Vegandale, hard seltzer, and the swing of the pendulum

“I kept asking Clarence why our world seemed to be collapsing and things seemed to be getting so shitty. And he’d say, “That’s the way it goes, but don’t forget,
it goes the other way too”.”
                                                                                                   ~ Alabama Worley 

It was yet another weird and worrisome week in the world of craft beer.

And yet, much as the news can sometimes be troubling, it all seems to point to the idea that there is a certain balance to this industry, for better or worse. Clintons, the storied Bloor West venue, for example, announced its closure after 83 years in business, but certainly another bar or two opened in Toronto this week to help fill the void.

Breweries continue to open in the province and, as we have for about five years, we can’t help but wonder how many more this province can actually hold. Well, wonder no more. Or at least not much longer, I think. Rumours continue to swirl that there are roughy a half dozen well-known breweries in this province actively looking for buyers or some kind of exit strategy as the craft beer market share seems to finally level off and even established brewers admit privately to me they are hemorrhaging cash. Stay tuned.

It’s at once sad and vaguely reassuring.

Yes, there’s something Darwinian about it all. To wit: Vegandale Brewery in Parkdale has just announced it will close up shop, a mere 18 months after opening its doors.

For the record, veganism is an admirable and difficult way of life and, if some experts are to be believed, it might soon be wholly necessary if we want any chance to slow down climate change. That said, I can’t say I read this news (first reported by the wily Greg Clowe), without a little bit of satisfaction. Vegandale, you’ll recall, was ostensibly an attempt to bring all the most annoying and self righteous elements of veganism and to violently cram all that sanctimony up the ass of the once-delightfully-scuzzy neighbourhood, Parkdale.

It’s like gentrification on human growth hormones, delivered by “The 5700,” a company that “manages a growing portfolio of lifestyle and entertainment brands that live online.” Now excuse me while I clean up the rage-induced blood-vomit typing that phrase has induced.

Vegandale Brewery, which seemed to actually just be a coat of paint and a new name for the main floor of the existing Duggan’s Brewery, who officially moved to the basement of the location six months ago, wasn’t helping the image of veganism. Vegandale Brewery launched with the slogan “Morality on tap” and poured beers like Morally Superior IPA and Shining Example Stout. Yikes.

So it was with a bit of a smile that I learned that it was likely the bill collector came knocking at the door of Vegandale Brewery and The 5700 found themselves without a butcher knife or even a dull meat cleaver to defend themselves. Or maybe that wasn’t the case. It seems like the company already has plans to move the concept across the street, ditch the brewing element of their business, and relaunc as Bar Vegandale. The saga continues.

But the interesting element of this story, to me, is actually the footnote that Mike Duggan will be coming back up out of the basement to reclaim the entire space at 1346 Queen West as Duggan’s Brewery once more.

After slinking down to the basement of his own Parkdale brewery to create a smaller, danker version of the persistent Duggan’s Brewery—a space that a leading beer expert recently described to me as smelling like “karaoke armpits and forgotten dreams”—Duggan is apparently moving back upstairs, like an insolent teenager emerging from the angsty music and weed-cloud funk at the tail end of those weird and rough high school years.

Regardless of what happens to the plant-based fuckery that is Vegandale, I’m curious to see if Duggan will rise again like a Parkdale phoenix, which presumably is a flaming pigeon flapping around the Dufferin bus at rush hour. So here’s to the next chapter in the strange saga of Mike Duggan.  Personally I hope he goes full carnivore menu. Because, why not? The world needs balance.

Elsewhere in drinks news, Torontonians lined up at the LCBO for the chance to purchase White Claw hard seltzer since it just became available in Canada. This is sad and unfortunate news, but perhaps not surprising. Sure, one can’t help but feel like the concept of lining up for carbonated alcoholic water feels like a giant step backward for those interested in unique and interesting food and beverages, but I see it as basically an unfortunate byproduct of so much craft beer growth.

If you swing too far one way, some people are bound to swing back hard in the other direction, and even overshoot. The move toward open office space to fuel collaboration, for example, seems to have reached its weird, beanbag-chairs-and-breakout-spaces extreme and the work world is currently trending back toward the idea of walls, privacy, and actual offices. Jeans fits seem to swing with some regularity in a reactionary cycle from flared to boot cut to tapered and back again. The logical, liberal-leaning presidency of Barack Obama ushered in a US president who seems inclined to dictate policy with all the diplomacy and tact of a meth-addled toddler who found a loaded handgun in a bathroom stall.

I’m saying things swing back and forth. That’s just the way it goes.

But don’t forget, it goes the other way, too. A multiyear surge in sales and a growing interest in locally-made craft beer can’t help but send some people scrambling to the opposite direction, as we can see in the renewed, ironic interest in flavourless lawnmower macro lagers and fizzy dad beers. And some of these folks will swing too far afield to illogical extremes, inventing phonebooth-sized office pods, wearing bellbottoms, voting for Joe Biden, and, apparently, lining up for mass-produced, flavoured toilet water that gets you drunk.

It happens.

But just hang on a bit. We’re bound to swing back the other way soon.

I hope.

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