Discount Beer February will finish up this week, and I’m very much looking forward to that. I am running out of descriptors for the flavours that you get in mass produced lager beer.
If you’ll recall from the beginning of the month, there was a post where I talked about the genesis of the discount beer section of The Beer Store and how it all hinged on the decision of Dave Nichols to brew a draught lager under the President’s Choice brand. That product launched in December of 1992. It’s now almost twenty years to the month since he changed the landscape of the brewing industry in Ontario, for better or for worse.
Initially, it was my intention to try all of the President’s Choice beers in order to get a sense of range of products that resulted from that decision. As it turns out, I’m only one man and my willingness to explore the category was compromised somewhat by a really delightful five day sojourn in Alberta. President’s Choice has seven beers on the market in Ontario, but I am inclined to say that the flagship brand is likely the Genuine Lager which is the most direct descendant of Dave Nichols’ original foray into the market.
I should preface this by saying that I had never had a President’s Choice beer prior to tasting the Genuine Lager. I should point out that I like President’s Choice as a brand. They generally make fairly high quality prepared foods at a reasonable price point. Sure it’s not all foodie stuff, but that’s a comparatively small portion of the market when you take into account all of the people who are just trying to get dinner on the table and are skilled enough to set an oven to 350.
Those points out of the way, this is going to sound pretty brutal.
PC Genuine Lager
Upon opening the can, there’s an overwhelming aroma of green apple. Now, some green apple in a lager is probably acceptable if it is restrained and subtle. At this level, it’s what you’d call acetaldehyde. Upon pouring, there was significant haze. That would be fine if this were a Kellerbier, but this is a descendant of a draught lager, which is meant to be crystal clear. It speaks of either poor filtering or old beer.
I checked the package and best before date and it seems that this was packaged on February 29, 2012. The best before date is a month away, so I figured that it may have been a problem with the individual can. With the exception of a few styles, beer is always better fresh. I tried another can. Same results.
The tasting notes for this beer read simply “green apple all the way down.” It doesn’t recede.
I want you to note that I tried. I gave it a second chance with a separate can. The average consumer, grabbing a six pack off the shelf, would not give you that courtesy.
VERDICT: Not only is it objectively fraught with issues, it doesn’t represent what is an otherwise trusted brand.
In other places in Discount Beer February, there have been beers that I don’t like. I’m not fond of Old Milwaukee, but that might be personal preference due to the sweetness there. I vehemently dislike James Ready 6.0%, but that may be because I’m not shotgunning it on some maritime campus.
With PC Genuine Lager, it’s not merely that I dislike it; it’s that I question why it exists at all. If your beer is sitting on the shelf at a busy location of The Beer Store for over a year, you have to begin to question the quality of the product. I think that might be happening already. Their beer is not referred to on the website.
I think they’re missing a trick. This is not unsalvageable.
You have a perfect storm in Ontario at the moment that suggests to me that it is time for a rebrand. The popularity of craft beer has never been higher. We’re getting LCBO locations in grocery stores as a pilot project across the province. President’s Choice has a section on their website that invites you to create dishes. They have a TV platform that is dedicated to making new products. They have an advertising budget and the ability to move high volumes of anything they choose to throw their weight behind.
Given that all of these factors are in play, I’ll point you at Trader Joe’s in the states which does similar private label products. They have a house label beer made by Unibroue, unless I’m very much mistaken. The website has a section devoted to beer styles and food pairing.
Instead of making what is an objectively woeful discount brand, President’s Choice could focus on recreating this portion of their business by doing what they do best: offering a relatively high quality product at a reasonable price and incorporating it into their portfolio. They could easily develop a website section that would tell you what beer pairs with the food in their lineup. They would have so much to work with that it would beggar belief. Not only that, but they could sell the stuff through LCBO locations in their stores (assuming that this pilot project takes off.)
Better even than that, they could do a special edition of their television show Recipe To Riches to make the project publicly visible. It would be possible to own up to the fact that one part of the portfolio is not very good and at the same time ride out the growing popularity of craft beer. You could invite home brewers to submit their best effort in a handful of styles and then reward them with cash or a brewing position or a hearty handshake from Galen Weston.
You’d scrap entirely the concept of having seven brands (no one makes a low carb beer anymore anyway) and you’d choose three relatively accessible styles and do them right. You could have a seasonal product rotating on the same SKU.
It could work. It could work brilliantly. The best part is that judging by the date on the can, they wouldn’t be risking a drop in sales.
Naturally, I’m available to consult.