Back in August, the Ontario Craft Brewers announced the appointment of a new association president.
The former CEO of Golf Canada, Scott Simmons was also Vice President, marketing and business development for The Beer Store, and he led that organization’s development of a long range strategic plan.
The OCB currently boasts 82 members and is the only organization representing the interests of small brewers in the province. Accordingly, the role of president is one that could conceivably be pivotal in shaping the future of craft beer in Ontario. I reached out to Simmons and managed to catch him during a free half hour when he was literally driving to Queen’s Park to chat beer with provincial politicians and we discussed what he’s been up to in his first 12 weeks on the job, what we can expect next for beer in Ontario, and, importantly, what a newly-craft-converted and self-described “blue collar” guy from Brantford (who went to high school with Gretzky no less) likes to drink. What follows is an edited transcript of the things Simmons was willing to go on the record about (also worth noting: I knew we only had 30 minutes, so I tried to cut to the chase).
Ben’s Beer Blog: “Ok, you probably saw this one coming, so lets start with it. Craft brewers in Ontario are still “the little guys,” and to my mind, there are a few big guys they have to do battle with and one of them is The Beer Store. You come from The Beer Store. How do you reconcile that? I’ve talked to some OCB members and, the consensus is generally “who better to help us in that system,” but there are also a lot of guys that want to blow up that system. In March 2015, I watched Darren Smith, the owner of Lake of Bays Brewery and the Vice Chair of the Ontario Craft Brewers, give an impassioned speech directly to provincial politicians, basically saying “Let us have our own stores.” I still think that’s the best possible scenario here: Let craft brewers open their own stores. But given your Beer Store background, does this signify that the OCB is content to work within that system, or are stores still a goal?”
Scott Simmons: “I think it’s still a goal for sure. But as you know from your work in the industry, every thing is political. Everything is a negotiation. I think that, my personal opinion, the craft brewers kind of lost the battle for their own stores—for the time being at least—when the grocery store plan got announced.”
BBB: “I agree.”
SS: “I think when they announced grocery, cross-selling and individual stores fell off the table for the time-being but it’s certainly something that I’m going to keep advocating for. And to your point about the little guys and the big competition with Molson and Labatt—for sure, but I try not to think of it as so contentious. They’re not evil and all this. You know, they’re good people.” Continue reading