Changes to Beer Sales — Guest Post: Victor North, Garden Brewers

Hey, did you have a really big presentation at work yesterday? Or maybe, you spent the day at the spa? If so, you might have missed the big news about selling beer in Ontario. I’ll be writing a post on it, but in brief: the province will issue 450 licenses to grocery stores to sell beer. The beer must be in a separate section of the store, with its own cashier. At both the beer store and grocery stores, 20% of shelf space has to be committed to craft beer. There are a couple of other things, like lifting the volume restriction on small breweries with two locations only having a retail space at one (if you’re confused don’t worry, it only affects one brewery that I can think of, maybe two), or being able to ship together (believe it or not, beer from two breweries cannot arrive on the same truck right now).

Like I said, I’m going to put a lot of my thoughts down later today (or not, I have to change the oil in my car too). But yesterday the response on twitter and facebook was immediate, as everybody listened to the press conference, skimmed the 67 page document in question, and read each others’ posts. Of particular interest to me was from the smaller brewers, and immediately I noticed Victor from Garden Brewers has an interesting take on it. I ask him if I could republish it here, and he graciously agreed. He did want me to note that this was a first-look reaction, and doubtless his thoughts will have developed, and maybe changed a bit.

Victor and Sonja North — Garden Brewers

Victor and Sonja North — Garden Brewers

Victor North, Garden Brewers:

I dunno guys. I haven’t read the whole document yet, but from all reports, as a small contract brewer, I still can’t:

A: Sell directly to SOP holders (IE: any dude with a wedding in need of beer, or lady with with a party in need of cold ones, or hey, any beer festival ever, woooo)
B: Sell directly to citizens (IE: You, me, or beer-of-the-month mail-order type clubs.)
C: Sell my beer though my production brewery’s on-site store, or any other small boutique-type store.

Adding major grocery store chains to my tiny list of available markets is NOT an exciting development for me


I know contract brewers are the lowest of the low priority, and many would prefer it if our model of business and brewing simply wasn’t around to begin with, but these reforms today do little or nothing to address the many existing problems that actually hold up small brewing companies of many types.


These are largely arbitrary rules that largely favor big companies over small. Why?

“‘This is a game changer,’ said Cam Heaps, co-founder of Toronto’s Steam Whistle Brewing and chair of Ontario Craft Brewers.”

It is, but primarily for The Beer Store, The Province Of Ontario, and it’s largest brewers who can afford to take advantage of it. Perhaps consumers will have more convenience in exchange for the new tax, which may or may not be passed onto them:

“Instead of a franchise fee for the Beer Store, the panel opted for a new tax on all beer sales in the province. The new tax means the price of 24-pack will increase 25 cents every Nov. 1 for the next five years, a decision Clark said was made in fairness to the big brewers. To try to ensure that’s not passed onto consumers, the new Beer Store agreement ensures prices for the most popular brands will not increase before May 1, 2017, which makes up about 50 per cent of all beer sales. But small and craft brewers and the other half of all brands could see small increases. The government believes it will bring in $100 million a year for the trust.”

Woo! So as a small brewer, I will share fully in new taxes, but not in the new opportunities.

What about growler and off-site sales through pubs and bars? What about Ontario craft beer sales at farmers markets- like is currently allowed with VQA wine? What about the low-hanging fruit of reforming antiquated and arbitrary laws- these things would really help fledgling small businesses grow, in my opinion. Personally, I didn’t hear anyone in my brewing circles clamoring to get into Loblaws.

In my mind, this is clearly a big money-maker for the province (and big grocery stores) with a “Good-For-Small-Business” shine put on top of it.

I know my own wish-list is heavily skewed towards what would help Garden Brewers out, which makes me very biased, and it’s petty to be so cynical about the first major change in a lifetime, but it’s hard not to feel majorly let down and super bummed-out after so much anticipation.

I guess I’ll have to wait and see if things go better than I’m expecting!



Thanks to Victor for sharing his thoughts!

Full Audio of this Editorial

Please note, I refer them as “Garden City Brewers” because I am a total tool, and have a mental block about that. But re-recording and editing that track is a damn headache, so I’m going to leave it.

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