Ben's Beer Blog

A place for all things beer.


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30 minutes with Scott Simmons, the new President of the Ontario Craft Brewers

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


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Side Launch Brewing Company announces termination of CEO Garnet Prat Siddall

The board of directors of Collingwood’s Side Launch Brewing Company has announced the termination of the brewery’s President and CEO, Garnet Pratt Siddall.

In an announcement to staff and stakeholders of the company, Andy Wilder, Chairman of the Board of Directors, said the board “has decided that Side Launch would be best served with a new leader and the search for a new CEO will commence immediately.”

The statement includes assurances to staff the company will “continue to prosper and grow” and lauds the brewery’s “strong balance sheet.” As the reason for termination, Wilder indicated that “[i]t is normal that as an organization grows, the skills and processes needed to manage the organization change.”

A source tells me, however, that the board parted company with Pratt Siddall over “fundamental disagreements over how to run the business.”

That Side Launch has chosen to part ways with Pratt Siddall, who served as President and CEO since the company’s founding three years ago and inarguably helped the brewery rise to its current prominence, is a puzzling decision to say the least. Pratt Siddall brought experience in corporate finance and mergers and acquisitions to Side Launch, the company was named the 2016 Brewery of the Year at the Canadian Brewing Awards, and Pratt Siddall was recently elected by her peers to serve as chair of the board of directors for the Ontario Craft Brewers association. The first woman ever elected to that position.

I reached out to Pratt Siddall for comment but she indicated she was not prepared to discuss the situation.

Per the recent announcement, Side Launch Brewery’s interim CEO will be Al Stuart. Stuart is a Managing Partner of The Pilot in Toronto, former Vice President of Operations at Stuart Energy Systems Corporation, and is currently a director of the Bloor Yorkville BIA and sits on JAZZFM‘s board of directors.


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The Ontario Craft Brewers would like their own stores, please

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“Though this be madness,
yet there is method in’t”

Last night I attended the 10th annual Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB) tasting event at the Ontario legislature.

It’s an event hosted by the Speaker of The House wherein the OCB, a 50+ member group that is currently the only organization advocating on behalf of the province’s small brewers, is welcomed into the Ontario Legislative Building to pour their beers for myriad MPPs and (mostly) their thirsty, bespectacled, pointy-shoed staffers.

I have attended in previous years and wrote about last year’s event in less than flattering terms as a missed opportunity in my opinion given a climate in Ontario that seemed destined for real change to the beer scene.

This year, even more than last, the event seemed rife with potential for some grand statement: the premier of Ontario has made a few opening but vague salvos relating to reforming the province’s beer scene and speculation grows about what might be in the upcoming budget for people who buy and make craft beer–including rumours recently reported by The Toronto Star’s Martin Regg Cohn that we can expect beer in grocery stores soon.

This year, I thought, someone might say something bold that electrifies the crowd.

And I was right.

Sort of. Continue reading


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80 alternatives to Guinness to drink this St. Patrick’s Day

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Guinness is a pretty great beer.

It’s got a long storied history dating back to roughly 1770, is arguably one of the most famous beer brands in the entire world, and will forever be the stout against which all other stouts are measured.

It also tastes good. I enjoy an occasional Guinness and you’ll likely find that, if you’re with a fan of good beer but trapped in some shitty bar where the tap lines are all purchased by breweries, that beer fan will likely just order a Guinness because, among the other ubiquitous big names, it’s generally the one consistently reliable and decent beer that’s available virtually everywhere and, provided the beer is fresh and the lines are clean, is an interesting, comforting, rich, and creamy stout.

But come every god damn March, I come to hate Guinness. I detest the idea that we’re supposed to drink more of the black stuff–which already sells in excess of 850 million litres a year–in order to commemorate the death of Ireland’s patron saint. There is so much Guinness marketing crammed down our throats in the lead-up to March 17th every year that it’s enough to make you rage vomit bile so thick and creamy as to rival the famous dry stout itself.

So this St. Patrick’s day, I say fuck Guinness.

The notion that we have to drink a certain thing on a certain day just because a huge marketing campaign tells us we have to is bullshit, man *flips collar on leather jacket, lights cigarette*

If you must go out and drink or otherwise celebrate the arrival of Christianity in Ireland or mark the occasion of the lifting of Lenten restrictions you almost certainly don’t actually follow, why not drink something else? Continue reading