Big Beer Taking Some Hits?

Its been a rough couple of months for big beer in Ontario. Of course, the most sensational event was Martin Regg Cohn’s article on the secretive LCBO-Beer Store deal. But even before that, there were rumblings of a shakedown of The Beer Store for more revenue. Most recently it appears that even more subtle operations are flagging with the closing of Molson-Coor’s Beer Academy.

As for the first two items, I think it is finally beginning to reach the average Ontarian’s consciousness that the Beer Store is not a neutral government run institution. This makes the Beer Store vulnerable. The more publicly visible the monopoly (held by Molson-Coors, Labbat-InBev and Sleeman / Sapporo) becomes, the less public support it can count on. As documents like the one revealed by the Star begin to come out, the Ontario government has less to fear by pushing against the Brewer’s Retail. At the end of the day, few Ontarians are going to feel bad for multi-billion dollar, foreign-owned companies who won’t sell them beer on holidays.

The other thorn in The Beer Store’s side is the sudden explosion of alternatives available to the Ontario consumer. Toronto now enjoys a plethora of brewery retail stores which offer beers you can’t get in The Beer Store, a chance to talk to those involved in making the products and often more accessible hours. In response, Molson opened up The Beer Academy; a small brewhouse in the seemingly cursed 75 Victoria Street Location (formerly Duggan’s and before that Dennison’s). Despite producing an interesting range of competitively priced beers, it seems Six Pints couldn’t hold it together.

Perhaps it was the fact that the target audience for this project was the sort of drinker who would know enough to see through the independent brewer veneer (note: The beer academy does not openly disclose its ties to Molson-Coors) and be put off by it. When I went and asked the staff about the being a part of Molson it didn’t seem like an unfamiliar question. Indeed I was given a sort of pre-prepared statement in which it was admitted that Molson was a sort of grand-parent, but that Six Pints (the “brewery” which operates through The Beer Academy) was nonetheless independent. Whatever the arrangement was, it clearly wasn’t working and now apparently 75 Victoria will become a Creemore Springs  outlet (Six Pints was already selling Creemore beer and merch so it shouldn’t be too big a shift).

One wonders at the point behind this change. Like Six Pints, Creemore is very quietly owned by Molson. By opening a brewpub, a company necessarily puts itself under the microscope of the more savvy beer consumer (i.e. the kind that would actually bother going to a brewpub). Thus, would things not go the same way? Perhaps Molson is hoping that the more recognizable name will get some of those who might be on the fence or just getting into craft drinking.

To some degree, I feel that The Beer Academy’s products were overshadowed by what they represented; a slightly underhanded attempt to siphon business from truly independent craft producers. In actual fact, many of the beers they produced were (are) quite good. So while I will likely not be making them a major part of my purchasing habits, I do look forward to whatever new products come out of this reorganization.

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