Craft beer in review, looking back at 2017

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“I can’t keep up.”

This has become the catch-phrase of craft beer fans in Ontario. According to the Ontario Beverage Network, there are currently 239 operating breweries in Ontario – 42 of them opened just this year. In 2010, there were only about 50. When the Windsor Independent launched, there was only one brewery in Windsor. Now Sandwich Brewing makes twelve in Windsor/Essex and counting.

I haven’t been to them all yet. I can’t keep up.

Gone are the days when the Ontario Craft Brewers Association would distribute cards that listed every beer in Ontario in a checklist for nerds like me to fill out. Today, you probably couldn’t even fit Craft Heads’ full lineup on one of those cards. Thankfully, another thing that’s fallen by the wayside is people saying “How do you drink that shit?”

That’s because, of all the Windsor/Essex-brewed beers I’ve tasted in the past three years, I can count on one hand the number of bad ones. Until recently, nine out of ten new breweries in Ontario would be making terrible beer during their first year, though most got better over time. But something changed in the last few years and today most breweries are making great beer right out of the gate.

It’s not just Ontario. This summer I spent time in Winnipeg, where the beer scene is even more nascent than Windsor’s. With 10 breweries all less than 18 months old, I was amazed by how good the beer was. I went east as well, visiting Tatamagouche Brewing in rural Nova Scotia and trying many others – again, the beer was excellent.

I began to recognize a pattern after spending a day between at the Grove in Kingsville and GL Heritage on Howard and Highway 20. Probably for the first time in Canada, craft breweries are producing consistently good product.

Buying Back the Sellouts

In October, the U.S. Brewers Association launched a crowdfunding campaign with a goal of raiseing $213 billion dollars to buy AB-InBev, the world largest (and growing) brewing company – they produce one out of every four beers sold in the world, including Budweiser, Blue, and Corono to Keith’s, Mill St. and Goose Island. The campaign is called “Take Craft Back” even though none of the beers in question are, by definition, craft.

This campaign is mostly a joke, less about actually making a takeover bid than about raising awareness of how AB-InBev continues to swallow up and monopolize the beer industry as much as antitrust law will allow. But it perpetuates the us-vs-them narrative that craft beer has relied on for decades, framing craft as “the little guy” even though, especially in the U.S., it’s now a massive industry.

So this publicity stunt rings a little hollow to me. Craft beer is very successful and in many ways serves a very different market demand than AB-InBev’s mass-market-beer model does. Table wine can coexist along with the Bordeauxs of the world, so can’t we all just get along?

WCBO (Weed Control Board of Ontario)

In early November, the LCBO announced that Windsor was one of 14 municipalities that would host the first recreation marijuana stores in the province. This coincides with the formation of the LCBO-operated OCRC (Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation). When sales are legalized on July 1st, government-controlled outlets will be the only place to buy pot (legally).

But what does the LCBO have to do with cannabis? Why does the government think that selling liquor makes you qualified to sell pot? It makes as much sense to give the LCBO a monopoly over sales of fireworks, pharmaceuticals, coffee, and porn. We’ve spent so much of the last few decades gradually (and painstakingly) loosening the LCBO’s grip on alcohol sales, to great public and economic benefit, and now we’re giving them a whole new industry to monopolize.

The same government that finally broke the neo-prohibition on alcohol sales by granting licenses to grocery stores is now pulling directly from the mid-century playbook to create a chain of Brewers Retail-esque stores where the product is hidden from view. And part of the deal is a promise to close all private dispensaries, putting hundreds of entrepreneurs out of business.

I don’t even smoke, but I’m well aware that cannabis is a more benign drug than alcohol. Is it going to be another century before we can start acting like adults?

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