Ben's Beer Blog

A place for all things beer.


7 Comments

Under the influence: Beer and political donations

“Republicans buy sneakers too.” ~ Michael Jordan

 

Should we refuse to buy beer from breweries whose politics don’t seem to align with our own?

That’s the question that was raised on twitter over the weekend when a handful of “beer personalities” stumbled upon the fact that certain Ontario-based breweries had donated to the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. At a time when Doug Ford is helming this party and appears to be taking an axe to all manner of social service, educational, and healthcare funding, the perceived association of breweries with the PC party was not something to which the twitterati took kindly. Tweets flew mentioning the breweries by name, demanding an explanation for these donations, and even calling for boycotts of the offending companies.

As it turns out, the outrage-machine that has become twitter appears to have failed to vet their sources and, the database used to induce their rage (The National Post’s Follow The Money campaign donation database) actually only lists data up to 2017—meaning none of the donations discovered by angry tweeters actually even went to Doug Ford’s current iteration of the PC party. It’s not clear to me if this means the boycott is still on or if the torches and pitchforks have gone back into the rhetorical shed for now, but the skirmish got me thinking: Why are we so concerned about the political affiliations of brewery owners, especially when we typically don’t seem to be that concerned with the makers of other commodities? Continue reading


6 Comments

When is it OK to send a beer back?

This piece originally appeared in print and online for in the November 2018 edition of The Growler, Ontario’s Beer Guide.

I recently had occasion to visit a nearby outpost of a franchise steak restaurant.

It was one of those rare moments in our lives as parents when my wife and I realized that we were out, childless, hungry at the dinner hour and could actually sit down and enjoy a meal together.

This is, of course, what franchise steak restaurants are for. They are a known entity: You will have a large and decent piece of meat that you will pay a large and decent price for. You will have the same two appetizers you always order at their other locations. And you will enjoy timely and courteous service. Deep booths, dim lighting, these are all things you are familiar with.

I like an independently-owned, funky, and unique restaurant as much as the next casual food snob, but when you’ve got 90 minutes and no margin for error, give me the comforting sameness and uniform service standards of a reasonably solid franchise every time.

Of course, the one unknown at places like these is always the beer selection.
Continue reading


9 Comments

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. Continue reading


7 Comments

Ontario brewers should think twice before they buck themselves

I’ve been hesitant to weigh in on the buck-a-beer fiasco for a few reasons, not the least of which is that fellow beer writer Jordan St. John already did it, literally the day Doug Ford’s campaign announced dollar beer was a possibility back in May. 

But now that it appears the PC government is going to make good on the promise and now that it appears an Ontario craft brewery is actually opting to pursue dollar beer, I’ve literally been asked to weigh in and will be appearing on CTV News Toronto at 6pm today so I’ve had some time to consider the possibility and thought I’d put my thoughts down here too since that is what a god damned blog is for, right? 

So here’s the problem with dollar beer: Economies of scale mean breweries simply can’t make a very good beer that will cost $1 and still make that brewery a profit. If you attempted to, you’d probably end up using extracts instead of real, quality ingredients, you’ll use adjuncts to get more bang for your buck and, essentially, a dollar beer is going to taste like it’s worth a dollar.  Continue reading


4 Comments

Exciting partnership opportunity

Ben’s Beer Blog is very excited to announce a unique partnership opportunity.

Today, for the first time ever, I am offering Ontario craft brewers a way to introduce their brands to a whole new audience of my direct acquaintances as well as connect with some of the province’s top-level influencers. 

Yes, I have put a small fridge in my garage and I am seeking breweries interested in helping me fill it. 

Referred to locally as Bobo’s, my garage has already become something of a hot spot in North London and has hosted many local influencers. I am seeking a partnership that can help a local brewer expose their brand to a growing number of London, Ontario beer drinkers that includes marketing and communications professionals, commercial real estate developers, academics, and my neighbour Andy. Continue reading


46 Comments

Is the hammer about to drop on Ontario beer?

According to my sources, it will soon be announced that Stone Hammer Brewing in Guelph is closing its doors for good.

While I have not been able to reach the company for confirmation, I’m told that last week employees were told to head home and asked not to return and that production of beer had ceased permanently.

And while it’s unlikely that “lack of shelf space” will be listed as the official cause of death for Stone Hammer Brewing, the closure has me — once again — wondering if the inevitable purge of Ontario craft beer is about to begin.

It’s a topic I seem to be asked about with increasing frequency whenever a reporter is doing a story on craft beer and stumbles upon my blog seeking “industry expertise.” Can Ontario continue to sustain this growth of craft breweries? My answer is always the same, and it’s “No. It’s not sustainable. Something’s gotta give.” Continue reading


4 Comments

The Beer Store and the hundred million dollar question

 

The Beer Store is a private corporation owned by three of the world’s largest brewing companies: Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV, Molson-Coors, and Sapporo.

This is a fact about which, it seemed, people used to care.

That time, to be exact, was 2013. Ragey beer writing had something of a moment and bloggers and traditional journalists alike seemed to set their collective sights on the worst kept secret in beer: The Beer Store is the only third party allowed to open privately owned retail beer stores in Ontario.  It was a time when Martin Regg Cohn of the Toronto Star was largely leading the non-beer-nerd charge and felt emboldened enough to write Toronto Star-ific ledes like the delicious: “The Beer Store is Ontario’s longest-running public disgrace and economic blight.” Oh Marty.

One of the main beefs the long lost people of 2013 seemed to have, in addition to anger about the fact that three of the biggest beer companies in the world were handed a virtual monopoly on retail beer sales in the province, was that the shopping experience at these stores really sucked. Indeed, the Beer Store, with its Ice Cold Express, list of top ten sellers, and hidden inventory, seems uniquely designed to continue allowing the big brewers who own the place to continue to sell more of their own product because there really isn’t any option for browsing. You can’t chuck an empty OV bottle at a stack of articles about the Beer Store without hitting a reference to the archaic conveyor belt system, the mysterious wall of labels, or the general communist-era vibes of Ontario’s beer retailer of choice.

And so, when the public sentiment culminated in a fine frothy rage that actually emboldened the province to do something about our retail beer fiasco, it included stipulations that The Beer Store would need to improve its customer experience. In 2015 the province released the “Master Framework Agreement” between the entities that own the Beer Store and the province and, in addition to the much-publicized introduction of beer in grocery stores, that agreement laid out details for The Beer Store updating their facilities; specifically, Section 6.1 of the 2015 framework agreement, entitled “Customer Experience” dictates that “The Corporation shall improve the customer experience across its retail network, including by converting stores to more modern retailing formats such as self-serve, open concept formats, and shall ensure that all newly built stores shall have self-serve, open concept formats.” They even put a specific number of the expense of upgrades: “The Corporation shall spend at least $100,000,000 from 2015 through 2018 on capital expenditures (not less than $80,000,000 of which shall be in respect of retail stores), which may be funded through the sale of existing assets of the Corporation.”

Well, a cursory glance at the ol’ calendar suggests that, hey, it’s been 2018 for a few months now. Continue reading