Ontario craft beer brewers want more sales options
|Report an Error|
Share via Email
Perhaps it was not the best way to start a conversation.
On Monday morning, as a handful of microbreweries were setting up for a beer tasting at Evergreen Brick Works, Premier Kathleen Wynne was spotted walking through the building, en route to the outdoor skating rink.
“Why do you hate Ontario craft brewers?” Jason Fisher, who owns Indie Alehouse Brewing, a small outfit in the Junction neighbourhood, called out.
Fisher, who recalled the incident a few hours later, can’t be sure the premier heard him as she breezed by. But his pitch for reforming beer sales — and tapping the burgeoning market for craft beer — was ready.
“I would have said, ‘If you’re interested in creating jobs that aren’t minimum wage, Ontario craft breweries are booming,’ ” Fisher said. “If it was a little easier to open and a little easier to distribute, you could easily create 10,000 jobs.”
Fisher’s overture (however unsuccessful) reflects the mounting frustration among purveyors and consumers of refined suds. As debate intensifies over broadening beer sales beyond the government-run LCBO and foreign-owned Beer Store, this niche — but growing — market is eager to weigh in.
Despite her apparent silence on the issue Monday, Wynne said last week she is in talks with the craft brewing industry about how to “modernize beer distribution.” Yet the message, uttered loud and clear over rich porters and golden ales at the Brick Works, is that there has to be better way.
Most said they are lukewarm about allowing beer sales in convenience stores, which Wynne has repeatedly said she would not support. But there is one idea that proved popular: Creating specialty craft beer stores.
“Let’s maybe open up another avenue to start promoting local craft — help out some of the smaller businesses in communities around Ontario,” said Phil Craig of Burlington-based Nickel Brook Brewing.
Craig was among many who criticized the foreign ownership at the Beer Store, which is controlled by brewing giants Sleeman, Labatt and Molson.
At the next booth, Troy Burtch said Toronto-based Great Lakes Brewery only stocks one of its beers, Crazy Canuck, at the Beer Store, because of what he sees as lacklustre in-store marketing, and high listing fees.
“A small brewery, you just can’t afford it,” Burtch said.
Spokesman Jeff Newton said the Beer Store has lower listing fees than the LCBO. Two-thirds of the brands it carries are not associated with the owners, and a fifth of those are craft beers, he said. “It’s owned by three brewers, but it’s operated on the basis that it’s accessible to everybody.”
Wynne’s office reiterated on Monday that conversations are ongoing with the craft brewing industry to “help them grow their business and improve their distribution as we have done with the wine industry.” No further details were provided.
At the Brick Works, Toronto resident Mike Neri, who was sampling a dark IPA from Amsterdam Brewery, aptly named “Rebecca Black,” said he hopes these brews will soon be easier to get.
“It’s nice to have some choice, and the LCBO doesn’t always have choice,” he said.