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 “Under the influence: Beer and political donations”

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 “When is it OK to send a beer back?”

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 “Welcome to the bottom”

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 “Ontario brewers should think twice before they buck themselves”

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 “Exciting partnership opportunity”

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 “Is the hammer about to drop on Ontario beer?”

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 “The Beer Store and the hundred million dollar question”

Your guide to dry January

It’s once again that time of year when some among us, having just barely made it through the holidays, like the smoldering wreck of a car crawling over the finish line of an endurance race, attempt to seek some relief by embarking on what is commonly referred to as “Dry January.”

While it is a common occurrence every year, it never gets any easier. And so I thought, even though the month is half finished, it might be a good idea to address the difficulties of dry January with a quick guide. Hopefully, with my suggestions, you will survive the next two weeks and you will never again have to struggle with the annual difficulties of figuring out just how to react to and behave around a friend who has made the unfortunate decision to abstain from alcohol for 30 days.

First, know that you are not alone. Many other people have gone through what you’re going through and you too will get through your friend’s brief flirtation with sobriety. Continue reading “Your guide to dry January”

The LCBO doesn’t have a definition for “craft beer” either

If you want to have an exhausting and irritating conversation with a bunch of beer nerds, bring up the subject of the definition of the word “craft.”

Opinions will quickly vary on whether or not it relates to production methods, some notion of “quality,” size, or ownership, and some folks think the word ought to be abandoned altogether. Personally, I’m of the opinion that the Brewers Association’s definition, while not perfect, provides a good place to start in order to create some working definition here in Canada–and I actually attempted to define the term in an August 2016 blog post.

My own efforts notwithstanding, the definition of “craft” seems to be something that we still struggle with here in Ontario. Even, it seems, at the LCBO.

First, let it be said that I do think the LCBO is making commendable efforts to support craft beer. Virtually every small brewer in Ontario that I’ve spoken to on the subject notes that the people working within the LCBO are very helpful and supportive when it comes to the local breweries who vie to hawk their wares on their store shelves. Aside from being overly bureaucratic and occasionally making some head-scratching decisions about beers that are and are not approved (NO LASER SHOW?!), I think the LCBO is a pretty darn decent place for craft beer.

That said, given that the government-run booze emporium is one of the few places we can legally buy beer to take home, too much of its advertising and merchandising seems to me to have a complicated relationship with the word craft. Continue reading “The LCBO doesn’t have a definition for “craft beer” either”

Sexist beer marketing: Meanwhile in Nova Scotia

A  few months ago I wrote a blog post discussing sexist marketing in beer and I called out–and chatted with–some Ontario breweries about marketing efforts I felt objectified women.

In the interim, there have been some changes worth noting. Whitewater Brewing, the Ottawa Valley area brewer who makes “Farmer’s Daughter Blonde,” has quietly updated the branding for that can and appears to have renamed their seasonal “Farmer’s Daughter’s Melons” to the decidedly less cringe-inducing “Watermelon Blonde.”

Niagara Brewing Company, the makers of “Amber Eh!,” an American-style Amber that features a semi-naked female lumberjack on the can, took the less strategic but still effective approach of responding to my repeated inquiries by simply blocking me on social media. I guess that works.

The other breweries mentioned have, to date, continued business as usual; including continuing to use the cans that I discussed.

As first reported here in August, Garnet Pratt Siddall, the then-newly-appointed chair of the Ontario Craft Brewers who spoke candidly with me for my article about sexist beer in the industry, has been terminated as the CEO of Collingwood’s Side Launch Brewing Co.

I’ve also confirmed with the OCB that she has likewise subsequently resigned as the chair and director of that organization. It remains to be seen who her replacement will be and, as such, it’s unclear whether the de facto figurehead of Ontario’s only organization advocating for small brewers will share Siddall’s interest in making changes related to offensive marketing.

Interestingly though, one of the most promising changes to come about since my article, and apparently as a result of it, comes not from Ontario, but rather from Nova Scotia. Continue reading “Sexist beer marketing: Meanwhile in Nova Scotia”