Long live the Beer Store

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The Beer Store is having a bit of a PR nightmare at the moment. Their new campaign “Ontario Beer Facts” (@ONBeerFacts) plays fast and loose with the definition of “facts” and has inspired ridicule from across the country. My personal favourite headline comes from the Vancouver Sun:

Ontario’s Beer Store thinks its customers are stupid: Province’s foreign-owned beer cartel is only thinking of the kids

beer store

Case in point: their 80s PSA-inspired TV ad in which they suggest that convenience store clerks are evil, pedophilic incompetents.

This contrasts with my experience in Vancouver last week at the (privately owned) Brewery Creek Liquor Store. I asked a staff member which beers were must-trys for somebody only in town for a couple days and he basically gave me a crash-course in BC beer. He was passionate, articulate, and really knew his shit.

Would you get that kind of treatment from a Beer Store clerk? No chance. That kind of behaviour could get them fired. Beer Store employees are prohibited from recommending anything, probably because the owners, Molson and Labatt, know that no educated beer drinker would ever recommend their products in good faith.

Even Ted Moroz, the president of the Beer Store, made an appearance in the comments section of my last article about the chain, but I can’t help but think they’d be better off keeping quiet. The Beer Store is inadvertently making itself the villain, but that misses the point. The Beer Store isn’t really the problem. The problem is that the government of Ontario is allowing it to maintain its monopoly on private alcohol sales.

The Beer Store is owned by three multi-national brewing companies. This in itself would not bother me if other brewers were allowed to do the same, but with no justification the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) has denied the Ontario Craft Brewers Association (OCB) the right to open their own retail outlet.

The Beer Store satisfies the needs of the average beer drinker and does a good job of it. But their predatory tactics toward Ontario brewers and Ontario bars is harmful to our beer culture and to our economy. Our local brewers are expected to pay in the thousands for the right to sell beer at a store owned by their competitors.

Bar owners in Ontario are forced to buy stock from the Beer Store. For any brands that the Beer Store carries, bars do not have the right to purchase them from the LCBO or from the brewers directly. Thus the Beer Store can add a totally unnecessary and unfair mark-up and bar owners can’t do anything about it.

This is the government’s doing. Don’t blame the Beer Store for behaving like a monopoly, blame the AGCO and the Ontario government for letting them.

Meanwhile, the Ontario Convenience Store Association (OCSA) is trying to bank on the conversation by turning it into an us-versus-them debate. The conversation on both sides has been simplified to “Should alcohol be sold in convenience stores?” – but there’s a third option.

I don’t really want to buy my beer from Mac’s. I want private alcohol retailers. I want to buy beer from a beer store, just not the only one we currently have. I want Ontario to have places like Brewery Creek, where the staff knows about and cares about what they’re selling.

I’m not advocating for the closure of the Beer Store, I’m advocating for the government to let in some fair competition.