On a recent trip to the U.S. a very close friend of mine picked up a number of craft beers for me at a private beer and wine store just outside of Lenox, Massacusetts. The selection there was quite typical for a craft beer store. Many local brews from the nearby Berkshire Brewing Company were on offer, along with several small breweries from neighbouring or nearby states, including Tröegs Craft Brewery from Pennsylvania, the Smuttynose Brewing Co. from New Hampshire and Cisco Brewers from Nantucket Massacusetts. They also had great craft beer favorites from Sierra Nevada and Stone in California. Until yesterday I’d never tried many of the beers from these fine breweries, mostly because Ontario’s monopolistic liquor retailing laws make it next to impossible to sell them here. The Beer Store simply isn’t interested in selling stuff that isn’t brewed or distributed by one of the three major breweries that own the Beer Store. The LCBO won’t bother with U.S. craft beer unless they can get it in large quantities at a significant discount.
The only other way to enjoy beers such as these is to go to places like Beer Bistro in Toronto, but you can only consume them on the premises. If you want to grab a mixed 6 pack of really interesting beers your only option is to drive to Buffalo and buy it there. There is an amazing selection of beers out there and the U.S. is enjoying a craft beer renaissance the likes of which have never been seen. Ontario has just begun to expand its craft beer market, so it has some way to go before it is at the same stage the U.S. is at currently. But without the ability for smaller producers to get their products to consumers in an economical way, the growth of the industry and the craft beer movement here will be exceedingly slower. Some craft brewers won’t survive long enough to capitalize on the growing market trend. Every year more and more people switch to craft beer, mainly because they want to taste more flavorful and interesting brews. They also want variety.
The LCBO does offer better variety than the Beer Store, but good luck finding anything from a relatively small craft brewery from outside Toronto. The Beer Store may have over 350 brands from over 90 countries but it’s a challenge trying to find something different to try based on the tiny labels on wall all while standing in line. The Beer Store is a terrible retail experience.
We all deserve a better beer shopping experience, like those available to our neighbours to the south. If a private store opened up that just focused on craft beers there would be a dizzying array of choices available and would more than likely have a knowledgable staff who could educate people about the finer points of certain craft beers. Established craft brewers like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada would likely be in demand, but so too would smaller craft producers who wouldn’t normally receive this sort of exposure. Craft beer drinkers are open to trying new things all the time and the number of people who put themselves in that category is growing every year. With the help of stores like this, the Ontario Craft Brewing industry would mature and grow at a much more substantial rate and that can only be good for the province.
Beer drinkers and craft brewers just need that chance to grow. Reforming the liquor laws is the best way to do that. If you live in Ontario, let your local MPP at Queen’s Park know you support private beer stores. They are the only ones who can change the laws.