Putting away pints: Are cellars worth it or just expensive beer purgatory?

This piece originally appeared in print and online for the first edition of The Growler, Ontario’s Beer Guide.

When I mention my beer cellar, my wife usually rolls her eyes.

Mainly she does this because she knows when I say something like, “I’ve got some really good stuff in the cellar right now,” I’m actually referring to rows of dusty bottles on the metal shelving that I bought at Home Depot and put in our basement.

And while, of course, it is a tad pretentious to refer to these shelves next to the laundry tub as a “cellar,” it doesn’t take much more to have a functioning beer storage space. Indeed, the ideal conditions for storing beer are essentially just a cool, dark place where you can fit a bunch of big bottles.

Tomas Morana is the co-owner of Birreria Volo, arguably one of Canada’s best beer bars. He’s also a co-founder of Keep6Imports, a company that works to bring rare and funky imports to Ontario. At Birreria Volo in Toronto’s Little Italy, the cellaring program is very much part of the venue’s draw and he takes it seriously. Continue reading “Putting away pints: Are cellars worth it or just expensive beer purgatory?”

Brewers can now report bars asking for illegal freebies online

It is illegal for breweries to offer keg deals, cash, or other financial incentives to bars in exchange for selling their products.

Yes, I’ve written about this more than a few times over the last five years (including once again for my upcoming column in the fantastic quarterly publication The Growler. Catch the latest issue on newsstands soon!), but in case you need a refresher, here’s Regulation 720 from Ontario’s Liquor Licence Act:

A manufacturer of liquor or an agent or employee of a manufacturer shall not directly or indirectly offer or give a financial or material inducement to a person who holds a licence or permit under the Act or to an agent or employee of the person for the purpose of increasing the sale or distribution of a brand of liquor.

Well guess what? It is also illegal for bars to ask breweries for keg deals, cash, or other financial incentives in exchange for selling their products. And now you can snitch on them.

Because I have written about this rampant practice a few times and because there aren’t many other avenues to have these conversations, a few years ago I started to receive emails from frustrated breweries across the province. Mostly, brewers would forward me the blatant requests for free shit that they get from bar owners and front of house managers on a virtually daily basis. The tone has always been “Here’s another one!” but the subtext to me was always “What the hell can we do about this?”  Continue reading “Brewers can now report bars asking for illegal freebies online”

Cam Heaps, Steam Whistle co-founder, announces retirement

Earlier today I caught wind of the fact that Toronto’s Steam Whistle Brewery had called an all-staff town hall meeting for some kind of announcement.

As is occasionally my wont, without any intel available I lazily stipulated on Twitter that I thought the announcement might be about either a sale of the company to a bigger brewery or some kind of venture related to legalized cannabis. As it turns out, the announcement was actually that Cam Heaps, Steam Whistle’s lone remaining co-founder, had announced his retirement from the company. Continue reading “Cam Heaps, Steam Whistle co-founder, announces retirement”

Toronto Beer Week and AB InBev

infiltration
[in-fil-trey-shuh n]
noun
a method of attack in which small bodies of soldiers or individual soldiers penetrate the enemy’s line at weak or unguarded points in order to assemble behind the enemy position and attack it from the rear, harass enemy rear-area installations, etc.

Toronto Beer Week, which was created in 2010 by a group of like-minded publicans, beer writers, cask ale supporters, homebrewers, and craft beer enthusiasts, launches today.

The week-long celebration of local beer was originally launched with no sponsor investment and a stated purpose of helping promote the city’s burgeoning craft beer movement.

This year, it seems like that’s definitely changed.

Each consecutive year has seen TBW grow even larger in scale and, in the opinion of some grumbling beer nerds, become more and more marketing-focused in its attempts to attract evermore new participating bars and breweries.

In May of this year, Toronto Beer Week was acquired by St Joseph Media, the company that produces Toronto Life and Fashion magazine, and many of these same beer nerds wondered what this would mean in terms of the tone and direction of the nine day series of once craft-beer-focused events.

As the event week begins its ninth year today, it seems to me that we might have a clear indication that TBW has officially jumped the shark given that it now includes Goose Island Brew Pub among the list of participating breweries. Continue reading “Toronto Beer Week and AB InBev”

Owen Sound’s Mudtown Station

With over 270 breweries in Ontario, it is increasingly easy to embark on a little beer tourism almost everywhere you go in the province.

So this past week, on an extended vacation with the family at my in-laws’ cottage in Southampton, when I had an urge to get out for a little while and have a beer, I was thankful to have a few options in the area.

Finding no takers who wanted to join me, I opted to embark on a solo mission–and may or may not have been secretly thankful for some alone time. Sleeping in the same bunkie as your flu-ish wife, your five year-old, and a puppy with some kind of weird stomach thing that made him spray foamy diarrhea tends to detract from the relaxing vistas. But I digress.

Having already that week hit up my most local cottage brewery, Outlaw Brew Co on the main strip of Southampton, I opted instead to explore the fairly newly-opened Mudtown Station, which was about 30 minutes away in Owen Sound.

Opened roughly three months ago, Mudtown Station is owned and operated by Morag Kloeze, who comes to Owen Sound by way of the Niagara Brewing College and Neustadt Brewery, and most recently as the brewmaster at Tobermory Brewing Co. Kloeze and her parents had an opportunity to lease the CPR station in their home town of Owen Sound and Mudtown was born.

The Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound area actually has a fairly storied history in Ontario’s liquor lore, featuring a legacy of bootlegging and prohibition that some local tourism material touts in a “Saints and Sinners” tour you can take of places to eat and drink in the area.

So it is kind of a fun irony to see Owen Sound become home to not only a new brewery, but also one of Ontario’s few female brewmasters and co-owners. The city is essentially the birth place of Ontario’s prohibition movement and in 1847 was home to the formation of the first Canadian chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Owen Sound was actually legally dry from 1906 to 1972. Presumably 66 dry years can make a town thirsty, so thank goodness for Mudtown. Continue reading “Owen Sound’s Mudtown Station”

Bellwoods Brewery is planning to expand their brew pub

Thanks to publicly available documents and a tip from an anonymous reader of the blog who works in the area, I have discovered that Bellwoods Brewery is looking to expand their brew pub to take over the space next door to them at 120 Ossington.

Currently the home of V de V “a vintage and industrial style furniture and home accessories store,” 120 Ossington is a corner lot located directly next to Bellwoods’ existing location and features frontage on Ossington and a considerable footprint in which the brewery could expand its operations. The proposed development plans for the brew pub expansion reveal that the space could add significant seating and a larger kitchen space. Continue reading “Bellwoods Brewery is planning to expand their brew pub”

Cool Brewery wants to sell you dollar beer. And possibly weed.

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On Monday, Cool Brewery announced that they would become the second Ontario brewery to take up Premier Doug Ford’s “buck-a-beer challenge” and would attempt to make a one dollar beer.

If you’ve been paying attention to this story at all — and indeed it’s been fairly impossible not to — you’ll know that the response to buck-a-beer and the first brewery to take up the challenge, Barley Days Brewery in Prince Edward County, has been polarizing, to say the least.

As I first wrote a few hours after the announcement and as I repeated on CTV news and on a few local radio stations that day and the next, I think the whole thing is, at best, all rather silly. It was a fairly amusing political stunt with no real policy behind it, the Premier simply said, you can now make cheap beer and brewers could choose to if they wanted. Not a bad move for a politician, really. But as many brewers have pointed out as they too enjoyed an opportunity to do the rounds of media, it’s largely impossible to make a quality beverage, sell it for $1 and still turn any kind of profit. Doug Appledoorn of People’s Pint Collective had a succinct argument on CTV News, Mark Murphy of Left Field Brewery posted a dollars and cents argument on Facebook, Jason Fisher of Toronto’s Indie Alehouse, as is his wont, put things rather bluntly when he explained on Metro Morning that he couldn’t even make a profit selling one of his empty bottles for a dollar and many other breweries have taken up the call of myriad local media outlets looking for a soundbite. Fuelled by media who, perhaps rightly, have relished the chance to poke fun at the Premier, plus the fact that this is a story about the click-worthy subject of beer, and the fact that many a craft brewer is willing to talk about their passion for brewing beer with quality ingredients, buck-a-beer has really enjoyed a rather astonishingly-long media cycle.

Probably too long, really, given how meaningless it all is in the grand scheme of things.

And while I’ve tried to stop paying attention to the twitter-ramblings and politicizing of the buck-a-beer fallout, I can’t. It’s like a car wreck and I just can’t look away (of course when people are all up in your mentions because of a blog post you wrote, it’s even harder to look away). That said, I thought things might finally be dying down. In an aftermath that seemed to be 259-1 in terms of brewers opposed and brewers for the idea of buck a beer, it seemed that one side had probably finally won the argument, logic had prevailed, and maybe this would go away.

Until Cool’s announcement today. Continue reading “Cool Brewery wants to sell you dollar beer. And possibly weed.”

The curious case of Von Bugle Brewing

I really like Steam Whistle.

I have for as long as I can remember. They make an excellent Czech-style pilsner and, provided you’re having it fresh and not from a green bottle that’s been exposed to the sun, it’s about as reliable a beer as you’ll find in any pub in Ontario, if not Canada. That’s, of course, largely because they make an effort to maintain all the draught lines pouring their beer and they’ve invested in a lot of expensive technology to ensure that the beer that gets to your mouth is always fresh as possible. 

Of course Steam Whistle, for some reason, has its haters. It’s a big company and has a pretty heavy-handed marketing presence and that isn’t always a turn-on for the die-hard craft beer fans. For my money though, Steam Whistle is also owed a pretty large debt of gratitude by this province’s craft brewers and craft beer drinkers for being among the brewing pioneers that broke down a lot of the early barriers to independent craft beer production and sales in Ontario. They fought a lot of fights so that brewers who came after them didn’t have to, and any one who chooses not to drink their beer because “the company is too big,” or some iteration on the theme of them being “too corporate” is, in my opinion, being ignorant of the Toronto brewery’s history and importance to the scene. 

Steam Whistle cares a lot about making good beer and they seem to care about the state of craft beer in Canada. 

And that’s why I really can’t figure out what the fuck they’re up to with their latest move.  Continue reading “The curious case of Von Bugle Brewing”

Toronto’s East End brewers to announce a collective

All 10 bricks-and-mortar breweries currently operating in East Toronto have joined forces to form a brewing collective. The aptly named Toronto East Brewing Collective includes Brunswick Bierworks, Common Good Brewing, Eastbound Brewing Co., Godspeed Brewery, Left Field Brewery, Louis Cifer Brew Works, Muddy York Brewing Co., Rorschach Brewing Co., Radical Road Brewing Company, and Saulter Street Brewery and the group is set to release a statement announcing their formation later this week.

David Wallace, who handles Sales and Marketing for Muddy York Brewing Co, says the collective came not only from a shared vision of like-minded people who live and work in the area, but also a desire to put some focus on a region that can sometimes be overlooked.

“Most of the breweries in Toronto who have been the beneficiaries of media hype (deserved though it may be) are all clustered in the west end,” he says. “There’s already this ridiculous ‘cultural divide’ that makes people in the west end feel like traveling east of the Don Valley requires a full day of logistics planning and we’re hoping to dispel much of that nonsense.” Continue reading “Toronto’s East End brewers to announce a collective”

Where Ontario’s candidates for Premier stand on retail beer, and why it doesn’t matter

Over the past few days, much ado has been made about the candidates running to be the premier of Ontario and their various positions on beer sales in this province.

Doug Ford got the party started on May 18th by releasing an official statement through the PC party that he would “expand the sale of beer and wine into corner stores, box stores and grocery stores all across our province.”

In response, Kathleen Wynne opted to hold a press conference on Tuesday  that was, at best, embarrassing, in which she doubled down on her ongoing policy decision related to retail alcohol and invited no less than the CEO of MADD and the head of OPSEU, the union that oversees the LCBO, to join her. Basically, she confirmed she’s sticking to the grocery store plan she enacted (which, to be fair, was actually the biggest change to retail alcohol sales in something like 70 years).

Andrea Horvath, who presumably didn’t want to miss out on the fun of distracting voters from actual issues, then commented and suggested that an NDP government might actually review the entire idea of selling wine and beer at grocery stores all together—which seems entirely consistent with a pro-union NDP. They opposed the idea of beer in grocery stores at the outset. Continue reading “Where Ontario’s candidates for Premier stand on retail beer, and why it doesn’t matter”