so on something like four different systems at this point. I’m pretty sure if you put this dude in a homebrewer’s garage and gave him a couple weeks he’d brew a batch of his Weissbier that’d make you swear you had been transported to fucking Bavaria. I sincerely hope Michael Hancock continues to be able to make great beer as long as he wants to.

But my alarm bells have been ringing about Side Launch for a while.

In August 2017, the company parted ways with Garnett Pratt, who had served as President and CEO since the company was founded and who inarguably helped the brewery rise to its current prominence. Under her watch, the company was named the 2016 Brewery of the Year at the Canadian Brewing Awards, and Pratt was elected by her peers to serve as chair of the board of directors for the Ontario Craft Brewers association. Her departure was a puzzling decision to say the least. But then the brewery handed the job of Interim CEO over to Al Stuart and I really scratched my head. Stuart is a “Managing Partner” of The Pilot, a bar in Toronto, and I don’t think it’s weird to question the logic of putting control of your small, independent brewing company in the hands of someone who still sees fit to offer Molson Canadian, Coors Light, Keith’s, Goose Island, Stella, and more on tap of the bar he manages. No one with even a cursory understanding of how beer sales work in Ontario needs an explanation of how these beers usually end up on beer taps. And when Side Launch ousted Pratt they handed the reins over to…this guy? Oy. (Stuart is still a shareholder, incidentally, but the CEO has been Chris Jordan since last spring).

Anyway, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there are perfectly logical non-nefarious reasons for getting rid of Mountain Lager in favour of a slightly lighter beer and Side Launch is still on the up and up. Maybe there were perfectly good reasons to let their on-paper-great CEO go and maybe the guy they let be CEO after her isn’t actually taking kickbacks from the craft beer industry’s biggest competition. But my Spider Sense is officially tingling and I’m officially putting Side Launch on my watch list.

I mean they axed my fucking Mountain Lager, man. Come on!

 

*It might be worth noting that I have thus far only tried Northbound Light Lager once. I drank it outdoors, in sub-zero temperatures, directly from the can. My first impression was that it was very much like drinking a macro-lager. I’m willing to give the beer a second shot, but I still fail to see the logic of a so-so new 4.7% lager to replace a great 4.9% one. Side Launch has indicated they’d like to send me a sample to revisit the beer. This post might change their opinion about sending me beer. 

20 thoughts on “Side Launch Brewing is discontinuing Mountain Lager, breaking my heart a little

  1. I commiserate. Tonight I went to the Beer Store and asked for my normal 24 Carling and 8 cans of Creemore Spring. They told me there was no Creemore in stock. Unfortunately this happens, but I walk 20 years and go to the LCBO. I went there and couldn’t find it there apart from something that say ‘Creemore Premium Lager’, but the label is different and it comes in a pack of 12. I ask the portly lady with a mustache and she tells me it is a new can and new packaging. now this is the problem, I work for 5 days, I drink one can of Creemore a night and there are 7 days in a week. That means that my Friday, which happens on a Tuesday, I drink, two cans of Creemore and on Wednesday, I go and replenish the stocks. so now with a case of 12 I am fu**ed. In closing, I should say I drink vast quantities of craft beer as well. I was told by another LCBO staff that they want to standardize to 12 cans. That is progress for you.

  2. It is a sad day indeed. As long as they don’t get rid of the dark I may not drive up to Collingwood to protest but a loss of a great beer indeed.

  3. The reason I heard from a member of production staff is that they’ve had some struggles making ML consistently up to their quality standards and have looked at every possible variable to fix it. Instead of just shrugging and putting out a product that they aren’t confident in 100% of the time, they’re pulling it back and will continue to work on it behind the scenes so that one day it may return to its current glory. This sounds like a better idea than having a ML champion like you receive some bad cans and start talking about how the quality has gone downhill.

    They’ve also added a former Molson guy as an Ops Manager, which could explain the profile on the new lager.

    1. Thanks for that insight. That sounds consistent with their brewers’ QA standards. You’ll recall Michael and the brewing team recalled Side Launch Wheat that was “souring.”

  4. I bought singles of Creemore, newly branded, at the LCBO three days ago, so the store you’re shopping at is full of shit.

    Also the new branding sucks.

    1. I can buy singles John, but I like a sealed pack of 8 for the ease of transporting them home and when empty back to the Beer Store. As it was, I bought an open case of 12. I don’t like the new branding either and when Molson bought Creemore as a ‘boutique premium craft beer’ They said nothing would change. Mad and Noisy, a Lot 9 is still in 8s.

      1. While I appreciate your multiple comments, I’m not sure it’s possible for me to convey to you how little I care about Molson’s packaging changes for Creemore.

  5. Hancock is gone from Sidelaunch. The brewery is hemorrhaging money. Their branding is stale and their structure and lineup is of a successful big craft brewery from 10 years ago, you know, like all the ones failing right now. Sidelaunch looks at the brands dominating craft beer sales like Ace Hill and Lost Craft and wants a piece. It will not work. The brewery will be closed by next year unless they get proper leadership.

  6. Ace Hill and Lost craft dominating??!! – Line buyers and terrible beer. But they dominate because the are heavy with incentive. Mountain will be sorely missed and if Hancock is gone it is only a matter of time

    1. Man do Ace Hill and Lost Craft suck….I do not want to see good breweries chasing those guys. Those are the new beers of the DudeBro nation.

  7. Drank my last one last night. Great as ever. So long, Side Launch, it was nice having you around. Obviously the tall foreheads in Marketing have taken over if the goal is to emulate Ace Hill and Lost Craft with a Light Lager. No doubt a “lagered ale” is coming our way soon.

  8. That new Getaway IPA is a bit disappointing as well. There is nothing NEIPA about it, which is fine but it claims it is on the can. It’s not like Side Launch to mess that up. Also, the can is ugly.

  9. Hello Ben!

    I feel exactly the same way about Side Launch Pale Ale. That’s why I started a petition to help convince Side Launch Brewing company to continue making the great beers like mountain ale and pale ale.

    From one beer lover to another, please sign and share.

    http://chng.it/mBq5CNZN

    Cheers!

  10. Looking at this from a critical analysis perspective, “Brands” get killed off by breweries if they don’t sell, your arrival states the balance. “Brands” can be defined as packaged product. This branding shift occurred at a point in time when the growing demand was NEPA’s.

    Sidelaunch internally viewed the Mountain Larger as an underperforming brand, obviously,and substituted its production schedule, cost, and listing for something new and exciting. Hell, the new and newly renovated LCBO locations have an exclusive “Excitement Zone” that we’re being stocked with IPA’s.

    Point being, if the consumer market at the time is skewed to one type brew, and you enjoy a brand that isn’t that “hype” style of beer, you better be buying more of those cans you like than anything else, and get your friends and your family to do the same, because a brand that underperforms will get cut for something new and more exciting. The retail market’s foundation in Ontario has been established to operate in that way.

    Just because a “brand” is killed off doesn’t mean the recipe is lost. That recipe will stick around and could come back in the form of kegs for licensee restaurants, or just to be served in taprooms.

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