Loading...

Follow Ben's Beer Blog on Feedspot

Continue with Google
Continue with Facebook
or

Valid

There’s obviously never a bad time to buy some local beer, but some times are better than others.

In two days, thanks to a fundraising collaboration between Hamilton brewery, Grain & Grit and Max’s Big Ride, a charity ride to benefit Duchenne muscular dystrophy, it will be one of those better times.

The charity is named after seven year-old Max Sedmihradsky, this happy guy.

From the organization’s website: Max rarely stops talking and one of his favorite topics is all of the things he’s going to do when he’s older, like learn to skateboard, ski and play hockey and soccer with his friends. The problem is that Max has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a terrible disease which doesn’t allow his muscles to develop like other kids, so unless we find a cure, he will never get a chance to do the things he dreams about doing in his future.

For the past three summers, Max and his dad, Andrew, have ridden a cargobike 600 km between Hamilton and Ottawa to raise money to help find a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

This summer, Max and his dad teamed up with Grain & Grit Brewery to brew the first ever ‘Max’s Big Beer,’ a Milkshake IPA with two of Max’s favourite flavours, peach and vanilla

On sale on tap and in cans at Grain & Grit starting with a launch party on June 10th, 100% of 12oz pour proceeds from the launch and 50 cents from every beer sold thereafter will be donated to the Gunning Group Lab at the University of Toronto Mississauga via the registered Canadian charity Jesse’s Journey. After the party, on June 11th, Max, his dad, and his sister Isla will embark on their annual ride, hoping to finish on Parliament Hill on Father’s Day.

You can help Max and boys like him have a better chance of doing the things kids want to do, and all you have to is buy a beer.

If you can’t make it to Grain & Grit to buy the beer, $25 will get you a t-shirt commemorating Max’s beer and all proceeds will go to the effort or you can simply donate directly here.

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

All 10 bricks-and-mortar breweries currently operating in East Toronto have joined forces to form a brewing collective. The aptly named Toronto East Brewing Collective includes Brunswick Bierworks, Common Good Brewing, Eastbound Brewing Co., Godspeed Brewery, Left Field Brewery, Louis Cifer Brew Works, Muddy York Brewing Co., Rorschach Brewing Co., Radical Road Brewing Company, and Saulter Street Brewery and the group is set to release a statement announcing their formation later this week.

David Wallace, who handles Sales and Marketing for Muddy York Brewing Co, says the collective came not only from a shared vision of like-minded people who live and work in the area, but also a desire to put some focus on a region that can sometimes be overlooked.

“Most of the breweries in Toronto who have been the beneficiaries of media hype (deserved though it may be) are all clustered in the west end,” he says. “There’s already this ridiculous ‘cultural divide’ that makes people in the west end feel like traveling east of the Don Valley requires a full day of logistics planning and we’re hoping to dispel much of that nonsense.”

(I can confirm this a legitimate and frustrating thing. On recent travels to Toronto, I spoke to West-enders who hadn’t been to places like Godspeed yet because the 20 minute TTC trip was “so far.” As someone who lives two hours away, I wanted to throat punch them).

Luc “Bim” Lafontaine, Brewmaster at Godspeed, tells me the main focus of the collective will be mainly collaborative events. “We created the collective so we can put ideas together that will lead to events that promote the east end and its breweries.”

In keeping with this event-focused approach, the collective will launch in rather epic fashion on June 14th, taking over the taps at three different east Toronto venues. “Brewed in The East” will occur simultaneously at The Wren, The Only, and Bar Hop Danforth. All 10 breweries are participating and attending and all 10 breweries will brew a different beer for each venue, meaning there will be 30 unique beers being poured in East Toronto.

Given the oft-lamented lack of vocal lobbying efforts in Ontario, I spoke to folks at some of the breweries involved in the Toronto East Brewing Collective to see if this might be the start of an effort to advocate more strongly for brewers’ interests, but that does not appear to be the case, at least at this time. “We are essentially an organizing body for events and initiatives featuring breweries in the neighbourhood,” says Mandie Murphy, co-founder of Left Field Brewery. “It’s a possibility in the future but not a foundational goal.”

Regardless, it seems like a great initiative to continue to promote local beer in a city where the scene is booming and the brewers are seemingly intent to continue to collaborate even as the market gets increasingly competitive. “There’s lots of talk of community in this industry, some of it real, some not so much,” says Wallace. “But we are ten independent businesses, competitors for the same real estate, who have found much common ground and a real interest in supporting each other.”

Of course, whether or not that will compel the beer drinkers West of Bathurst to hop on the Bloor line to take the perilous journey east remains to be seen.

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

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.

The various announcements have been good for a media cycle given that the party leaders have provided easy to mock soundbites about beer near chocolate bars or beer instead of cheese, etc. Occasional beer blogger Dan Grant dusted off the keyboard for a good rant about it , the conservative leaning “Free My Booze” campaign has been enjoying an orgy of facebook meme creation, the twitterverse has been doing what the twitterverse does , the Toronto Sun offered up a typically hyperbolic op-ed (or maybe two? I can only read so much Toronto Sun before I start bleeding from every opening in my body), columnists wrote columns, etc—but to me, everyone seems to be missing the point. Namely that this doesn’t fucking matter at all.

Sure, the issue and the leaders’ responses are arguably symptomatic of each party and the public can use this to exemplify their perception of each of their flaws (one promising a free market with no real consideration for actual policy, one digging in to its existing policy with its metaphorical ears plugged, and one letting unions dictate policy) but we’re talking about beer in corner stores as if it’s an important issue.

And it ain’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel strongly that the current beer retail system, which regulates beer sales to the mostly-foreign-brewery-owned Beer Store, the government-run LCBO, and now—seemingly inexplicably—a handful of grocery stores, is broken. It’s clearly a subject about which I am passionate. But it will not inform the way I vote, and I’d suggest that it probably shouldn’t affect your vote either.

It’s probably first worth considering the validity of these claims, of course. I’d argue that the Liberals are the only ones here you could probably count on to stick to their guns on their statement—but as Dan Grant showed us, that statement isn’t exactly doing the party any favours with most voters and the Liberals’ chances of actually winning are looking rather bleak this election. Additionally, you should view virtually any claims party leaders make leading up to the election with a good degree of skepticism, especially when the one promising to be the white knight has never worked in provincial politics, has not yet released a comprehensive platform, and hasn’t shown much grasp of how government actually works.

But I Doug-ress.

Even if you assumed that the leaders had based their claims on well-vetted research and the best interests of consumers and that they all planned to actually follow-through on what they’ve said, it’s worth considering: How much do you actually care about beer sales? I mean, obviously I do, and probably you do too given that you’re reading this, and if you work in the province’s beer industry, you probably care a little more – but when it comes to making a decision about which party you’ll elect to lead this province, should “where you buy beer” really even register on your list of criteria?

This feels like an important election – and I feel strongly that it’s always important to vote or at least spoil your ballot so that you are participating in the process – so it’s probably a good idea not to get distracted by easily-digested news items about things like beer. There’s a lot at stake.

One party has announced a whopping $20.3 billion in new spending and another has proposed to cut $6 billion from the budget without providing any details as to how. There’s a battle being fought over minimum wage rates, corporate tax cuts and hikes are being proposed, provincial healthcare could prove to a be battleground once we see the PC platform, two parties are proposing large investment in education while one wants to “review the curriculum in all core subject areas,” the parties have vastly different approaches to the environment and carbon taxes — the list goes on and on.

And so beer should be pretty low on that list, in my opinion.

So I want to suggest that you vote based on what’s actually important to you. Once we decide who to elect based on real issues, we can talk about beer with whomever we wake up with on June 8th. I promise.

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Ben’s Beer Blog is very excited to announce a unique partnership opportunity.

Today, for the first time ever, I am offering Ontario craft brewers a way to introduce their brands to a whole new audience of my direct acquaintances as well as connect with some of the province’s top-level influencers. 

Yes, I have put a small fridge in my garage and I am seeking breweries interested in helping me fill it. 

Referred to locally as Bobo’s, my garage has already become something of a hot spot in North London and has hosted many local influencers. I am seeking a partnership that can help a local brewer expose their brand to a growing number of London, Ontario beer drinkers that includes marketing and communications professionals, commercial real estate developers, academics, and my neighbour Andy.

In addition to serving your beer, Ben’s Beer Blog would love to promote your Bobo’s-Available Brand(s) via a slew of well-followed social media channels by occasionally featuring your beer in Facebook posts, instagram pictures, and tweets wherein I would disclose that I was provided the beer for the express purpose of creating such posts.* #freeshit

While Bobo’s does not yet offer draught options, there are plans to put in two exclusive tap lines during renovations next summer. Accordingly, establishing a mutually-beneficial arrangement to keep my new garage fridge stocked with bottles and cans this summer would go a long way toward building a relationship that might evolve into including exclusive draughts rights in the coming summer. 

Bobo’s is also open to hosting tastings, displaying branded signage, or accepting patio furniture for the small cement pad in front of my garage. 

Essentially, we are 100% committed to helping your business, provided that help does not in any way include actually paying you a fair price for the product you work hard to make and sell. 

If you are interested, please email me at btjohnson81@gmail.com. Sorry, no fucking Ontario pale ales.**

This all sounds pretty fucking stupid, doesn’t it? Then why is it OK when restaurants and bars do it?
*I’m actually serious. I will do this. 
**I’m really, really serious about this part. 

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

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.”

The industry here has essentially ballooned over the past half a dozen or so years. Robin LeBlanc and Jordan St. John have now written two editions of their guide to craft beer in the province and between the first and second editions, published just a year apart, they had to visit 50 more breweries to add to the list—and even the latest edition was essentially outdated as soon a they went to print because of the breweries that had opened in the interim. It’s predicted that, by this time next year, roughly half of all Ontarians will own and operate their own small brewery or brewpub.

OK, not really, but the growth has been exponential and it has, thus far, not been met with equally exponential growth in opportunities for brewers to actually sell their beer. As I’ve lamented elsewhere on numerous occasions, there are still just four places that brewers can sell closed containers of their product in this province: the state-run LCBO, the big-foreign-brewery-owned Beer Store, a brewery’s own onsite retail space and, as of 2015, a smattering of grocery stores.

That roughly 250 craft brewers in this province are forced to compete for this limited shelf space (along with the usual collection of marketing-first industrial lager companies) is absurd and seemingly not sustainable long term.

And yet…here we are.

The funny thing about my answer to those reporters chasing down whatever craft beer story is current, is that that has been my answer for about three years now. For three years I’ve been saying this growth is not sustainable and for three years I have been proven wrong. With the exception of a few relatively unsurprising brewery closures, nothing seems to have given yet.

Somehow craft beer in Ontario, like life on Jurassic Park, finds a way. And while many might point to recent government initiatives as a show of support for the industry, I will argue (and often do) that craft beer in Ontario has not been growing because of government, it has actually managed to grow in spite of it. There are frequent token gestures, notably the provincial government recently handing out grants to breweries like a drunken Oprah throwing out car keys, but none of them really fix the eventual and inevitable bottleneck at the end of the distribution chain: Retail space.

It’s all well and good for the Ontario government to throw money at Steam Whistle and Muskoka Brewery, for example, but it seems like those two breweries, who have enjoyed success working within the current system, will use the dough to find ways to be more profitable working within Ontario’s limited retail space or, more likely, will expand their distribution outside the province. The net result, in other words, is probably that government money won’t actually grow the industry and won’t be used to create new jobs here in the province–and that would probably be the end result if the provincial government could instead dedicate resources to opening up the retail playing field.

The owners of Stone Hammer, Leslie and Phil Woodhouse, arguably just gave the former F&M a few more years when they purchased and rebranded the brewery in 2015 and perhaps the fate of the former F&M brewing won’t surprise a lot of folks familiar with how the business was being run as of late, but every time I hear news like this, I can’t help wondering if the other shoe is finally about to drop in Ontario.

We can bolster our existing breweries all we want, but without more space for them to actually showcase and sell their product to the public, we’re definitely going to see more closures like this. The only question is when.

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

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.

And so, rather than only write about one shitty thing in relation to the Master Framework Agreement, I thought I’d do a follow-up post today where I outline a lot of other shitty things in relation to that agreement.

Because frankly, the fact that The Beer Store may or may not be meeting their commitments under this agreement isn’t really even the shittiest thing about that agreement. The agreement itself, aside from the addition of grocery stores to the list of places we can buy beer, is generally pretty shitty.

In fact, it largely just reinforces all the things we found so rage-inducing back in 2015. Let’s take a look.

THEN: The Beer Store and the LCBO have a “sweetheart deal.”

Remember when Martin Regg Cohn of The Toronto Star revealed the “bombshell” revelation that The Beer Store and our state-run liquor distributor did in fact have something of a gentlemen’s agreement to let each other run their respective businesses a certain way? You may recall that, at a time when people were hyper-aware of the fact that The Beer Store was the only entity in the province allowed to sell beer privately, the province making concessions to them was akin to something of a scandal.

It was, in fact, essentially the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Star, as is their wont, piled on after their “exposé” and the series of articles that followed in all likelihood led the province to create the Master Framework Agreement.

NOW:: The Agreement created in response to the agreement basically has all the same agreements.

The new master framework still says that the LCBO has to notify the Beer Store when it wants to open new stores, if the Beer Store decides they want to open a store in that community instead, they can (Section 6.7(a)), effectively giving The Beer Store first right of refusal to further enforce their monopoly.

THEN: WE WANT 12 PACKS!

One of the things that seemed to piss people off the most about that “sweetheart deal” was that the LCBO had agreed not to sell beer in formats larger than six packs, effectively handing The Beer Store the rights to large format and bulk discount sales.

NOW: We’re supposed to get excited that the LCBO is “allowed” to sell 12 packs, but a look at the fine print of the new agreement shows that Section 6.4(b) of the agreement actually dictates that the LCBO can carry those 12 packs in just 60 retail stores—an amount that’s equal to about 9% of all the LCBO retail outlets. Furthermore, “with respect to such 60 retail stores,” the LCBO agreed “to prioritize stores that are at least two kilometres from the Corporation’s [The Beer Store’s] stores.” So Ontarians are almost definitely still buying their 12 packs from the same place.

THEN: Bar and restaurant owners are literally not allowed to buy beer from the LCBO if that product is available at the LCBO.

In a blog post from 2012 I detailed how licensees who are picking up their liquor at the LCBO can’t also grab a six pack of something unique for their patrons if The Beer Store also sells that beer. Even if the LCBO stock is fresher, was stored better, and is more convenient for a licensee, if it’s a SKU at the Beer Store, the licensee has to go to TBS (a private retailer) to buy it.

NOW: Same. Section 6.7 (c) of the new agreement says “The LCBO will not sell to Licensees any Beer product listed for sale through the Corporation, including products that are sold through both the Corporation and the LCBO.” Read that again. This is another element of the “sweetheart deal” that got the Toronto Star all hot bothered back in the day and it’s right back in there in the new agreement.


THEN: The Beer Store retail experience is garbage.

I touched on this in my last blog post, and many column inches have been devoted to the archaic system by which consumers must line up and choose a beer from a wall depicting tiny labels of all the products offered by The Beer Store. Much ado is (rightly) made about the fact that The Beer Store’s owner breweries might easily manipulate whatever consumer comes in without a beer name in their head already by stocking their own products in the “Ice Cold Express” or by posting a “Top 10 Sellers” which, predictably, lists owner brewer’s beers. In addition to being a shitty customer experience, it’s also pretty specifically designed to help the big brewery owners sell more of their industrial lagers.

NOW: Pretty much the same. In last week’s post, I questioned whether or not The Beer Store had actually spent $100,000,000 jazzing up the place, as they are required to do per the agreement. It’s not clear, either from my limited recon or the store’s publicly-available financial records, that they’ve spent that much. But the fact remains that “improved customer experience” is pretty vague and, even if they can show they’ve spent that much, all the updates the Beer Store typically points to don’t actually lead people to explore new beer. If you ask them, you’ll hear much ado about a hifalutin iPad system designed to allow customers to explore new beer, but let’s be honest, no one walks into a Beer Store looking to buy a 12 pack for the handlebars of their ten speed, but finds an iPad and decides to explore a locally crafted saison. They touted their updated retail model back in 2013 and, as I recall, one devilishly handsome beer blogger astutely called the updates “same shit, different pile.”

Which is not to say that people wouldn’t buy better beer if that had a better retail experience. I’ve heard — anonymously and without actual proof — that, when the Beer Store opened its “boutique stores,” where customers can actually walk around and explore craft beer offerings, the stores reported an uptick in sales of craft brands. That’s why — allegedly — they stopped opening such boutique stores. Much lip service is paid to The Beer Store supporting craft brands, but I will remain skeptical that any real “customer experience improvements” will be undertaken if they hurt the bottom line of the place’s owner breweries.

THEN: The Beer Store is a privately-owned company that is allowed to sell beer from its owner breweries as well as charge money to any other brewer from anywhere else in the world that would like the right to sell beer in Ontario. Small brewers must pay three of the biggest beer companies in the world just to sell beer at the store down the road—where most people in this province still buy beer. This store received and continues to receive fairly ridiculous concessions from the government, largely because of their lobbying efforts, and the agreement the two entities share continues to hamper the growth of small and independent breweries that are creating jobs and tourism opportunities in Ontario.

NOW: Same.

Lead photo by By Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine from Wikimedia Commons
Ice Cold Express photo by “haunted by Leonard Cohen” via Wikimedia Commons

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

The Beer Store is a private corporation owned by three of the world’s largest brewing companies: Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV, Molson-Coors, and Sapporo.

This is a fact about which, it seemed, people used to care.

That time, to be exact, was 2013. Ragey beer writing had something of a moment and bloggers and traditional journalists alike seemed to set their collective sights on the worst kept secret in beer: The Beer Store is the only third party allowed to open privately owned retail beer stores in Ontario.  It was a time when Martin Regg Cohn of the Toronto Star was largely leading the non-beer-nerd charge and felt emboldened enough to write Toronto Star-ific ledes like the delicious: “The Beer Store is Ontario’s longest-running public disgrace and economic blight.” Oh Marty.

One of the main beefs the long lost people of 2013 seemed to have, in addition to anger about the fact that three of the biggest beer companies in the world were handed a virtual monopoly on retail beer sales in the province, was that the shopping experience at these stores really sucked. Indeed, the Beer Store, with its Ice Cold Express, list of top ten sellers, and hidden inventory, seems uniquely designed to continue allowing the big brewers who own the place to continue to sell more of their own product because there really isn’t any option for browsing. You can’t chuck an empty OV bottle at a stack of articles about the Beer Store without hitting a reference to the archaic conveyor belt system, the mysterious wall of labels, or the general communist-era vibes of Ontario’s beer retailer of choice.

And so, when the public sentiment culminated in a fine frothy rage that actually emboldened the province to do something about our retail beer fiasco, it included stipulations that The Beer Store would need to improve its customer experience. In 2015 the province released the “Master Framework Agreement” between the entities that own the Beer Store and the province and, in addition to the much-publicized introduction of beer in grocery stores, that agreement laid out details for The Beer Store updating their facilities; specifically, Section 6.1 of the 2015 framework agreement, entitled “Customer Experience” dictates that “The Corporation shall improve the customer experience across its retail network, including by converting stores to more modern retailing formats such as self-serve, open concept formats, and shall ensure that all newly built stores shall have self-serve, open concept formats.” They even put a specific number of the expense of upgrades: “The Corporation shall spend at least $100,000,000 from 2015 through 2018 on capital expenditures (not less than $80,000,000 of which shall be in respect of retail stores), which may be funded through the sale of existing assets of the Corporation.”

Well, a cursory glance at the ol’ calendar suggests that, hey, it’s been 2018 for a few months now.

Has The Beer Store spent that $100,000,000 to clean the place up? Frankly, I’m not so sure. I don’t regularly shop at the Beer Store on account of that whole macro-brewery-ownership-monolpoly vibe, and while I have actually been in a Beer Store twice in the last three years (both times to buy cases of short cans of the excellent Helles Lager from Wellington Brewery, incidentally) it seemed like roughly the same shitty experience I remember from my misspent Budweiser-sucking university days.

But rather than pass judgement based on my small sample size of visits, I decided to ask The Beer Store if they might be willing to detail how exactly they’d spent the $100,000,000 they had agreed to spend. They weren’t exactly forthcoming. I reached out to Midtown PR, the company that handles public relations for The Beer Store, as well as Charles Dougall, the person nominated to the role of Beer Ombudsman, a supposedly neutral position intended to mediate issues between the Beer Store, brewers, and the public. I also reached out to Ontario Minister of Finance, Charles Sousa, who oversaw the 2015 Master Framework Agreement.

The Beer Ombudsman sent a fairly quick reply from his iPhone noting that he was aware I’d already reached out to Midtown PR and that they would answer me. To date, Charles Sousa’s office has not responded to my emails, and Bill Walker from Midtown PR indicated that I could find all details about expenditures online. Specifically, he noted:

“Capital spending is disclosed in our audited Annual Financial Statements which are publicly available via: http://www.thebeerstore.ca/ownership-governance/corporate-policy-financial-information – see note 18 in the 2016 financial statement. It states: “In addition to the above, and as per the MFA, the Company is committed to spending $100M on capital expenditures during the years 2015 through 2018, not less than $80M of which shall be in respect of retail stores. Between 2015 and 2016, total capital spending amounted to $61.9M of which $49.6M relates to retail stores.”

And while it’s true that the Beer Store posts financial statements online and it’s true that the statement actually contain the above note about the Master Framework Agreement, those online statements are about as transparent as a New England IPA and it’s not entirely clear where the MFA statement has pulled these numbers.

There do appear to be expenditures of $37.7 million in 2017 and $31.3 million in 2016 for the purchase of property, plant and equipment, and intangible assets, and while you might be able to attribute those expenditures to “improved customer experience,” $69.1 million ain’t $100,000,000. The statements also show that “leasehold improvements” went from $60.9 million in 2016 to $61.6 million 2017, and that’s also a pretty minor increase. There wasn’t a single line up, and certainly not one amount to at least $80,000,000, related to “making shopping here not shitty anymore.”

So it seems (to me at least) like the Beer Store has in all likelihood not actually spent $100,000,000 on improving the customer experience–at least not in any way their PR company was excited to point me to, nor in any way that was apparent to respondents to my twitter poll of followers who shop there (an admittedly-biased sample group, surely), nor in any way that is immediately obvious ton their publicly available financial statements–to either me or an anonymous finance industry friend I pulled into take a look since I’m an English major and big numbers make my palms sweat.

And so, my question is this: If the Beer Store has failed to live up to its end of the bargain as outlined in the 2015 Master Framework Agreement, is the province obligated to hold up its end?

You may or may not recall that the agreement was something of a compromise: The province would add just 450 grocery stores to our retail beer system, and phase them in over time, and The Beer Store would improve their customer experience. Given that The Beer Store hasn’t spent $100,000,000 to improve customer experience, does this mean the province might feel free to finally open the retail beer scene more broadly, i.e. to anyone who might want to purchase a licence to sell beer?

It’s unclear whether the Premier of Ontario will still be Kathleen Wynne after the June election, or if it will be Andrea Horwath, or the terror dog that hatched from a gargoyle in the first Ghostbuster movie, and it’s also unclear (and let’s face it, unlikely) that whomever does win will want to take bold action on the retail beer portfolio, but it is perhaps interesting to note that, at the very least, there appears to be a loophole available now if any person (or bulky, red-eyed, demon creature) wants to shake things up.

Then again, it’s entirely possible that The Beer Store simply broke their promise and no one really gives a shit.

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

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.”

The industry here has essentially ballooned over the past half a dozen or so years. Robin LeBlanc and Jordan St. John have now written two editions of their guide to craft beer in the province and between the first and second editions, published just a year apart, they had to visit 50 more breweries to add to the list—and even the latest edition was essentially outdated as soon a they went to print because of the breweries that had opened in the interim. It’s predicted that, by this time next year, roughly half of all Ontarians will own and operate their own small brewery or brewpub.

OK, not really, but the growth has been exponential and it has, thus far, not been met with equally exponential growth in opportunities for brewers to actually sell their beer. As I’ve lamented elsewhere on numerous occasions, there are still just four places that brewers can sell closed containers of their product in this province: the state-run LCBO, the big-foreign-brewery-owned Beer Store, a brewery’s own onsite retail space and, as of 2015, a smattering of grocery stores.

That roughly 250 craft brewers in this province are forced to compete for this limited shelf space (along with the usual collection of marketing-first industrial lager companies) is absurd and seemingly not sustainable long term.

And yet…here we are.

The funny thing about my answer to those reporters chasing down whatever craft beer story is current, is that that has been my answer for about three years now. For three years I’ve been saying this growth is not sustainable and for three years I have been proven wrong. With the exception of a few relatively unsurprising brewery closures, nothing seems to have given yet.

Somehow craft beer in Ontario, like life on Jurassic Park, finds a way. And while many might point to recent government initiatives as a show of support for the industry, I will argue (and often do) that craft beer in Ontario has not been growing because of government, it has actually managed to grow in spite of it. There are frequent token gestures, notably the provincial government recently handing out grants to breweries like a drunken Oprah throwing out car keys, but none of them really fix the eventual and inevitable bottleneck at the end of the distribution chain: Retail space.

It’s all well and good for the Ontario government to throw money at Steam Whistle and Muskoka Brewery, for example, but it seems like those two breweries, who have enjoyed success working within the current system, will use the dough to find ways to be more profitable working within Ontario’s limited retail space or, more likely, will expand their distribution outside the province. The net result, in other words, is probably that government money won’t actually grow the industry and won’t be used to create new jobs here in the province–and that would probably be the end result if the provincial government could instead dedicate resources to opening up the retail playing field.

The owners of Stone Hammer, Leslie and Phil Woodhouse, arguably just gave the former F&M a few more years when they purchased and rebranded the brewery in 2015 and perhaps the fate of the former F&M brewing won’t surprise a lot of folks familiar with how the business was being run as of late, but every time I hear news like this, I can’t help wondering if the other shoe is finally about to drop in Ontario.

We can bolster our existing breweries all we want, but without more space for them to actually showcase and sell their product to the public, we’re definitely going to see more closures like this. The only question is when.

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

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.

And so, rather than only write about one shitty thing in relation to the Master Framework Agreement, I thought I’d do a follow-up post today where I outline a lot of other shitty things in relation to that agreement.

Because frankly, the fact that The Beer Store may or may not be meeting their commitments under this agreement isn’t really even the shittiest thing about that agreement. The agreement itself, aside from the addition of grocery stores to the list of places we can buy beer, is generally pretty shitty.

In fact, it largely just reinforces all the things we found so rage-inducing back in 2015. Let’s take a look.

THEN: The Beer Store and the LCBO have a “sweetheart deal.”

Remember when Martin Regg Cohn of The Toronto Star revealed the “bombshell” revelation that The Beer Store and our state-run liquor distributor did in fact have something of a gentlemen’s agreement to let each other run their respective businesses a certain way? You may recall that, at a time when people were hyper-aware of the fact that The Beer Store was the only entity in the province allowed to sell beer privately, the province making concessions to them was akin to something of a scandal.

It was, in fact, essentially the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Star, as is their wont, piled on after their “exposé” and the series of articles that followed in all likelihood led the province to create the Master Framework Agreement.

NOW:: The Agreement created in response to the agreement basically has all the same agreements.

The new master framework still says that the LCBO has to notify the Beer Store when it wants to open new stores, if the Beer Store decides they want to open a store in that community instead, they can (Section 6.7(a)), effectively giving The Beer Store first right of refusal to further enforce their monopoly.

THEN: WE WANT 12 PACKS!

One of the things that seemed to piss people off the most about that “sweetheart deal” was that the LCBO had agreed not to sell beer in formats larger than six packs, effectively handing The Beer Store the rights to large format and bulk discount sales.

NOW: We’re supposed to get excited that the LCBO is “allowed” to sell 12 packs, but a look at the fine print of the new agreement shows that Section 6.4(b) of the agreement actually dictates that the LCBO can carry those 12 packs in just 60 retail stores—an amount that’s equal to about 9% of all the LCBO retail outlets. Furthermore, “with respect to such 60 retail stores,” the LCBO agreed “to prioritize stores that are at least two kilometres from the Corporation’s [The Beer Store’s] stores.” So Ontarians are almost definitely still buying their 12 packs from the same place.

THEN: Bar and restaurant owners are literally not allowed to buy beer from the LCBO if that product is available at the LCBO.

In a blog post from 2012 I detailed how licensees who are picking up their liquor at the LCBO can’t also grab a six pack of something unique for their patrons if The Beer Store also sells that beer. Even if the LCBO stock is fresher, was stored better, and is more convenient for a licensee, if it’s a SKU at the Beer Store, the licensee has to go to TBS (a private retailer) to buy it.

NOW: Same. Section 6.7 (c) of the new agreement says “The LCBO will not sell to Licensees any Beer product listed for sale through the Corporation, including products that are sold through both the Corporation and the LCBO.” Read that again. This is another element of the “sweetheart deal” that got the Toronto Star all hot bothered back in the day and it’s right back in there in the new agreement.


THEN: The Beer Store retail experience is garbage.

I touched on this in my last blog post, and many column inches have been devoted to the archaic system by which consumers must line up and choose a beer from a wall depicting tiny labels of all the products offered by The Beer Store. Much ado is (rightly) made about the fact that The Beer Store’s owner breweries might easily manipulate whatever consumer comes in without a beer name in their head already by stocking their own products in the “Ice Cold Express” or by posting a “Top 10 Sellers” which, predictably, lists owner brewer’s beers. In addition to being a shitty customer experience, it’s also pretty specifically designed to help the big brewery owners sell more of their industrial lagers.

NOW: Pretty much the same. In last week’s post, I questioned whether or not The Beer Store had actually spent $100,000,000 jazzing up the place, as they are required to do per the agreement. It’s not clear, either from my limited recon or the store’s publicly-available financial records, that they’ve spent that much. But the fact remains that “improved customer experience” is pretty vague and, even if they can show they’ve spent that much, all the updates the Beer Store typically points to don’t actually lead people to explore new beer. If you ask them, you’ll hear much ado about a hifalutin iPad system designed to allow customers to explore new beer, but let’s be honest, no one walks into a Beer Store looking to buy a 12 pack for the handlebars of their ten speed, but finds an iPad and decides to explore a locally crafted saison. They touted their updated retail model back in 2013 and, as I recall, one devilishly handsome beer blogger astutely called the updates “same shit, different pile.”

Which is not to say that people wouldn’t buy better beer if that had a better retail experience. I’ve heard — anonymously and without actual proof — that, when the Beer Store opened its “boutique stores,” where customers can actually walk around and explore craft beer offerings, the stores reported an uptick in sales of craft brands. That’s why — allegedly — they stopped opening such boutique stores. Much lip service is paid to The Beer Store supporting craft brands, but I will remain skeptical that any real “customer experience improvements” will be undertaken if they hurt the bottom line of the place’s owner breweries.

THEN: The Beer Store is a privately-owned company that is allowed to sell beer from its owner breweries as well as charge money to any other brewer from anywhere else in the world that would like the right to sell beer in Ontario. Small brewers must pay three of the biggest beer companies in the world just to sell beer at the store down the road—where most people in this province still buy beer. This store received and continues to receive fairly ridiculous concessions from the government, largely because of their lobbying efforts, and the agreement the two entities share continues to hamper the growth of small and independent breweries that are creating jobs and tourism opportunities in Ontario.

NOW: Same.

Lead photo by By Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine from Wikimedia Commons
Ice Cold Express photo by “haunted by Leonard Cohen” via Wikimedia Commons

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

The Beer Store is a private corporation owned by three of the world’s largest brewing companies: Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV, Molson-Coors, and Sapporo.

This is a fact about which, it seemed, people used to care.

That time, to be exact, was 2013. Ragey beer writing had something of a moment and bloggers and traditional journalists alike seemed to set their collective sights on the worst kept secret in beer: The Beer Store is the only third party allowed to open privately owned retail beer stores in Ontario.  It was a time when Martin Regg Cohn of the Toronto Star was largely leading the non-beer-nerd charge and felt emboldened enough to write Toronto Star-ific ledes like the delicious: “The Beer Store is Ontario’s longest-running public disgrace and economic blight.” Oh Marty.

One of the main beefs the long lost people of 2013 seemed to have, in addition to anger about the fact that three of the biggest beer companies in the world were handed a virtual monopoly on retail beer sales in the province, was that the shopping experience at these stores really sucked. Indeed, the Beer Store, with its Ice Cold Express, list of top ten sellers, and hidden inventory, seems uniquely designed to continue allowing the big brewers who own the place to continue to sell more of their own product because there really isn’t any option for browsing. You can’t chuck an empty OV bottle at a stack of articles about the Beer Store without hitting a reference to the archaic conveyor belt system, the mysterious wall of labels, or the general communist-era vibes of Ontario’s beer retailer of choice.

And so, when the public sentiment culminated in a fine frothy rage that actually emboldened the province to do something about our retail beer fiasco, it included stipulations that The Beer Store would need to improve its customer experience. In 2015 the province released the “Master Framework Agreement” between the entities that own the Beer Store and the province and, in addition to the much-publicized introduction of beer in grocery stores, that agreement laid out details for The Beer Store updating their facilities; specifically, Section 6.1 of the 2015 framework agreement, entitled “Customer Experience” dictates that “The Corporation shall improve the customer experience across its retail network, including by converting stores to more modern retailing formats such as self-serve, open concept formats, and shall ensure that all newly built stores shall have self-serve, open concept formats.” They even put a specific number of the expense of upgrades: “The Corporation shall spend at least $100,000,000 from 2015 through 2018 on capital expenditures (not less than $80,000,000 of which shall be in respect of retail stores), which may be funded through the sale of existing assets of the Corporation.”

Well, a cursory glance at the ol’ calendar suggests that, hey, it’s been 2018 for a few months now.

Has The Beer Store spent that $100,000,000 to clean the place up? Frankly, I’m not so sure. I don’t regularly shop at the Beer Store on account of that whole macro-brewery-ownership-monolpoly vibe, and while I have actually been in a Beer Store twice in the last three years (both times to buy cases of short cans of the excellent Helles Lager from Wellington Brewery, incidentally) it seemed like roughly the same shitty experience I remember from my misspent Budweiser-sucking university days.

But rather than pass judgement based on my small sample size of visits, I decided to ask The Beer Store if they might be willing to detail how exactly they’d spent the $100,000,000 they had agreed to spend. They weren’t exactly forthcoming. I reached out to Midtown PR, the company that handles public relations for The Beer Store, as well as Charles Dougall, the person nominated to the role of Beer Ombudsman, a supposedly neutral position intended to mediate issues between the Beer Store, brewers, and the public. I also reached out to Ontario Minister of Finance, Charles Sousa, who oversaw the 2015 Master Framework Agreement.

The Beer Ombudsman sent a fairly quick reply from his iPhone noting that he was aware I’d already reached out to Midtown PR and that they would answer me. To date, Charles Sousa’s office has not responded to my emails, and Bill Walker from Midtown PR indicated that I could find all details about expenditures online. Specifically, he noted:

“Capital spending is disclosed in our audited Annual Financial Statements which are publicly available via: http://www.thebeerstore.ca/ownership-governance/corporate-policy-financial-information – see note 18 in the 2016 financial statement. It states: “In addition to the above, and as per the MFA, the Company is committed to spending $100M on capital expenditures during the years 2015 through 2018, not less than $80M of which shall be in respect of retail stores. Between 2015 and 2016, total capital spending amounted to $61.9M of which $49.6M relates to retail stores.”

And while it’s true that the Beer Store posts financial statements online and it’s true that the statement actually contain the above note about the Master Framework Agreement, those online statements are about as transparent as a New England IPA and it’s not entirely clear where the MFA statement has pulled these numbers.

There do appear to be expenditures of $37.7 million in 2017 and $31.3 million in 2016 for the purchase of property, plant and equipment, and intangible assets, and while you might be able to attribute those expenditures to “improved customer experience,” $69.1 million ain’t $100,000,000. The statements also show that “leasehold improvements” went from $60.9 million in 2016 to $61.6 million 2017, and that’s also a pretty minor increase. There wasn’t a single line up, and certainly not one amount to at least $80,000,000, related to “making shopping here not shitty anymore.”

So it seems (to me at least) like the Beer Store has in all likelihood not actually spent $100,000,000 on improving the customer experience–at least not in any way their PR company was excited to point me to, nor in any way that was apparent to respondents to my twitter poll of followers who shop there (an admittedly-biased sample group, surely), nor in any way that is immediately obvious ton their publicly available financial statements–to either me or an anonymous finance industry friend I pulled into take a look since I’m an English major and big numbers make my palms sweat.

And so, my question is this: If the Beer Store has failed to live up to its end of the bargain as outlined in the 2015 Master Framework Agreement, is the province obligated to hold up its end?

You may or may not recall that the agreement was something of a compromise: The province would add just 450 grocery stores to our retail beer system, and phase them in over time, and The Beer Store would improve their customer experience. Given that The Beer Store hasn’t spent $100,000,000 to improve customer experience, does this mean the province might feel free to finally open the retail beer scene more broadly, i.e. to anyone who might want to purchase a licence to sell beer?

It’s unclear whether the Premier of Ontario will still be Kathleen Wynne after the June election, or if it will be Andrea Horwath, or the terror dog that hatched from a gargoyle in the first Ghostbuster movie, and it’s also unclear (and let’s face it, unlikely) that whomever does win will want to take bold action on the retail beer portfolio, but it is perhaps interesting to note that, at the very least, there appears to be a loophole available now if any person (or bulky, red-eyed, demon creature) wants to shake things up.

Then again, it’s entirely possible that The Beer Store simply broke their promise and no one really gives a shit.

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Read Full Article
Visit website

Read for later

Articles marked as Favorite are saved for later viewing.
close
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Separate tags by commas
To access this feature, please upgrade your account.
Start your free month
Free Preview