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.


  1. Tonia
    Posted October 10, 2015 at 2:58 am | Permalink

    As always, well done.

  2. Steve
    Posted October 10, 2015 at 4:30 am | Permalink

    I actually found their product went down hill when Mike Duggan left to start up his own venture at the old location.

  3. Eugene
    Posted October 10, 2015 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    A lot of people seem to be in the area of “if it still tastes the same, I’ll drink it”. I don’t really agree with that. I never really drank Mill St, so this is no issue for me. But I used to drink Goose Island, and no longer do.

    What’s coming is another portfolio war. For the longest time, bars were divided between an all Bud line-up or an all Coors line-up. As consumer tastes have changed, the demand for craft increased, and bar owners started taking on beers from independent brewers. Not because of kickbacks, but because of demand alone.

    Bud & Coors want those taps back. And what happens when they have portfolio’s that, in a way, can fill that demand. It will look very appealing to a lot of bar owners that are in the middle of switching (or have already switched) from Bud/Coors to local breweries. Why source and carry many different local options; Great Lakes, Amseterdam, etc. When you can just have a truck come by and drop off your entire line-up of Goose Island, Mill St, Shock Top, Elysian or Creemore, Granville Island, Blue Moon. Because as long as people are still willing it drink it, the bar owners are going to continue to pocket those kickbacks, and leave the local options off their taps.

    With the buy out of Mill St, they now have a new access of ingredients that is much cheaper than what they were paying before. Mill St’s beers just got a whole lot cheaper to make for the same beer that’s competing with the other Toronto breweries (that are still paying the small brewers price). You can bet that the extra profit is going to go towards forcibly pushing those small brewers off the taps (with the help of their friends Goose and others).

    It’s not as easy as…. if you like Mill St, then keep drinking it. But, if you like Mill St, and also like breweries like Great Lakes and Amsterdam, etc… then please do not drink Mill St (or Goose Island for that matter). Not only is it going to hurt smaller local brewers, but by buying Mill St & Goose, you’re also supporting the same company that operates The Beer Store. So if you’ve ever complained about beer selection in this province and the terrible laws associated with our options of buying beer, yet still drink Mill St & Goose, you really shouldn’t be complaining.. you’re putting money towards it.

  4. Martinlikesit
    Posted October 21, 2015 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    I have been reading about Craft Beer as if it is available in most licensed establishments in Ontario. As a matter of fact, this dialogue has been going on for years. The truth is Craft Beer is almost non-existent in bars north of Eglinton.

    I lived at Eglinton and Bathurst for 5 years, then Richmond Hill for 6, and now at Islington and 401 for over 5. If there was an establishment in any of these areas that served Craft Beer, I would have frequented it. There is not!

    It is not because the owners of establishments do not want to have such specialty products. It is because the customer base will not drink them. Many bars carry Creemore. I have drank my share considering it’s the only product remotely close to a decent quaff, but rarely is it in good shape. Rarely! In other words, Creemore does not get the turnover it needs to remain fresh.

    The numbers are showing incredible percentage points of Craft Beer growth at the LCBO, and it does my heart justice to finally see this, but in terms of literage, it is only a drop in the carboy to total beer sales in the GTA. And a drop in Lake Ontario to total sales in the province.

    Regardless, there is still a long way to go before I see what I would consider a quality product anywhere other that the downtown core, weather it is owned by a non-Canadian multinational or not.

    Although the Beer Store has a very limited selection, as every person north of Eglinton, I must support my local Craft products through purchases at the LCBO.

    Martin Jordan

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