Please Kill the LCBO Seasonal Releases

Let me cut straight to the chase – the LCBO seasonal beer releases are quickly becoming pointless. While they’re fun to get excited about and discuss for a couple of days after the release, the LCBO no longer brings in beer at only four times during the year. The seasonal releases made sense when stores had limited beer space and it was a way to reserve room on the shelves for beers that they knew would rotate out every three months. But beer is now occupying bigger areas in LCBO stores with a lot more turnover of products.

The logistics of the beer releases have always been treated by the LCBO as an afterthought. Beers appear sporadically, slowly rolling out through stores in a haphazard manner. They give a date of when beers should start appearing, but one or two always come out before that date while others may not appear till a month later (or sometimes dropped without any notice). There is no promotion done for the release other than a small media tasting in Toronto. You pretty much have to be a Bar Towel reader to find out the full lists (especially since a certain blog stopped posting the lists). The LCBO doesn’t really care to advertise the releases, which makes me wonder why they don’t just bring in the beers whenever they choose.

There is now a strong precedent to bring in beers throughout the year as temporary listings. This has become especially common with Ontario craft breweries – most breweries can get a short term seasonal listing that is completely separate from the seasonal release (unlike the old days where the seasonal releases included Ontario beer). But it’s not just Ontario beers that get this exemption. Goose Island, 3 Fonteinen, Rochefort, Ommegang – these are some of the breweries that have come in this year without a listing in a seasonal release. These are also listings that have gone very well without the press that accompanies a seasonal release.

Being on a seasonal release means that a lot of the beer will be ordered, which is sometimes excellent but leads to lots of leftover stock at other times. Rather than turning over products, the shelves are stagnant while beer gets old. A lot of beer drinkers would rather see smaller orders and more turnover of products, giving more reason to visit the LCBO on a frequent basis. Now that most of the Winter release is on shelves, we’re looking at a long dry period before the Spring release of 2014.

The seasonal release program is another example of old LCBO business practices that need to be updated for the current beer environment. There have been changes in the right direction over the past couple of years, but they have not gone far enough. The structured seasonal releases have to go, allowing the LCBO more flexibility to bring in beers throughout the year in smaller quantities. If the LCBO doesn’t start improving the seasonal beer program, they should give it the axe.

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9 responses to “Please Kill the LCBO Seasonal Releases

  1. “A lot of beer drinkers would rather see smaller orders and more turnover of products, giving more reason to visit the LCBO on a frequent basis.”

    Ah, but there is no pleasing everyone, is there? How many releases have you seen where people complain about the paucity of stock? I know that I’ve witnessed many. Bring back a limited release even a year later and folk complain about the lack of new selections. Bring in too large an order and eyes glaze over and miss it completely.

    The problem with your argument, I think, is that it considers only those who are regular specialty beer drinkers, who are not actually what the seasonal releases are all about. No, those mass amounts of new beers arrive all at once — or mostly at once — in order to make an impact on the casual beer buyer perusing the shelves. Where they might miss the arrival of one or two new beers, mixed in among the regular listings, the sudden appearance of an entire section of new brews commands attention.

    You’re probably right that it’s not the best way forward, but absent specialty stores it might be the best the LCBO can do for now.

    • I understand that, but then they might want to put some more effort into advertising the seasonal releases that targets the casual beer buyer. Put up some in store tags that direct people to other beers in the release.

      I’ll admit that my knowledge of other LCBO practices is limited, but it sounds like wine gets much better treatment. Wines are released on the same day across stores (or so I’ve heard) and with more frequency. This is clearly not directed towards the casual wine buyer. As a beer lover that is willing to put in the time to follow releases, shouldn’t I be given the same respect?

  2. Wine does and probably always will receive better treatment, partly or perhaps strictly because there is more profit in it. But at the same time, the Vintages appraoch they receive is pretty much a stepped-up version of the seasonal releases, and my understanding is that the reason beer releases appear in stages is because of the fragility of beer in the warehouse compared to the ability of wine to weather storage.

    The King & Spadina LCBO I normally patronize does a pretty good job of highlighting the seasonal releases, I think.

  3. While I understand – and in some areas, agree – with the spirit of your argument, Mike, there are a couple of things that I need to retort and/or correct.

    “The LCBO doesn’t really care to advertise the releases” – This used to be the case, but for the last year or two, they HAVE been advertising them quite heavily. There are full-page ads in papers, bus shelter ads, etc. for the beers in the releases. Back when the fall release came out, I stood next to a large picture of a bottle of Midtfyns/De Molen X Porter while waiting for the streetcar every morning.

    (Think about that for a second. A bus shelter ad for a Midtfyns/De Molen beer. I doubt you’d even see that in Europe.)

    I’d also counter with the point that these types of releases aren’t limited to beer. The ‘BO also does seasonal spirits releases, even though they stock plenty of the hard stuff year-round – and like beer, that year-round selection has continued to improve with more small & specialty brands, even as the seasonal releases have continued.

    My only continuing issue with these releases is the haphazard release and distribution of the beers. It boggles my wind that the same organization that does a bi-weekly Vintages release with dozens and dozens of wines arriving simultaneously at stores across the province can’t manage to get 12 beers out to stores on the same day – or even in the same week – every three months.

    But that aside, I don’t see why these releases can’t continue in conjunction with the improvements to the general list and one-off releases. As Stephen notes, spotlight releases like this will attract newbies, and perhaps lead them to buying more of the regularly available stuff as well.

    • I meant that the release as a whole isn’t advertised. Would it be that hard to put up a page on their website with all the beers, photos and a brief description? If this is for newbies, then make it easy for them to find out about other beers in the releases. Put a “If you like the X Porter, try the iStout.” Otherwise they just seem lazily lumped together in a randomly generated list.

      And I am fine with the program continuing if there are improvements, which I state in the last sentence.

  4. I’d vote for “fix” over “kill.” Honestly, all it would take for the seasonal releases to be great would be more consistent accuracy related to release dates and, as you’ve noted, better advertising than a small tasting (that takes place in the afternoon so that beer writers with day jobs can never attend).
    I like the idea of rotating LCBO seasonal releases, but it’s pretty lame when there’s no real fanfare or promotion.

    Also, aren’t you supposed to be retired?

  5. As large as the LCBO is, I’m surprised they can’t have a person running an LCBO BEER facebook page. It may sound silly, but it’s easy to run, can be updated instantly, and can also be set so the public can’t comment/blast the posts. I’m lucky enough to live in Windsor. I buy all my beer in Detroit, and my beer guy posts all of new releases everyday. Keep in mind, this is in the United States. If the LCBO releases 4 new beers in one week (I’ve never seen that many), he releases 20. Takes 2 minutes to list the beer, include a link to it’s ratebeer/advocate profile, and list a bottle limit, if there is one. The only problem I’d see is people being enraged by the distribution. Down here in Windsor we don’t get much of these releases. It’s fine by me, cuz all the Ontario “Craft” beer can be drain poured IMO, but when Founder’s releases Backwood Bastard to Canada, it doesn’t make it passed London. Other cities feel the same, I’m sure. Regardless, facebook could inform the people of the larger distribution areas of what is coming in. If you’d like to see an example of how the store I go to does it, search for Holiday Market Beer.

    Also, if anyone in Windsor happens to read this and would like to try a backwoods bastard, I have almost 3 cases. I’ll sell a bottle at cost.

  6. We should kill LCBO…

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