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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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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Documentary on Ontario’s alcohol laws will stream online

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As has been posited by fellow beer scribe Jordan St. John, it once seemed like roughly every six months we were inundated with a slew of articles about the makes-you-want-to-smash-your-head-through-drywall-it’s-so-frustrating world of beverage alcohol in Ontario.

Six months seemed to be roughly the amount of time it would take people to forget that one company was allowed to have 440 retail beer stores in this province while the people who actually make beer in Ontario were still only legally allowed to have one. And so this was the amount of time that would pass before some article would pop up, cause some outrage, make the rounds on social media, then quietly die with nothing ever coming of it. Some beer writers may have even used this cyclical outrage to build a reputation as something of a shit disturber. Ahem. Continue reading


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The new Bellwoods Brewery might not have a bottle shop

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A couple weeks ago Toronto’s Bellwoods Brewery officially announced their intention to open a second brewery on the corner of Dovercourt and Dupont. I likewise provided further details in my signature “hey-I-already-knew-about-it-because-I’m-cooler-than-you” style in a post for blogTO and the response on the interwebs was nothing short of ecstatic as twitter exploded with well-wishes and excitement about a new place for craft beer fans to get Bellwoods’ delicious beer (even the goddamn blogTO comments section was all positivity for once).

The news is clearly awesome, but there’s a bad news element to the situation that I opted to leave out of my original article in order to help ensure that the Bellwoods folks received only much-deserved optimism and happiness about their expansion. Well, the time for happiness has passed and, as is often the case when it comes to the brewing industry in Ontario, the time for rage is upon us.

The new space might not be allowed to have a retail store. Continue reading