I was walking through the LCBO at Summerhill last night on the way back from Niagara College looking for something to drink. Not review, but drink. Sometimes you just want a beer with dinner. If I wanted to review something, I would have picked up a bottle of Trafalgar’s new India Ink Black Pale Ale, or maybe Muskoka’s Winter Beard Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout, or even Unibroue’s 17. Any of those would have been interesting beers to review; not all of them in a positive way, necessarily.
I just wanted a beer to drink with dinner, so I got a Crazy Canuck.
Here’s the thing: Looking around the LCBO Summerhill these days, you would never know that we had a lack of beer selection in the province. I understand completely that this is a flagship store and that it’s not like this everywhere. There are stores that don’t get the really interesting stuff. In fact, this accounts for the majority of stores. I just want to point something out to you.
This is a list of the beers that have made it into the LCBO between September and December. It is an incomplete list because they are now bringing in so many beers as part of the general list that they do not always get my attention. I have grabbed the lists from bartowel, which explains the formatting.
263988 / Fuller’s Past Masters Double Stout / 500 / 7.5 / $3.75
263954 / Fuller’s Golden Pride / 500 / 8.5 / $3.75
263962 / Fuller’s India Pale Ale / 500 / 5.3 / $3.75
266841 / Fuller’s Old Winter Ale / 500 / 5.3 / $3.75
263970 / Fuller’s Past Masters XX Strong Ale / 500 / 7.5 / $3.75
237693 / Cannery Maple Stout / 5.5 / 650 / $5.80
254656 / Ayinger Celebrator / 7.2 / 330 / $3.45
173658 / Garrison Imperial I.P.A. / 7 / 500 / $4.25
234047 / Bacchus Flemish Old Brown / 4.5 / 375 / $4.50
236091 / Celt Bronze Crafted Ale / 4.5 / 500 / $3.65
233486 / Marston’s Pedgree V.S.O.P. / 6.7 / 500 / $3.50
233494 / Wychwood Goliath / 4.2 / 500 / $3.50
236992 / Renaissance Stonecutter Scotch Ale / 7 / 500 / $4.60
173534 / Southern Tier Choklat / 11 / 650 / $9.85
504670 / Fuller’s 1845 Bottle Conditioned Ale / 6.3 / 500 / $3.50
125153 / Affligem Dubbel / 6.8 / 330 / $2.75
239475 / Charlevoix Dominus Vobiscum Triple / 9 / 500 / $5.95
244376 / Les Trois Mousquetaires Porter Baltique 2011 / 10 / 750 / $9.95
237875 / Box Steam Funnel Blower / 4.5 / 500 / $3.55
254896 / Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin Ale / 9.0 / 650 / $8.95
248179 / Brasseurs de Montreal La Stout Ghosttown / 6.6 / 341 / $2.85
247635 / Wychwood King Goblin / 6.6 / 500 / $3.50
67710 / Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale / 5.5 / 650 / $4.95
90738 / St Ambroise Pumpkin Ale / 5.0 / 4×341 / $9.95
182287 / Southern Tier Pumking / 9.0 / 650 / $9.00
132761 / Dieu du Ciel! Corne du Diable IPA / 6.5 / 4×341 / $11.60
LCBO 187005 LAVA, Smoked Imperial Stout – 500 ml – Iceland
LCBO 171413 St Ambroise Russian Imperial Stout – 341 ml – Quebec
LCBO 264341 Nogne 0 Imperial Stout – 500 ml – Norway
LCBO 188870 Box Steam Dark & Handsome (Old Ale) – England
LCBO 090845 Great Lakes Winter Ale – 750 ml – Ontario
LCBO 186999 Traquair Jacobite Ale – 330 ml – Scotland
LCBO 135194 Southern Tier Creme Brulee Stout – 650 ml – New York
LCBO 250944 Brooklyn Monster Ale – 355 ml – New York
LCBO 264358 Dominus Vobiscum Double – 500 ml – Quebec
LCBO 250472 Affligem Tripel – 330 ml – Belgium
LCBO 270405 Solstice D’Hiver – 4 x 341 – Quebec
LCBO 222236 Lake of Bays Mocha Porter – 750 ml – Ontario
LCBO 054106 Trafalgar Smoked Oatmeal Stout – 650 ml – Ontario
Fullers Vintage Ale
Samuel Smith Winter Welcome Ale
Christoffel Winter Bier Jug
Jenlain Or Biere Blonde
Bah Humbug Christmas Cheer Ale
Unibroue 17 Grand Reserve
Samuel Adams New World Triple
Mill St. Barley Wine
St.Peters Winter Ale
Sam Adams Utopias 2011
Note that this list doesn’t include things like the Grand River Highballer Pumpkin, which was released without being on a list. It doesn’t include a bunch of small batch Ontario releases. It doesn’t include the upcoming Garrison brewery feature. Not including the gift packs that come out at Christmas, the specialty releases include something like 50 beers in four months. Granted, they’re not all winners, but the effort counts for something.
Biere Du Boucanier Mix Pack
Samuel Smith Selection
Erdinger Gift Pack
6 Exclusive Belgian Ales
Historic Ales Of Scotland
Rickard’s Taster Pack
Bavarian Alps 3 Collector Bottle Gift Pack
OCB Holiday Discovery Pack
St. Ambroise Gift Pack
Innis & Gunn Connoisseur Oak Collection
King Brewery 3 Kings
Taste Of Belgium
Alexander Keiths Barrel Gift Pack
Faxe Premium Gift Pack
Old Speckled Hen Bottle and Glass
Tiger Gift Pack
European Beer Mix Pack
Duvel Twinpack with Glass
Maredsous Chalice Gift Pack
De Koninck Belgian Gift Pack
Mill Street Organic Gift Pack
Mill Street Tankhouse Gift Pack
Mill Street Coffee Porter Gift Pack
Chimay Grand Reserve Canister
St. Bernardus Gift Pack
St. Peters Twinpack with Glass
Sapporo Holiday 2011 Gift Pack
Stella Artois Chalice Gift Pack
Steam Whistle Gift Pack
There are 30 gift packs. I concede that you may not like all of them. I don’t care, as long as there is a Samuel Smith’s gift pack somewhere with my name on it.
That’s 80 specialty products in four months. That doesn’t include Ontario seasonal and craft products that get listed without much fanfare. The total number is probably closer to 100. I just wanted you to see this all in one place, so that the amount of variety could sink in. When I was at Summerhill last night, I got a visual representation of this, and it’s impressive. They have maybe half of this stuff, since some of the earlier releases have sold out. It’s still enough beer to make you wander around the section for 15 minutes trying to figure out what to get.
In addition to this, they seem to have relaxed the “Won’t somebody think of the children” department to allow for the release of Smashbomb Atomic IPA during the summer. Dan Aykroyd’s vodka even made it into the store recently, despite the crystal skull bottle. We might even get Delirium Tremens back at some point.
There are still problems. The specialty releases are in a limited number of stores. The store to store transfer can be difficult to initiate, judging from all of the anecdotal information I’ve gathered. The release dates are sort of sporadic across the stores that do participate. The store by store inventory is not always reliable.
When talking about the LCBO, I have generally ceded the point that the LCBO is a huge bureaucratic endeavor and does not turn on a dime. If the above list suggests anything, it’s that the LCBO has been doing that over the course of the last year or so.
The selection may not be to your liking. You may think that the number of low alcohol British beers hurts the releases because they don’t travel all that well from England. You may want more of a certain style. IPAs, popular in the US, don’t seem to get the same play here, possibly due to the lack of warehouse refrigeration. Because of the sheer number of products showing up, some of them will not be in the quantity that allows for a certain beer to remain on shelves for more than a week. These are reasonable criticisms.
The LCBO has, though, shown that they are willing to expand the selection available. I don’t think it’s possible to argue that they haven’t. They’re clearly trying to provide quality beer. It would be disingenuous to suggest that they have not improved massively over the last year. I suggest that from this point on we should probably try positive reinforcement.
Next time you find yourself sitting down to blast them on an internet forum over not including something that you want, I want you to write them a polite email about your concern and send it off to them, while keeping in mind the following:
1) These are actual people, so using phrases like “jerks who will be first against the wall when the revolution comes” or questioning the legitimacy of their parentage is probably counterproductive.
2) They are actually trying.
3) They have probably not received a whole big bunch of polite, congratulatory emails from the public on this subject before, so this may actually have an impact on future selection.
It’s never going to be perfect. They will never be able to satisfy everyone. You are not going to get incredibly rare beers from small brewers in the states because the lead time on acquisition for those is probably insurmountable and the quantity is very low. It is my suspicion, however, that since the LCBO is now demonstrably interested in providing a wide variety of high quality beer, they are probably now willing to listen to the people who actually drink the stuff.
It’s worth a shot, anyway.