Ben's Beer Blog

A place for all things beer.


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Alberta gov issues fines for inducement, governing body in Ontario confirms they never have

Breweries providing cash and incentives in exchange for exclusivity in bars and pubs is an ingrained part of the beer industry.

I’ve written about this a few times over the years (most recently last week for my bi-weekly column Full Pour in the Metroland Media publication Our London). If you’re new to this issue (or my impotent ranting on the subject), the TL;DR version is this: if you’re sitting in a bar that has dedicated all of its draught lines to one particular brewery or are sitting in a pub that seems to be decorated entirely in swag from one particular company, you can virtually guarantee that cash and / or incentives were provided to that bar in exchange for space on that draught lineup.

The kicker here, of course, is that this entire practice is technically illegal per Ontario’s liquor licence act, specifically Regulation 720:

A manufacturer of liquor or an agent or employee of a manufacturer shall not directly or indirectly offer or give a financial or material inducement to a person who holds a licence or permit under the Act or to an agent or employee of the person for the purpose of increasing the sale or distribution of a brand of liquor.

Again, this isn’t new ground and is something I’ve been talking about since roughly January of 2013 when I wrote the post, In Toronto Pubs, Breweries Battle for Beer Taps With Persuasion and Cash, for the website Torontoist.

In the roughly four years since I wrote that post, nothing has changed about the prevalence of the practice except that, for the first time in my beer writing career, I’ve learned two fairly interesting things about penalties for inducements:

  1. A fine was actually issued to a Canadian brewery for this practice in May, and
  2. The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) has apparently never issued monetary penalties in response to inducements.

Continue reading


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What’s in store for Ontario beer next year?

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Last week I rounded up some of the biggest developments in beer in 2015 and it got me to thinking about the year ahead. Here are some of things I predict what we might see in beer in Ontario for 2016.


Small scale innovation

Grocery store sales are not going to be the tipping point for Ontario beer.  As I noted in last week’s post, that development doesn’t seem all that ground-breaking for me. I think it’s possible that, as the grocery store program rolls out over the next couple years, there might be some outlier chains and independent grocers who opt to support local and craft beer exclusively; however, given that Farm Boy, who were rumoured to be aiming at 100% craft beer on shelves, has opted to stock big beer on store shelves, I think it’s more likely that grocery stores will simply bring us more of the same beer we already have access to through the Beer Store and LCBO.

Instead, I think 2016 will continue to bring interesting and innovative solutions to Ontario’s unique legislative problems by way of small businesses and entrepreneurs. I predict a rise in home-delivery services that bring unique craft offerings to people in areas where distribution is difficult and I predict the coming of increased numbers of niche-market bars and restaurants that can offer rare imported beers given how hard it can be to bring in beers from other markets.  The forthcoming new bar from the family behind Bar Volo that will focus on barrel-aged and sour imports, to my mind, could be the first of many. Continue reading


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Loblaws set to launch beer sales

superstore

Early next week Loblaws will announce the details of their pilot program to be among the first grocers in Ontario to sell beer.

The grocery chain’s stores are among a select 450 Ontario grocery stores who will be allowed to sell beer by 2018 and they are also among an even more select 60 stores who will be allowed to sell beer “before Christmas,” a date that grows ever closer, despite what the weather might have you believe.

Ben’s Beer Blog has learned that, with an eye to that “Christmas” launch, Loblaws will likely be hosting a press conference next week where Premier Kathleen Wynne will be on hand to help the retailer announce the details of the launch of their beer program.

I’m going to add a big disclaimer here that I have been unable to verify all of what I’m about to reveal, but for the most part, I have the details that will be announced. Continue reading


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Ontario’s independent grocers want to support craft beer

grocery beer

Beer is coming to grocery stores.

No, really.

For a number of reasons, it’s been tough to believe that this development, first announced by the provincial government back in the spring of 2015, would ever actually come. Firstly, there’s the healthy dose of cynicism with which we’ve all learned to approach any news about alcohol reform in Ontario, and secondly, there’s the fact that, aside from those early announcements about 450 grocery stores that would eventually be allowed to sell beer, we haven’t actually heard a lot of details about how (or when) exactly this would all happen.

Until now.

In a Ben’s Beer Blog exclusive, I had an opportunity to chat recently with Tom Barlow, President and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers (CFIG).  This chat was exciting for a few reasons: Firstly, I’ve now got some details about what beer in grocery stores might actually look like, and secondly, the fact that independent grocers have been invited to take part in the conversation with Ed Clark and the panel overseeing the reform of beer sales bodes well for Ontario’s craft beer, in my opinion. 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


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Let’s talk about growlers

Growler

With the recent news that changes to Ontario’s liquor laws could mean the LCBO will start to carry and fill growlers, it’s probably a good time to ask some questions about this development.

Namely, does anyone really give a shit?

The benefits and pitfalls of recent proposed changes to Ontario’s liquor laws, specifically as they relate to beer, have been debated fairly extensively as of late, and probably will be until the changes actually come into effect some time in the 3rd millennium, but not much has been made of the odd little item about growlers, and so it’s worth considering whether or not the potential “mainstreaming” of those fun little jugs is a good thing.

But before we get there, let’s cover some basics for the uninitiated. Continue reading


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Changes to Ontario’s beer: The good, the bad, and the WTF

goodbadwtf

In case you are unaware–or you’re like me and were drinking copious amounts of great American craft beer at the annual Craft Brewers Conference in Portland when it happened–last week the province announced some proposed changes to the way beer is sold in Ontario.

Mostly contained in an announcement wherein Premier Kathleen Wynne confirmed that we’d be seeing beer sold in grocery stores (if the Liberal budget is passed, which it will since they have a majority), the full details of the proposed changes were outlined in the report Striking the Right Balance: Modernizing Beer Retailing and Distribution in Ontario

Given my Portland sojourn, I’m admittedly a little late to the party analyzing the impact of these possible changes, but better late than never.

If you’re interested, Canadian Beer News has a great round up of the various reactions to the report in the major dailies and some blogs.  I recommend Dan Grant‘s post for NOW Magazine for some reaction from brewers and Jordan St. John published an interesting post in which he takes a look at how we got here (and gets a terrific visit from a trolling Beer Store employee in the comments section for his efforts!)

In considering the report and its impact, I opted to approach the issue as I do most other things: I cracked a beer and first read what every one else was saying–but then I decided to take a critical look at each of the proposed major changes individually.

Here’s why I think the proposed changes are good, why they might be bad, and why they have me asking “wtf?” Continue reading