I have been a little bit surprised by the willingness of the large brewers to engage with Discount Beer February as a concept. So far, Labatt, Molson and Sleeman have all jumped on board and have either sent, or are sending, samples. I suppose it’s not that strange when you consider that these are brands that don’t get a lot of attention, especially from a credible reviewer. It also says a lot about each brewery’s self awareness that they have sent the things that they have sent.
As far as I can tell, the main component (possibly the only component) required for showing up in the Discount section of The Beer Store’s website is price. Since the minimum pricing for beer in Ontario is now $29.35 and nothing in the Discount section costs more than $30.00, I feel like it’s safe to assume that all 60 brands listed are competing on the basis of $0.65 worth of wiggle room per flat of 24. That’s about three cents a bottle in pricing variation when you factor in the occasional sale.
Labatt is responsible for 14/60 brands in the discount section of The Beer Store, which is not bad, when you consider that 9 of those are various Lakeport brands that they must have picked up in 2007 and which have not yet phased out of the market. The remaining brands are variations on Busch, Lucky Lager and Labatt Blue. The following paragraph will probably cause some consternation over there.
They didn’t send Labatt Blue, and I suspect that this is due to the fact that they don’t consider it to be a discount brand. The pricing falls squarely into the discount category. I don’t believe that it has been this way for very long; maybe three years. It had been for a very long time the national flagship for Labatt, and I further suspect that the global focus of parent company AB-InBev on Budweiser, Stella Artois and Beck’s as their representative brands might mean that Blue is less relevant. For folks working in London, Ontario there must be some sting in seeing Blue priced as it is. I’m not busting chops here. I’m simply pointing out the cognitive dissonance that must be taking place as the global strategy changes.
Enough maudlin Canadiana. Let’s focus on what they sent over:
BRAVA (a taste of summa, apparently.)
The Brava brand was acquired from Lakeport in 2007. It’s meant to be a response to the popularity of Mexican lagers like Corona and Sol. That would have worked fine in 2007, but since the advent of lime flavoured lagers, you would have to wonder why a canned version of a beer whose main attraction is the ability to shove a lime in the bottle would be necessary.
There is definitely an aroma of corn here and what hopping there is is grassy. You could easily take the piss out of Brava, but you have to remember two things: First, the template is Corona, which is not exactly a palate wrecker. Second, it is designed to be drunk as cold as possible, not entirely unlike a Brazilian Chopp.
VERDICT: Unfortunately, it’s February, so cold beer in quantity is not really a priority. Were it summer, I’d suggest that you’re really only buying Corona for the iconography that goes with it, so why not Brava? Also, good luck getting the radio jingle out of your head anytime before march.
Lucky started in 1934 in San Francisco at the General Brewing Company. It has walked a long road to get where it is today, ostensibly including several rebrands under other labels. You know that generic white can with “BEER” written on it that shows up in the 1984 movie Repo Man? People think that was Lucky Lager. Ordinary People, man.
It is apparently to Vancouver Island what PBR is to hipsters. It was always a West Coast brand.
I find Lucky to be somewhat harshly carbonated. It has almost no hop character, a corny body and a relatively sour finish to it. I don’t find much to recommend it. I suspect that the reason it exists in Ontario is because it does so well out west.
VERDICT: I don’t get it. I think the cult following out west is probably a residual thing like Olympia has. The vaguely retro look can supports this theory. I guess they probably wouldn’t think much of Laker out there.
Busch was introduced in the 1950’s, the first AB product introduced after the repeal of prohibition. The website says they’re using two-row, six-row, munich malts and corn. It also lists four hop varieties, which doesn’t really make any sense to me, since at least two of those varieties didn’t exist in ’55. The slogan suggests that it tastes as smooth as its name, which also doesn’t really make any sense to me.
I am not the target market for this beer, which sponsors fishing tournaments, hunting and Nascar. It is 4.6% alcohol, making the existence of Busch Light somewhat questionable. The market exists, though. It’s 9 on the big 10 list at The Beer Store.
Busch is, well, it’s light and watery. Despite the fact that it’s an adjunct lager, there’s not a great deal to indicate that fact. There’s no DMS corn aroma, but there’s also not a great deal in terms of grain presence. There is detectable hop bitterness, but you really need to be wanting to find it. There are no off flavours.
VERDICT: I can see why people would drink this. If cold, it would be refreshing. As long as you were drinking it while doing something else, it would be fine if uninteresting. In fact, I suspect that when people say “hold my beer and watch this,” this is the beer you’re left holding as they are taken away in the ambulance.
Number 8 on the Big 10 list at The Beer Store is Lakeport Pilsener. This is another brand acquired in 2007.
As you’ll recall from last week, Lakeport Pilsener is the beer that replaced Laker for Lakeport in 1996 or so. It was, putatively, brewed to exactly the same recipe as Laker Lager. I imagine that it has since evolved into a distinct product. Lakeport Pilsener has significantly more hop presence than any of the other Labatt offerings so far, but there’s not much in the way of hop aroma. The bitterness is all on the palate. What adjunct there is, is minimal and there’s a detectable cereal grain thing happening.
VERDICT: For the money, this entirely acceptable. You can sort of see why Labatt bought them out. I don’t think you’d want to drink it anything but really cold, or think about it too much.
Labatt did send one other product, which they seem to perceive as a discount brand despite the fact that it’s priced out of the category by six bucks: Labatt Crystal. I’m not going to review that at the moment, since I have plans for it for later in the month.