Ben's Beer Blog

A place for all things beer.


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Cool Brewery wants to sell you dollar beer. And possibly weed.

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On Monday, Cool Brewery announced that they would become the second Ontario brewery to take up Premier Doug Ford’s “buck-a-beer challenge” and would attempt to make a one dollar beer.

If you’ve been paying attention to this story at all — and indeed it’s been fairly impossible not to — you’ll know that the response to buck-a-beer and the first brewery to take up the challenge, Barley Days Brewery in Prince Edward County, has been polarizing, to say the least.

As I first wrote a few hours after the announcement and as I repeated on CTV news and on a few local radio stations that day and the next, I think the whole thing is, at best, all rather silly. It was a fairly amusing political stunt with no real policy behind it, the Premier simply said, you can now make cheap beer and brewers could choose to if they wanted. Not a bad move for a politician, really. But as many brewers have pointed out as they too enjoyed an opportunity to do the rounds of media, it’s largely impossible to make a quality beverage, sell it for $1 and still turn any kind of profit. Doug Appledoorn of People’s Pint Collective had a succinct argument on CTV News, Mark Murphy of Left Field Brewery posted a dollars and cents argument on Facebook, Jason Fisher of Toronto’s Indie Alehouse, as is his wont, put things rather bluntly when he explained on Metro Morning that he couldn’t even make a profit selling one of his empty bottles for a dollar and many other breweries have taken up the call of myriad local media outlets looking for a soundbite. Fuelled by media who, perhaps rightly, have relished the chance to poke fun at the Premier, plus the fact that this is a story about the click-worthy subject of beer, and the fact that many a craft brewer is willing to talk about their passion for brewing beer with quality ingredients, buck-a-beer has really enjoyed a rather astonishingly-long media cycle.

Probably too long, really, given how meaningless it all is in the grand scheme of things.

And while I’ve tried to stop paying attention to the twitter-ramblings and politicizing of the buck-a-beer fallout, I can’t. It’s like a car wreck and I just can’t look away (of course when people are all up in your mentions because of a blog post you wrote, it’s even harder to look away). That said, I thought things might finally be dying down. In an aftermath that seemed to be 259-1 in terms of brewers opposed and brewers for the idea of buck a beer, it seemed that one side had probably finally won the argument, logic had prevailed, and maybe this would go away.

Until Cool’s announcement today. Continue reading


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Ontario brewers should think twice before they buck themselves

I’ve been hesitant to weigh in on the buck-a-beer fiasco for a few reasons, not the least of which is that fellow beer writer Jordan St. John already did it, literally the day Doug Ford’s campaign announced dollar beer was a possibility back in May. 

But now that it appears the PC government is going to make good on the promise and now that it appears an Ontario craft brewery is actually opting to pursue dollar beer, I’ve literally been asked to weigh in and will be appearing on CTV News Toronto at 6pm today so I’ve had some time to consider the possibility and thought I’d put my thoughts down here too since that is what a god damned blog is for, right? 

So here’s the problem with dollar beer: Economies of scale mean breweries simply can’t make a very good beer that will cost $1 and still make that brewery a profit. If you attempted to, you’d probably end up using extracts instead of real, quality ingredients, you’ll use adjuncts to get more bang for your buck and, essentially, a dollar beer is going to taste like it’s worth a dollar.  Continue reading


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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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Is the hammer about to drop on Ontario beer?

According to my sources, it will soon be announced that Stone Hammer Brewing in Guelph is closing its doors for good.

While I have not been able to reach the company for confirmation, I’m told that last week employees were told to head home and asked not to return and that production of beer had ceased permanently.

And while it’s unlikely that “lack of shelf space” will be listed as the official cause of death for Stone Hammer Brewing, the closure has me — once again — wondering if the inevitable purge of Ontario craft beer is about to begin.

It’s a topic I seem to be asked about with increasing frequency whenever a reporter is doing a story on craft beer and stumbles upon my blog seeking “industry expertise.” Can Ontario continue to sustain this growth of craft breweries? My answer is always the same, and it’s “No. It’s not sustainable. Something’s gotta give.” 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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30 years of Great Lakes Brewery

At this point, Great Lakes Brewery has largely cemented their status as a great Canadian brewery and has earned their place in most Canadian beer fans’ hearts.

I’d wager that, right now, almost everyone reading these words has at least one GLB beer in their fridge. And why not? They make great fucking beer.

But it wasn’t always like that. In fact, the killer version of Great Lakes that most of us know and love is a fairly recent innovation considering that the company has actually been around for 30 years. Purchased by Peter Bulut Sr. in 1991, Great Lakes was, at the time, a small brewery in Brampton with an 18 hectolitre system that made their beer using syrupy malt extract brewed on an electric kettle. And so, roughly the same time they bought the business, they bought a mill and a masher to make beer from proper malt, and immediately outgrew the brewery’s fermenters. Taking possession of the company in April, Bulut had to move his operation to a 30,000 square foot building in Etobicoke by August, and today that’s the building the brewery still inhabits.

Bulut quickly found success in the 1990s Toronto restaurant scene which was, at that time, largely dominated by Greek families. Having come from a Greek and Serbian background and having been raised in an Italian school, Bulut was a man of languages and would often adapt the dialect of whomever he was speaking with and tell restaurateurs he was actually from the same village as them. It proved to be an effective ruse and, as a result, he ended up selling a lot of beer.

Like, a lot. Next time you drink a Karma Citra, be thankful for the hardworking Greek people of Toronto and their patrons who drank a shit ton of Great Lakes Lager in the 1990s to make that IPA possible for you. Continue reading