August 12th

The Toronto Festival of Beer happened two weekends ago, taking over the Exhibition Stadium. I didn’t go, obviously, but Steve Beauchesne from Beau’s was there are brought along a question with him (and, presumably, some beer): What if Ontario had a beer revolution? Last week he was kind enough to put up his comments and ideas on the Beau’s How to Start a Brewery blog. The crux of his argument centres around the economic outcome of people drinking Ontario-made independent beer half of the time. Sure that sounds all well and good, but there some parts of his argument that I wanted to comment on.

His points are often oversimplified and contain wishful thinking. The output of craft brewers would obviously need to increase to meet increased demand, but he assumes this would come from new breweries: “To get to 400 million litres of beer, we’d need to add 315 new breweries (for a total of 350 breweries) and 1,260 new brands of beer (for a total of 1,400).” But if Ontarians were to start drinking independent Ontario beer half of time, some breweries would expand and probably be bought out by the international beer companies, just as Creemore was. The big boys wouldn’t just sit idly by and watch the profits slip away. And why don’t previously existing breweries expand production? Yes, they are often producing as much as they can (either in terms of equipment or manpower), but I doubt most would still be content to only produce their million liters a year. So to say that we would get so many new breweries and brands is a little far-fetched. Does Ontario even have enough people who can make quality beer on such a large scale? That brings me to me next point.

One thing that also sticks out is how Steve is basing his argument on economic gain (more jobs in Ontario and increased tourism are two examples), saying people should drink local because it keeps money in Ontario and supports our friends, neighbours, etc. But what about the fact that this beer often tastes better than the macro counterparts? Shouldn’t we be trying to sway people with the promise of a flavour paradise? Yes, the economic side-effects would be great, but the facts that Steve gives seem better suited to a presentation to the provincial government than in a beer tent. As a lover of craft beer, give me quality over quantity.

The major problem I have with his comments is that he puts the onus on the consumer to change the beer industry in Ontario, rather than the brewers or government. He states that “no major change is required, other than a consumer shift based on the understanding that local, independent beer is beneficial to the entire province.” Reading that makes it seem like the breweries are taking a defensive stance, saying that the problem isn’t them but us. Personally, I won’t drink something just because it is local. I would say that at least one of every two beers I drink is from an independent Ontario brewery, but I have the advantage of living in downtown Toronto where most bars, restaurants and LCBOs have a craft beer from Ontario available. That isn’t always possible the further you get away from the downtown core and into less urban areas. Beer drinkers have a significant role to play, but to single them out is unfair.

Even the initial question Steve asks (“What would happen if Ontarians chose to drink an Ontario-made independent beer 1 out of every 2 times they drank beer?”) is slanted to put pressure on the consumer. Why don’t we ask what brewers can do to interest the Molson or Labatt drinkers? Or how government regulations and subsidies can help craft brewers? A beer revolution would be great, but the brewers have to do their part. Painting beer drinkers as the villains won’t get more people to buy your beer.

And I supported nobody by drinking some homebrew. Maybe that is the best option.

Today: 250mL. Year-to-date: 148.81L.

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