On Mill Street

Okay, I’ve got a Jays game to watch, so let’s get this done.

If you have been asleep till just now, ABI has bought Mill Street Brewery.

This is not surprising. Not even a little. If anything, I’m surprised it’s taken this long. It’s not the kind of thing you talk about publicly, but I had always assumed Mill Street was aiming for the Creemore programme. At least after the first exciting year or two. And while it isn’t sexy or us-against-the-world, it’s not a bad business plan. I guess.

Mill Street Brewery

I assume this sign will remain.

Here’s some things to consider:

  • Mill St already was known to have reps that operated exactly the same as the big guys. As David Ort noted, now Organic will be sold by reps who give away Leafs tickets, instead of ones that give away Toronto Rock tickets. I’ve dealt with reps in my role buying beer for Castro’s, and can tell you, we got offered more than beer too….
  • Mill St’s market share is HUGE for a craft brewery. There are maybe a decimal percentage of licensees who will drop them because they’re now owned by a foreign company. Nearly all of them will happily accept their kickbacks via 3 or 2 for 1 keg sales, “marketing budget” cheques, branded stuff like umbrellas, signage, etc, sports tickets, golf games, etc.
  • Much like Creemore, I seriously doubt you will notice any change in the quality of Mill St products post-buyout. You can think what you want about that. But ABI has committed 10 million to brewery expansion, which doesn’t sound like they’re shipping production to London.

If you are/were a Mill Street drinker here is what you must ask yourself. Why were you a customer? Just liked their products? Keep on buying them. Liked knowing that the beer was made by people who could be your neighbours (especially if you lived near the huge production brewery in Scarborough)? Keep drinking; it sounds like they might be hiring more of your neighbours in the near-distant future. Like supporting a brewery owned by Ontarians, keeping profits in our economy? Might I suggested a delicious Left Field Maris* or a Muddy York Diving Horse Pale? ABI doesn’t even have a theoretical national connection to Canada, the way Molson-Coors does.

I lost my sense of care and respect for Mill Street for a rather long time after a few different sales-related encounters, and one in particular with one notably awful rep (who left the company not too long after our tiff). I didn’t get asked to events, didn’t get samples to review, and really didn’t care. Maybe that was a coincidence, and maybe not. But about 2 years ago somehow a new media guy got a hold of my information and invited me along to an event. I made it out, and found things basically how they were when I stopped caring. The Beerhall and distillery was new, but the building was not a departure from the other location, and I wasn’t particularly fond of the schnapps; one of them was basically undrinkable to me. But they were friendly and seemed mostly sincere. I gave up my basically benign protest against them (which consisted of not doing anything either positive or negative towards them), and started occasionally saying nice things about them, when it was warranted.

I assume that most of the staff will remain (if you’re on staff currently and considering a move, Beau’s cheeky press release this morning about taking over as the biggest craft producer of Organic beer in the country noted any staff looking for a move are welcome to submit their CV to careers@beaus.ca). If they continue to invite me to things, or start sending me things to sample, I will continue to participate as my schedule allows, as I do with Goose Island, Creemore, Granville Island, etc.

I don’t personally think much has changed in ethos at Mill St, and feel that their fairly aggressive sales model will be right at home among the Stella and Bud Light reps.

I certainly don’t begrudge the owners for selling. I, like Stephen Beaumont, just wish that for once, one of the founding partners would say “they backed up a dump truck of money” when asked about the sale. I’ve already seen the posts “you know you would take the money too.” which I would actually rather like to refute. I agree, if I had built a business like Mill St that participated in cut-throat sales tactics to try to knock off other small brewer’s taps using any means necessary, I probably would take the money and run. That said, I wouldn’t build that kind of business. I would be very surprised if, say, in 10 years, Rainhard Brewery had become one of the dominant breweries in Toronto, and Jordan took a multi-million dollar buy-out from ABI. Some people just don’t build that kind of business. Mill St did, and today it has most certainly paid off for their investors.

Now, I have a Jays game to watch (honestly, I’ve had it on the whole time; now I get to pay attention). Which makes me think: Mill Street at major sporting events shortly? Honestly, I’d probably still take a Goose Island IPA.