(Editor’s Note: In the last week, I’ve evaluated Trafalgar in a positive manner based on their recent triumphs, succeeded in getting Sleeman investigated by the AGCO, Blown up Triple Bogey on Twitter for astroturfing ratings and done more research into Ginger than the breweries using it as in an ingredient. I believe I can only be considered fair minded. AB In-Bev wanted me to write about Goose Island. I don’t think they expected this.)
I just came back from the pub. I’ve had three pints of Goose Island IPA. I have written notes on beers I’ve drunk while tipsy in the last five years. You’d be amazed how infrequently I’ve written the content you read with a buzz. You’ve got to taste in order to make notes, but for the most part I write completely sober. Sometimes painfully hungover, but sober.
On Wednesday, I went to Zoomer Media down in Liberty Village to record a podcast for the Ontario Craft Brewers. I spent a pleasant couple of hours with Ben Johnson and Mirella Amato talking about beer and playing the game the podcast has devised this season: name the beer. I had one beer that was laden with diacetyl and one that was so far from its original mandate as to be incomprehensible.
After that I went to the Craft Brasserie. I had two flights. I tried eight beers I hadn’t had from Ontario. They have 120 taps there. It rapidly became clear that the new class doesn’t have it. Even brewers I’d had vouched for produced vinegary off notes. I had phenols, soap and people telling me they were brewing in styles they just weren’t.
I have been doing this for five years. I have not broken even and despite that, I have not sold out. I will not sell out. I’ve made sacrifices not to. Let me put this in personal terms you can understand: I last got new glasses four years ago. I have not been to the dentist since 2009. I have written the history of this province and I have written the history of the brewing industry of the city of Toronto. As National Beer Columnist for Sun Media I kept track of all of the beer releases for four years across this country. I trained as a brewer. I wrote a book about homebrewing. I believe in Ontario’s future and I believe in the future of its brewers.
It’s for that reason I’m not going to mollycoddle you anymore.
Let me tell you what’s over the hill. Goose Island? That property that you talk about going downhill? They’re producing, even through the Labatt plant in Montreal, a better IPA than most of the brewers in Ontario are capable of making. “Oh,” I hear you say, “It’s so 90’s.” Well, listen up, sunshine: You’re making a fifth rate 2015 nothing. It’s a marvellously balanced 1991 IPA. The Honkers ESB? That’s at every Prime Pub in the province. You may say “Oh, it’s not as good as it was.” It’s still better than your beer. “Oh, it’s brewed by Labatt.” Well, that’s a barrel of production they haven’t put towards Bud Light. Net positive as anyone with a brain sees it.
There’s good news. Every time some hapless Blue or Canadian drinker tries one of those beers, he’s exposed to wider flavour. The bad news is that it’s in pubs you ignored. Maybe it’ll translate to sales at some point, but I wouldn’t bet on it helping you specifically.
Goose Island has spent millions of dollars on this venture into Ontario. They sent Sofie and Matilda a while back as bottled emissaries and those are wonderful beers. When they had me come and talk about Goose Island IPA, it was at Good Son on Queen West. They brought in Christina Perozzi. She’s every bit my equal. As part of the Beer Chicks, she was named Best Beer Sommelier in Los Angeles. She handed off to me a 12 month barrel aging vertical of Bourbon County Stout. That’s the level of thought they put in: Show ’em how the barrels work.
AB In-Bev has paid a magnificent amount of money for craft beer properties. They’ve spent millions to keep them running and they’re spending thousands to hire people to promote their brands. I found out at the podcast I was recording that Mirella Amato, Master Cicerone had become the educator for their Canadian distribution. She’s got a better palate than I do. Do you know what I say to that decision? FAIR PLAY! GO ON MIRELLA!
They are paying to educate people! The OCB has existed for what, a decade? Why aren’t they educating staff at craft beer bars? Is surviving as a lobbying organization enough? Clearly it’s not.
At the Goose Island Launch last week, I got to try Bourbon County Stout and Bourbon County Barleywine. I got to try a Belgian Tripel called Ogden that maybe two breweries in Ontario could have made and which I even got the Bud Light drinking boss of Labatt, Charlie Angelakos, to admit he liked. All of those beers were better than their Ontario counterparts.
I want to impress on you this thing: I love Ontario. I believe in our future. I sacrifice personally daily to promote Ontario beer.
Forget who owns Goose Island. They are not going away. They are your competition forever. Blue Point is coming. Elysian is coming. 10 Barrels is coming. Sierra Nevada is coming. Lagunitas is coming. Oskar Blues is coming. New Belgium is coming. Many, many others are coming.
Your existence is not enough, Ontario breweries. With a rare few exceptions, you should be pants-wetting terrified. Next time you don’t quite believe in the beer but send it out to make margin, you hurt yourself. Next time you don’t put in R&D time on a new brew and the customer pays in dissatisfaction, you hurt us all. Next time you don’t aim to be at least as good as your competitors, you retire a pauper. Next time you don’t up your game, you die slowly.
If you don’t think you can hack it, figure out what your equipment is worth and sell it off now.