Ben's Beer Blog

A place for all things beer.


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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


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Drinking Shocktop


Quite some time ago, I realized I was getting close to having 5000 followers on twitter.

Accordingly, I tweeted that, should I reach that milestone within the next week, I would purchase and drink the variety mix pack from Shock Top and record the experience. People seemed enthused by the idea of a beer snob drinking Shock Top.

I reached 5000 followers the next day.

For those who don’t know, Shock Top is a beer that is marketed as a “Belgian Stye Wheat Ale” but is in fact liquid garbage. First produced in 2006, the beer is made by Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV, a marketing company that controls roughly a third of the world’s beer; however, this beer is rather dubiously marketed as a craft beer. It actually says on the can that it is from “Shock Top Brewing Co.” and, in bars, it is typically positioned by Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV to compete with craft beer among consumers who don’t know any better. I once enjoyed a considerable amount of traffic on this very blog back in September of 2014 when I managed to get my hands on a marketing brief prepared by Canadian Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV subsidary Labatt that suggested they were planning an expensive, intentionally misleading ad campaign to promote Shock Top in Canada as craft beer after market research revealed how many of the beer’s drinkers were misinformed about the beer’s origins.

The original Shock Top is something like a Belgian Witbier–in much the same way that the Olive Garden in the Magic Valley Mall in Idaho is something like Tuscan dining.  Originally released as Spring Heat Spiced Wheat in 2006, the brand was a rather transparent attempt by ABI to release a shitty witbier that would compete with Blue Moon, another shitty witbier, this one created by Miller-Coors with the obvious purpose to trick dumb people into thinking they were drinking craft beer and to compete with the growing small brewer segment. Here in Canada, Shock Top, the beer marketed as a product of a non-existent craft brewery in St. Louis, is actually brewed in Labatt’s facilities in London, Creston, Edmonton, Montreal, Halifax, and St Johns. Blue Moon is marketed by Molson-Coors in Canada as “Belgian Moon” because a Toronto craft brewery hilariously bought the rights to the name Blue Moon in Canada. In a pinch, you might also drink Rickard’s White if shitty witbier is your thing as it seems to be essentially the same beer, but with perhaps a different ratio of butt beer.

But I digress. You came here to read about me drinking this shit. Continue reading


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Beer is very healthy

Craft beer is booming in North America and, while the industry is fun and vibrant and its growth is doing much to support local economies, did you know that a recently-released study can be very narrowly interpreted to imply that beer is healthy?

It’s true! According to A Professor at Whatever Fucking University did a study that got picked up by the newswire this time, beer has significant health benefits.

“Sure, beer has healthy things in it,” says Professor, in a severely truncated quote I cherry-picked to support my flimsy thesis and traffic-grabbing headline. Continue reading


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In praise of awful bars

There’s something great about an awful bar.

As a beer writer, and one that has—admittedly—adopted tastes and a tone of voice in my over half a decade of semi-professional drinks writing that some folks have interpreted as rather snobby, I am almost as surprised to admit it as you might be to hear it: I sometimes love going to terrible bars.

And make no mistake, I’m not talking about “dive bars;” that subset of drinking establishments that are sometimes (and more often than not, intentionally) a little rough around the edges, but have a redeeming quality like amazing tacos, great draught, cool cocktails, etc.

No.

I mean that much larger swath of establishments that pepper most north american landscapes both suburban and metropolitan and that, from a snobby alcohol-enthusiast’s point of view at least, really have no redeeming qualities. Continue reading


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This is not a stouts and chocolate Valentine’s Day post

It’s almost Valentine’s Day and whether you’re revelling in your choice to be single, lamenting your fate at being alone, or ironing your dancing pants and putting the finishing touches on your plans with that special someone, we beer lovers all have one thing in common this time of year: We’re being bombarded with clumsy and desperate attempts by marketers and beer writers alike to bring together the idea of beer and valentines in a transparent attempt to create some topical traffic and/or brand engagement. Because romance.

Some of these savvy communicators and influencers will recommend beers with red fruit in them since these beers have a red-tinged appearence appropriate to the heart-themed occasion (fun!) and some might do a round-up of local beers that have love in their name, hearts on their label, or involve a cheeky reference to sex (sexy!).

Of course, as is the case every year, far more of these fellow creative types are likely to produce a litany of phoned-in listicles explaining to us, once again, why this is a great time of year to pair some dark beer with some chocolate.

Ugh. Continue reading


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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


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Mind the Gap Mondays at The Morrissey House

The Morrissey House, on Dundas Street in downtown London, is a decidedly decent place to drink. It’s a cozy, multi-room spot in a one of the classic two-storey yellow brick victorian homes for which this area is known. It has that familiar, mismatched-furniture, just-slightly-dingy vibe of a no-nonsense pub. There’s rib-sticking fare on the menu, they host things like trivia nights—it feels like a lot of other pubs you’ve visited. Except in London, it’s not really like those other pubs. That’s because, in 2014, owner Mark Serré stopped buying any draught from The Beer Store and now deals directly with local brewers. So unlike that place you’re nostalgic for from your time at University, The Mo, as its known to some who frequent it, forgoes the ubiquitous shitty lineup of Stella, Coors, and Rickards and instead boasts 18 draught options from Ontario’s craft breweries.

There is also increasing evidence that, in addition to being a quite decent place to drink, it’s run by decent people. Case in point, the Mo’s new “Mind the Gap” Mondays promotion.

On January 6th, in a blog post on The Moirrssey’s website, Serré announced that Mondays would henceforth be dedicated to bringing awareness to the gender pay equity gap in Canada. His concept is pretty simply: Because women are paid, on average, 13% less than men in this country, any woman visiting The Morrissey House on Mondays will enjoy a 13% discount on her lunch or dinner. Continue reading