Ben's Beer Blog

A place for all things beer.


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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


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Revisiting Ontario’s Master Framework Agreement with The Beer Store

In 2015, in response to Ontarians’ frustrations about The Beer Store—a private corporation owned by three of the world’s largest brewing companies: Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV, Molson-Coors, and Sapporo—the Provincial Government and The Beer Store entered into a new agreement, dubbed the 2015 Master Framework Agreement.

Last week, I wrote a post about the fact that it seemed to me like The Beer Store might not be living up to its end of the bargain with respect to the 2015 Master Framework Agreement, specifically their obligations to improve their customer experience.

In light of the fact that the province is handing out money to craft brewers, the industry is booming, and we’ve added even more grocery stores to the list of places we can now buy beer, it once again occurred to me that my choice of subject matter last week was pretty consistent with criticism I’ve heard that I only focus on negative things. Continue reading


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What to expect from Ontario beer in 2018

Because it’s that time of year, here are the things that I think are going to shape the conversation as it relates to beer, especially in Ontario, in 2018.

Weed
When it comes to the craft beer industry, it seems kind of crazy to me how little attention is being paid to the legalization of marijuana in Canada. To my mind it is impossible to suggest that the destiny of any meaningful changes to our beverage alcohol sector won’t now be intrinsically tied to all things pot.

Government resources are right now being dedicated to drafting new legislation, debating policies, and creating laws that will govern how each province will handle the prospect of legal weed. And if you’re a pot fan or a policy wonk, these are exciting times, but if you had any hope that you might see meaningful changes to your respective province’s liquor laws anytime soon, I’ve got some bad news for you: Much of the resources and political capital that would be needed for progress in the world of beer are going to be focused squarely on sticky-icky for a while. Continue reading


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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


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10 totally true facts about Toronto Beer Week

tbw

In a few hours, Toronto Beer Week will kick off with a launch party at the Summerhill LCBO.

The next week will feature a slew of events in and around the city and even an official beer, Interloper, a barrel-aged, blended farmhouse beer made by Indie Alehouse and available at the LCBO, participating TBW bars and at Indie’s bottleshop.

That much you probably already knew.

But to help you make the most of your Toronto Beer Week and give you the inside scoop, I’ve put together this list of 10 totally true facts about Toronto Beer Week.

Everything written here is totally 100% true. Obviously. Continue reading


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2015 Beer News Round Up

2015 in beer
Last year, for my round up of beer news that occurred in 2014, I  summarized my thoughts on the scene generally with an uncharacteristic sense of optimism.

The “Ontario beer conversation” seemed to have leapt from blogs and bars to the mainstream and a seemingly constant series of newspaper articles and op-eds was bringing more and more of the general public into the beer world’s previously private world of fist-shaking, head-scratching, anti-monopolistic, impotent rage. At the close of 2014, change in Ontario’s frustratingly archaic retail beer system seemed not only likely, but practically inevitable.

“I really think 2015 is poised to be a big year for beer in Ontario,” I wrote, one year ago today, in a post that seems almost as painful in its earnestness as the Geocities website I once created for my high school punk band.

Because of course, as is often the case in this province, the reality of the change to the beer scene in Ontario has been painfully slow, unnecessarily complicated, and largely unsatisfying. And so, instead of the celebratory year we might have had, this year, if I had to chose one word to describe how I felt about the beer news that went down in 2015, that word would be “meh.” Continue reading


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More details emerge about the LCBO’s growler program

LCBO Growlers

On Monday August 24th, the LCBO sent an email to some of Ontario’s craft brewers to invite them to submit products for the launch of their growler fill program that will start with their flagship Summerhill location.

Ben’s Beer Blog has obtained a copy of the email and it includes some details about the program that until now have been something of a mystery.

The email reveals that the space will include the LCBO’s first growler station as well as a craft beer tasting bar. Furthermore they are actively seeking beer that they don’t already have available for sale in packaged format (so we won’t see the Bud Zone Growler Station as some beer nerd grumbling posited).

The LCBO has indicated that their staff will dispense beer directly from kegs into the growler; however, it did not reveal if they would be investing in a proper growler filler or merely filling them from a draught tap (presumably–and hopefully–it’s the former given their investment in this). Continue reading