The Business Case Study Of My Late 1980s

I do not often let out a squeal of giggly delight but I did last evening when I came across this university course business case study from 1995 entitled “Peddler’s Pub and JJ Rossy’s Ltd.” It was written by Professor Jeremy Hall of Saint Mary’s University for the Acadia Institute Of Case Studies and sets out a description of the downtown pub scene from my hometown of Halifax in the years when I was in my mid to later 20s. It lines up well with two early posts of mine for The Session but has masses of detail on the business side of the taverns and bars I knew as second homes. I came across the document when Norm, the Boston Beer Nut, and I were a’tweeting and I was making the case that there is a forgotten phenomenon from the early micro era – the “beers of the world” bar / pub / tavern. The Hall study mentions the principle establishment of this sort in Halifax, the still operating Maxwell’s Plum:

“Nobody is focusing as much as we are.” According to co-owner-operator Scott Little, Maxwell’s Plum had the largest selection of single malt scotch and imported beer in Metro: 21 single malts, three blends, one Irish whisky, five imported draft and dozens of imported bottled beer. Importing so much does have its drawbacks, especially cash drain, as payment was due before delivery for special orders through the NSLC.

The atmosphere of the bar could be best described as traditional – the focus was on a large, well stocked bar with dark hardwood fixtures. Most of the time management played low volume music from a selection of 200 CDs and live jazz on Sundays, without a cover charge. “We want people to be able to talk to each other and be comfortable” (S. Little).

I remember, vaguely, being in a beers of the world bar in Paris in early 1986 and also seem to recall a few years earlier that our undergrad bar having beers of the world nights where you had a passport that was ticked as you bought your syrupy black McEwan’s Export or a thin glassed bottle of Dortmunder Union. Chris Begley reports that there was a place like this in Vancouver called “Fogg n Sudds” about the same time. A version seems to still exist connected to an airport hotel. Calgary seems to have had its own Bottlescrew Bill’s since 1985.

The Hall study has a number of other tidbits of information that frame the downtown scene, starting with this map. I kid myself that I could sketch this blind folded in a isolation tank but most of the locations pop back to mind immediately. The map also illustrates the general university student flow from southwest to north east, the march many evenings being from Your Father’s Mustache to the Lower Deck. And there is a concise description of what “draft” was:

Draft beer could be purchased from the two local breweries, Moosehead or Oland’s (a division of Labatts), and was generally the least expensive form of alcohol. Draft beer was allowed under all categories of licenses. Draft came from the same vats as bottled beer, but did not go through a pasteurization process, and therefore had a short shelf life.

When I started my Halifax pub life, this fresh tasty pale ale was ordered in pairs of eight ounce glasses but by the mid-80s that was being replaced by the 20 ounce imperial pint. I think this might have been started by the opening in 1986 of the Thirsty Duck which had the first keg Guinness in town. The days of the “draft wars” are also fondly recalled. I remember one place that had a horrible business plan based on Monday selling 29 cent draft, Tuesday 39 cent draft, etc. Lasted only a few glorious months.

One thing the report illustrates is how the narrative that micros changed everything is a bit of a fib. There was a bit of that. We certainly could buy New Brunswick’s Hans Haus lager in the stores or go have a Peculiar at the embryonic Granite Brewery, then housed in one half of the early rougher incarnation of Ginger’s on Hollis Street.  They did not, however, set the scene. While society generally has enjoyed a great diversification in all sorts of consumables over the last 30 or 40 years, the drinking experience was still laced with the perception of variety that included, well before micros became popular, a variety of imported beer choices. I’d be interested in learning how many other places like Maxwell’s Plum were out there in other communities but my inclination is to consider imports opened or at least eased the entry to the market for micros.

Are Canada Red Vine Hops… Canadian?

The other night I had my nose deep into a bag of Canada Red Vine hops, a variety revived in Tavistock, Ontario.  The scene was Folly Brewpub in Toronto and the bag was care of Jordan who had picked it up at The Tavistock Hop Company. The fact that some of the bag of hops exists at all is pretty neato as this news item explains.

Wynette dug up some rootstalks, called rhizomes, on the banks of the Speed River. He grew a new generation of plants on his farm in Tavistock. He took cuttings from those plants, and soon had enough for a small crop. “So now in Tavistock we grow these same hops cloned off 100-plus-year-old plants,” Wynette said. Based on a chemical analysis of the plant, Wynette believes he cloned a type of hops called Canadian Red Vine.

My nose was pleased but my mind was racing. I had heard of this reintroduction a few days before and had asked Stan about it. His tweet in reply was succinct: “Grown in US NW into the 1970s. Origin of name unknown.” Hmm. I don’t like unknown. Someone once told me that the history James Pritchard, Loyalist, was unknown. Nope.

So, being that way, I started to look around and found this reference in the Documents of the Senate of the, 139th Session, 1916 which, as you know, contains the 34th Annual Report of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station located at Geneva, Ontario County. The 34th year was 1915. I found this in a passage about mildew:

That there are other influences which affect the growth of the mildew is very apparent. Yards near enough together to be equally affected by periods of wet weather frequently show great differences in severity of mildew attacks though new spots may appear in both at the same time. Different varieties and even different leaves on the same plant vary in susceptibility. Named in order of susceptibility beginning with the most susceptible, the New York varieties would be arranged as follows: Canada red vine, English cluster, Humphrey and native red vine. No serious injury has been noticed, so far, on the native red vine variety though planted near badly infested yards and, in some instances, scattered through yards of a susceptible variety. It is said to be a light yielder, however.

Not a lot of references to Canada Red Vine out there on the internets and this one describes it as a New York Variety. Things get a bit weird in terms of naming conventions around the east end of Lake Ontario. Notice above there that Geneva, New York is located in Ontario County. In 2009, I wrote about running into a pal at a gas station north of Utica. It was right where route 12 meets route 28 – near West Canada Creek, NY. Country well known by Sir William Johnson in the 1750s and well known to his son Sir John Johnson in the 1770s and 1780s during the American Revolution as a Loyalist military force escape route back north. It was called that because it was the way to Canada… aka New France… aka Quebec.

Here’s a thought. People take what this like with them when they move. If that is correct, a third generation of US northwest farmers may well have still be growing the hops their settler great-great-grandparents carried with them to the West. The grandparents of those settlers may have dug up the rhizomes in central New York as they started the family’s trek west after the Erie Canal opened up in the 1820s. And some of their cousins may have had other plans and shifted north into what was then Upper Canada. Many did, euphemistically now called Late Loyalists. And they may have carried the rhizomes with them to Tavistock, Ontario and rammed them into the banks of streams.

Tracing hop lineage is difficult. Consider this observation from William Blanchard Jr. published in the 13 September 1823 edition of The New England Farmer:

The Hop is a native plant. It is found growing spontaneously on the banks and intervales of many of our large rivers. There are several distinct species, all bearing a near affinity to each other; (I have noticed five.) At present they are cultivated together, promiscuously; no preference having been given to any particular one of them by the brewer. But I am of the opinion that there is an essential difference in their qualities—that one may be the best for pale ale; another for strong beer; and a third for porter; and I presume, ere long, particular attention will be paid to ascertain their different qualities.

I love at least two things in that passage. Obviously, the foreshadowing of the use of specific hops for specific beers. And also the fact that only 92 years stand between Mr. Blanchard’s letter to the paper and the Report of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station mentioned above. [And the river banks. Fine. Three.] I expect that the noticing of five distinct species of hops had advanced, through the application of science, some way in those years. Yet – in the 1860s, only a few sorts are propagated in central New York, including Pompey and Cluster. And of the New York varieties identified in 1915 only four are named: Canada red vine, English cluster, Humphrey and native red vine.

Are all three instances of Canada red vine the one variety? Is it one of the five one could spot in a promiscuously planted patch? How can I figure that out?

Is The Data Overload Becoming An Issue?

It was a bit of a revelation. Well, a joke and a revelation. I have a brother who is a bookman who sends rare finds for birthdays and holidays. This year for my 52nd I got this book on cheese. Published in 1960, it is a simple thing. More like a long magazine article than a full book. The author describes one trip taken in a car traveling from farmhouse cheese maker to farmhouse cheese maker. Cheeses are gathered in the back seat and the trunk… sorry, boot… and the taken back to London where they are eaten at dinners and parties with guests like Dame Margot Fonteyn and Stirling Moss. It’s all very light and comforting. It’s not all that unlike Everyday Drinking – The Distilled Kingsley Amis which I reviewed six years ago now. Yes, a voice from another era and one imbued with class and cultural distinctions which don’t matter anymore. Yet it is filled with discovery:

Mrs. Roberts DOES still make Caerphilly but not in her cool dairy, which I had foolishly asked to see. That is only used for storing milk and cream! Her cheeses are made in the kitchen, with vats and presses a hundred years old, and they mature in the bedroom. As these ancient, heavy wooden vats are irreplaceable, she may soon have to give up her cheesemaking.

OK, like Amis perhaps without the ever present danger of arrest for driving whilst intoxicated. Perhaps. There are still bottles consumed as she goes about. But there is nothing snobbish about any of it. In the second paragraph, snobbery is the word used for the one who sniffs contemptuously at the mere mention of the cheeses of ones own country. It’s an essay about the pursuit of the real in a world where imports and processes have become the norm. Sound familiar?

This is a voice like the one in my head when I became interested in beer. Not a voice I hear very much of anymore, sadly. Between the quantity chasing tickers and the off-flavour seminarians and the worshipers of the next ever so slightly different hop strain, there seems to be little being left to individual discovery. Too much expertise in the beer to be assimilated from above. Not enough simple pleasure in the experience of it. The current bleat about poor quality in new craft is just the latest twist. The hand of industrial process now reaches down as one’s betters warn that if you eat that cheese matured in the bedroom you might encounter something unexpected, unplanned.

This is not to suggest all was better. The second half of the book is filled with recipes which range from the traditional – like that very attractive cheddar biscuit – to the weirdly experimental. I will not, for example, take up the recommendation to wrap eight bananas in ham and bake them in a sauce made with a whacking pile of grated Lancashire cheese. But there is a joyfulness about it all which big craft seems to be drumming out of me, drumming out of good beer. I don’t care. The errors and trials and surprises of all these new actual small brewers are too interesting to care about their elders and betters, the self-appointed senex with the standard operating procedures, marketing staff and strategic plans for the annual trade show.

Ontario Loves Its Large Profit-Making Aggregations


This is likely the least exciting picture visually I have posted around these parts. But its content may place it among the most interesting. Click on it for the larger version. That’s a couple paragraphs from a 1931 financial statement for E.P. Taylor’s nine month old firm, the Brewing Corporation of Canada. Taylor played a greater role in restructuring Ontario’s brewing industry from the 1930s to the 1970s than anyone else. We discussed him last December but it is worth reminding ourselves about one of his governing principles. We face, as Jordan notes, a supposed renewal of our retail trade in beer, a brave new future with beer being sold in a few grocery stores. We may, however, be facing the prospect of not obeying only some little discussed cultural factors but baggage left behind after the old man made his billions, moved on and died.

You see a few references to payouts. We are told that the executive officers enjoy large remuneration. Also a dividend of $90,000 was paid but unwarranted ensuring the shareholders were happy even as, we learn elsewhere, the firm suffered total losses on $496,000. The financial statements disclose these decisions because they are submissions to the bank lending Taylor and his firm money to raise the overdraft from $80,000 to $130,000. This bet on Taylor’s future was backed by his access to English investors but still was quite extraordinary given this passage in the financial statements which we quoted in Ontario Beer:

He is a very young man but quite capable,although probably not thoroughly experienced in the manufacture of beer. However, we think he has good organizing ability and is capable with lots of self confidence in the eventual success of this organization.

What all this illustrates for me is something I think was given to Ontario at its birth in the 1780s and lingers on today. We love a controlled aggregation. Ontario was established after the American Revolution as something of a utopian Tory colony which was supposed to prove that prosperity followed when a well conceived plan was followed through by a compliant populace obedient to their governing betters who ensured, in return, a supply of good things including beer. With the coming of the madcap liberties under the Victorian era, commercial opportunity in brewing expanded but it was soon stalked by another set of betters in the form of the temperance movement. This guiding principle of the growing God-fearing middle class made gains on economic liberty through the latter end of the 1800s to the point it were the most powerful political force by the First World War. The imposition of Ontario’s tepid form of prohibition during the conflict lasted until 1927 when the concurrent stink of corruption brought in liquor control system we live with today with its abiding interest in ensuring the many are, again, guided by the benevolent hand of the few. The few now being semi-bureaucrats heading heading up semi-governmental agencies.

What does that have to do with E.P. Taylor? Well, like others well situated at various points in Ontario’s history – from Richard Cartwright Jr in the 1790s enjoying the liquid rewards of his riches to the international conglomerates which own The Beer Store today – Taylor knew that Ontario and its beer buying population was too valuable a resource to let it have its own way without the application of a little profit making control. See, he may have carried the baggage for a large chunk of the 1900s he did not pack the bags. And because of the cultural acceptance of this sort of thing, because that is part of what makes Ontario Ontario… I do not expect this to change. So, when I read that out betters are planning to add a whole 300 extra retail licenses for a population of over 13 million, well, I do not expect great change. I do expect great financial reward for those granted the power to sell. And I do expect existing interests will likely be respected. No one will suffer the undoubted societal confusion caused by imposing the broad-based forms of beer retailing common in all our neighbouring US and Canadian jurisdictions. We shall be saved from all that. Anything else would be unOntarian.

Are The Oddest Things In Ontario The Solutions?


Update, Thursday: A rousing 17% of Ontarians want beer in grocery stores. Because we can’t handle what Quebeckers, New Yorkers and those of Michigan can. We must suck.

That’s a video posted in the Toronto Star the other day summarizing where this Province sits in its own internal debate about the retailing of beer in Ontario.Its attached to a story titled “Time to take ownership of the Beer Store: Cohn” The Star is taking a lead in the discourse and doing an excellent job but as the video displays there are some weird aspects to this issue that might seem odd to those from beyond the borders. When we were writing Ontario Beer the tasks got chopped up and I was assigned primary attention to the years 1900 to 1980 which, as you might guess, were not expected to be the most exciting for the development of good beer in the culture. What I found, however, through the review of law and brewer’s public appearance as much as the family trees of families who owned the brewery was that the community, culture and marketplace in Ontario has a number of abiding characteristics which continue to pop up through the decades and centuries of its relationship with beer:

-> Ontario is very comfortable with state ownership. You will notice in the story as retold an unhappiness that The Beer Store, the sole retailer of about 90% of all sales, is not government owned. Many assume it is. Many would say it should be. Many want more beer variety in the existing government LCBO which sells primarily macro six-packs as well as single bottles of craft brews and imports.

-> Ontario is very comfortable with a controlled market. Amongst those who reject the model of the Beer Store a prominent response being heard is that the small brewers of Ontario ought to be able to replicate the model to create boutique craft beer shops. It appears the idea would be sell Ontario made craft beer to Ontario through shops run by Ontario craft brewers. This appears to be adding a small oligopoly to a tiny oligopoly to defeat the evil forces of oligopoly.

-> Ontario is very comfortable with fairly dull macro beer. Nowhere in this discourse is there a great public outrage at the quality of most of the beer consumed in Ontario. The vast bulk of beer consumed in Ontario is frankly bulk beer. Most people I know who buy beer buy slabs of 24 bottles of lighter fairly flavourless stuff that gives them a mild buzz and cuts the crap out of your mouth when you’ve been physically active. It reminds me a lot of ship’s beer in fact, one of the functional classes of everyday beer that fell out of flavour somewhere between the Georgian and Victorian colonial eras. For many, talking about more interesting beer is like talking about more interesting ketchup.

-> Ontario is very comfortable with fairly not inexpensive beer. For a while there was a trend of “buck a beer” discount products but that’s been gone for the best part of a decade now. No one moved forward to fill the market and Ontario’s beer buyers have found themselves buying beers for $1.50 to over $2.00 a bottle at the shops without much quibbling. No one is looking for a better retail experience and no one really is looking for a price cut. Bulk beer in Ontario is comparable or even a bit higher than craft in nearby northern NY.

These are just themes I see. I didn’t want initially to drill into news articles, blog posts or the details of history to create a mess of links mainly for one reason. Even having studied 400 years of beer culture, law and politics in the place it still surprises me and sometimes leaves me shaking my head. But there are reasons it is like this. Ontario was set up as something of a conservative utopia that reaches back to the 1780s with the resettlement of the Loyalists running from the newly created USA. This lasted until the reforms of the 1840s when we were then introduced to the new trend in temperance. After the flop of Ontario’s version of prohibition ended in 1927, we have had the control system of alcohol retail that we have today. Three forms of restraint. Three eras of doing what one is told. Three eras of being concurrently happy and prosperous, too. It might, given all that, be more reasonable to ask why wouldn’t things be as they are in today’s discussions about retailing beer here. Me? I just want beer in grocery stores and gas stations like people in all the nearby provinces and states enjoy. Not likely going to happen.

I may layer more into this but for now this is the best I have to explain the culture I live in to myself. It’s a bit weird, isn’t it. But in a weird way it also works for most people.

Origins Of Ontario’s Beer Wholesaling Cooperative

Jordan has posted an excellent article this evening on the current state of the sale of beer in Canada’s biggest province, Ontario. Thirteen and half million Ontarians are served their beer through two large entities: (i) The Beer Store which is owned by the big brewers and (ii) the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, a provincial Crown corporation. Sure, you can buy your beer at a microbrewery, you can home brew and you can even still go to a brew-your-own place. But you really buy beer from the big two outlets. Brew-your-own or “U-brew” businesses are good to keep in mind as we think of how to move forward. In our book Ontario Beer, we pointed out that in the mid-1990s, “brew your own beer” businesses held a position comparable to small breweries today until they caught the attention of big beer. At a 1996 Federal hearing on taxation of major Canadian industries, Sandy Morrison, President of the Brewers Association of Canada complained about the lack of any imposition of taxation or regulation on these businesses:

These brew-on-premises outlets now have an 8% share of the British Columbia market and a 3% share in Ontario, which is the largest beer market in Canada. In total, they account for about 10 million dozen-cases of beer a year. The production from these unlicensed, unregulated mini-breweries exceeds that of the micro-breweries across Canada, and certainly in the two provinces concerned.

Brew-on-premises business were full-scale commercial operations that focused on government alcohol tax avoidance. Lost tax revenues in Ontario and BC totaled $69 million according to Morrison. Soon thereafter the law was changed. Regulations as well as taxes were applied. As can be expected, market share collapsed. The interests of the government and big brewing aligned to pressure the young upstarts.

There are echoes of more than the mid-90s in the situation today. The immediate origins of both the LCBO and The Beer Store date to the mid-1920s. After a series of elections and referendums, in 1927 Ontario’s experiment with prohibition ended with the repeal of the Ontario Temperance Act and its replacement with the Liquor Control Act. Along with the new law, the Liquor Control Board was founded. The province was once again drinking full strength booze in their homes – albeit after purchasing their drink at a government controlled store and transporting it in a sealed package. In the same year, Brewers Warehousing Co. Ltd. was founded as a brewers’ distribution collective. The provincial government retained control of the sale of wine and spirits through the LCBO, but beer was retailed by hundreds of mom-and-pop stores. Initially, the brewers were involved only in wholesale operations, jointly warehousing and distributing their product to stores operated by private contractors. In 1940, the brewers bought out the retailers and took over the stores, changing their name to Brewers Retail Inc and, more recently, changing again to The Beer Store.

Another thing was happening at the end of the 1920s. A corporate giant was starting out his career. Starting with next to nothing other than a few years in the financing business, E.P. Taylor had a plan to acquire and merge a large number of regional and local brewers with the goal of controlling half the brewing capacity in the province. Virtually all Ontario’s firms but Labatt and the breweries controlled by the Doran family in the north were his targets. His goals made perfect sense for the times. Breweries were operating at under 25% capacity. They were technological dinosaurs. By 1931, Taylor already controlled 27.5% of all Ontario beer sales. By 1950, he controlled 50% of the provincial beer market compared to 20% for Labatt. His deal making reached beyond Ontario. He shared a correspondence with H. William Molson, president of Quebec’s most famous brewery which dated back to 1932 and, in 1942, Taylor suggested quite an arrangement:

Don’t you think for the duration of the war we should arrange to divide the business in the two provinces in a fixed proportion and cut out most of the waste? I fully realize that your Company is not as extravagant in Ontario as some of the rest of us and you are certainly in an enviable position in that regard. At the same time I think that if you gave leadership to a proposal for pooling the business until after the war, everyone would feel inclined to work something out.

“Waste” was a theme for E.P.Taylor. In September 1939, he spoke to a meeting of the Brewers Warehousing Company. As war had just been declared, the tone was certainly patriotic but it was also entrepreneurial. Taylor argued that the lowest price possible for beer should be established to decrease “wasteful selling expenses” while increasing sales, volume and taxes for the war effort. Profits would also rise. While not the start of the concept of commodity beer and radically controlled distribution, this statement certainly places it at the centre of Ontario’s way forward. When you think of The Beer Store today you need to hear E.P. Taylor’s words from 1939 – “wasteful selling expenses” – ring in your ears. As Jordan put it today:

The Beer Store’s organization is such that it works in your favour if you are a very large company. The fact that your beer can only be sold in predetermined locations and that the organization that runs those locations stocks those stores from centralized warehouses means that you don’t have to pay for delivery, storage or a sales force. It’s a gigantic savings. The large breweries don’t generate profit from owning and running The Beer Store and this is something critics frequently fail to understand. The monopoly is not profitable for the owners because it extracts profit on sales. It is profitable for the owners because it saves a frankly ridiculous amount of money on outlay.

By the late 1950s, E.P. Taylor was arguably the most famous Canadian before Pierre Trudeau came on the scene a few years later. His positive effect on the economy of Ontario and Canada cannot be underestimated. But he stepped away from his role as corporate leader before 1970. In another ten years, loyalty to ale and even Ontario’s beer brands was fading fast. We now live in a marketplace where the best selling beer is Coors Light and The Beer Store is owned by foreign brewing corporations. That all being the case, why retain a distribution model set up in the late 1920s to balance the needs of local brewers with the majority of the population which still had strong preference for temperance principles? None really. None at all. Unless, like in the mid-1990s, the interests of big beer and government revenue are all that matter.

How I Feel Now That I Have Nickelbrook’s Wet Hop Ale


That’s a new photo for me. It is from Halifax’s Victory in Europe Day parade in 1945 apparently before it became the VE Day Riot. Click for more of the photo. I have mentioned the Halifax riot of 1945 somewhere around here but can’t find the link. [Later: here it is.] If you don’t believe things got bad, here is an image of the spot later in the day when the jeweler had been hit by looters.

Why do I mention this? Because above is about 10,000 times how I felt when I saw Nickebrook’s Ontario Wet Hop Ale finally on my local LCBO shelves this morning. I say 10,000 times in the best sense as the guy is clearly ecstatic from the destruction of fascism, the coming years of peace along with the successful defense of freedom. I just found a beer in a store. It is, however, a very good beer. It pours a light greenish-gold. On the nose, a very attractive mix of spicy, bitter and sweet greens. Romaine lettuce, arugula and honey. In the mouth, a light crisp body. More honey with a nip of hoppy heat. Bitterness both on the roof of the mouth and under the tongue. A little lighter finish. Reminds me of one of those confident light white wines in the sense that it makes its case calmly.

Local in the sense of 100% Ontario grown ingredients. Ontario is rather big, however, so you will have to judge what local might mean accordingly. $7.95 for 750ml of 5.3% ale. Unduly tepid praise from the BAers. RBers have a little more sense. PS: a post I wrote in 2006 about wet hop beers.

Some Words For Beer In The NY Times Over Time


Interesting to see that “craft beer” is such a post-2007 term – and one that has never quote achieved the heights that “microbrewery” did in the late 90s. “Gourmet beer” never did nuttin’ for no one. Thank God. Glad to see “good beer” has the staying power that simplicity and accuracy assures. Play this game yourself.

Why Does The NYT Perpetuate A US Craft Fiction?

Stan linked to a NYT opinion piece by Steve Hindy who is correctly identified as “a founder and the president of Brooklyn Brewery and a member of the Brewers Association board of directors.” I think it struck me a little differently from Stan. Consider this:

…state laws continue to empower distributors to select brands and manage them however they want — selling those they choose to sell, while letting other brands sit in their warehouses. The only recourse is to sue, and many small breweries lack even a fraction of the resources needed to take on a big distributor in court. As a result, they’re stuck with the bad distributor, which severely hampers their ability to perform and grow as a business. Buy a small brewer a beer, and pretty soon he or she will be regaling you with war stories about fights with distributors…

See what’s going on? Small brewers. No discussion about the different effect regulations have on actual small brewers compared to big national craft brewers like Brooklyn and the other oft cited Dogfish Head. As the owner of Notch Brewing, Chris Loring, recently shared with Max, the interests of big national craft are very much at odds with the interests of actual small and local breweries. The opinion piece, as would be expected from its source, references nothing of that. Gripes about regulations from state to state are only a burden to those business folk whose aims include 18 wheel transportation and national advertising campaigns.

So, while the title of the bit is “Free Craft Beer!” it really could better be “Unleash The Opportunity For Brewers With Scale!” We know what would happen were this sort of shift to occur. We’ve seen it before. It happened in North America in the 1860s to 1890s. It wasn’t that laws were change so much as the railway established itself. All over Ontario many many small brewers making good beer were crushed when previously local brewers like Labatt and Carling out of the southwestern town of London got their casks out of their towns and into the province, the nation and then the world. Yes, that Labatt and that Carling. Prohibition did not close the breweries. Advantages of scale did. The wiping away of borders and other obstacles did. As you can read in the article “The Canadian Brewing Industry’s Reponse to Prohibition 1874-1916” by Matthew J Bellemy in Brewing History, there were 61 breweries in Ontario at the turn of the twentieth century. There were 49 in 1915 and 23 two years later. The strictest form of temperance law imposed locally came into force in 1916. Historically, it is clear that beer and brewing likes a few things like peace and a good growing season. It also likes oligopoly. Beer responds well to aggregation. We know that because all big beer was once small.

Actual small, local and well made beer is antagonistic to oligopolistic economic forces. Actual small batch beer made by actual small brewers is easily crushed. By perpetuating the idea that there is that one homogenous thing called “craft beer” and “small brewers” we ignore that big commercial brewing enterprises are different. We cover over the fact that intra-national importing brewers moving beer coast to coast in the US like Brooklyn, Dogfish Head, Stone or Sierra Nevada pose as much or a greater danger to actual small brewers than Bud or – what ever is like Bud but not Bud – does. It is not wicked that this is the case… but it is a natural economic force. If you want to live in a world with brewers making good beer in every second town you may want to take what national and now exporting international craft argues with a healthy dose of skepticism. A healthy dose of skepticism actually pairs extremely well with actual small scale, local and good brewing.

Your Sunday Morning 1940s Ontario Beer Update


As Jordan and I wrap up the writing and rewriting of our book on the history of beer in Ontario, it is interesting to go back and revisit stretches I wrote a couple of months ago. Of all the bits in the book from 1610 to today, I had not expected the mid-1900s to be all that thrilling when we signed the publishing contract. Not the case. The pace of social change in the second quarter of the century alone occurring along with the advance of modernity could give you whiplash. Certainly at the heart of that time is the massive fact of World War II but the flow of cultural change was only accelerated by the war. This was reflected in both commercial restructuring of the beer market and shifts in public perception of the role of beer in the community.

Boak and Bailey invited us all to post some long writing this weekend so, in support of an increase in new long writing related to beer and brewing – including new forms of writing – I give you excerpts from a late draft of Ontario Beer: A Heady History of Brewing from the Great Lakes to the Hudson Bay. Final tweeks continue…

In 1927, at the close of the Province’s dalliance with prohibition, Brewers Warehousing Co. Ltd. was founded as a brewers’ distribution co-operative. The provincial government retained control of the sale of wine and spirits through the LCBO, but beer, with its lower alcohol content, could be distributed by the hundreds of mom-and-pop stores. Initially, the brewers were involved only in wholesale operations, jointly warehousing and distributing their product to stores operated by private contractors. But in 1940, the brewers bought out the contractors and took over the stores, changing their name to Brewers Retail Inc. The stores were later renamed, creatively, The Beer Store…

Labatt also took its place in the war effort. In 1943, it was reported that not only were patriotic efforts such as war bond drives undertaken but trucked shipments were moved back to railroads while a trade school for army motor mechanics was operated out of the brewery’s garage. The brewery also ran a series of weekly panel cartoons on good citizenship standards under the title “Isn’t It The Truth by TI-Jos”. Topics included household prudence, supporting price controls, rumour mongering as treason as well as the evils of the black market. In doing so, the brewery clearly was associating itself with middle class as well as patriotic values…

Wartime on the home front changed social attitudes to public beer drinking. Higher employment and earning levels increased disposable income. Hotels serving beer to men and women no longer carried a dangerous air so much as a patriotic one. Increased accommodation for beer sales also served the financial interests of business and governments during the war. Beer sales more than doubled during the war years and the Federal excise tax on each gallon of beer brewed increased by 36%. Further, a difference in the relative level of taxation in Ontario caused a significant shift in drinking patterns to beer from spirits.

Two forces combined to impose upon the expansion of beer sales in the second half of the war: a renewed temperance movement and resource scarcity. Under direction of the Prime Minister Mackenzie King, temperance as a countervailing patriotic theme was promoted causing a public clash between King and EP Taylor. At the same time, the national Wartime Prices and Trade Board imposed a quota system to distribute beer as it would other commodities which created shortages. In March 1943, when Kingston received an increased allocation to reflect troops being stationed there, other communities received a reduction in their share. Overall, a 90% reduction was imposed on beer distribution, beverage room hours were restricted and, as a result, the beer casks were dry when the night shift at the factory ended. Some took to wearing “No Beer – No Bonds” buttons.

After victory was won, the topic in one of the last editions of Labatt’s “Isn’t It The Truth” series was the return of the young soldier to the family home. When mother tells him there’s no rush to get a job, he replies “I’ve been doing a man’s job for four years. Now I am all ready to get going here at home.” Now, Labatt was associating itself with the sort of moral productivity that continued into the post war boom. Life in Ontario was a worth working hard for as well as fighting for. The brewery continued that theme in 1946 in a series of ads asking Ontarians to do all try can to make tourists from the United States feel welcome with hints from “a well-known Ontario hotelman” including that in business dealings, Canada’s reputation for courtesy and fairness “depends on you!”

The new economic opportunities led to changes in Ontario’s brewing industry addressing the need for consolidation and succession in light of financial success. In 1945, Canadian Breweries falls under Argus, E.P. Taylor’s larger holding company. After spending the first years of the war at the top levels of the British effort to maximize production, Taylor had returned home in 1942 exhausted to focus on Canada’s war efforts a member of National boards as well as to prepare for the future of his brewing empire. Well before the war had ended, he had given instructions to have modernization and expansion plans in place for facilities to be ready for brewing in Waterloo, Toronto and Ottawa as soon as the fighting ended. He also moved to secure assets in the malting industry as well as in an American brewery to reduce his exposure to Canadian government policies as he took steps to meet what he believed was a post war boom market for beer.

In December 1945, something happened in Ontario that had not occurred for over 30 years. A new brewery opened. The Peller Brewing Company in Hamilton. It was founded by Andrew Peller, a former brewer with the Cosgrove brewery who was backed by Hamilton businessmen. Although it operated independently for only eight years, the bricks and mortar brewing facility he built shows up a few more times in the province’s brewing history. Peller went on to open a daily newspaper in Hamilton that soon failed but moved on to create one of Canada’s first large scale wineries, makers of Baby Duck and Peller Estates brands. In brewing, he is perhaps best remembered for getting around the restriction on advertising by opening an ice company and plastering the brewery’s trucks and ads “Don’t Forget The Peller’s Ice” with the emphasis on the Peller.

The new Liquor Control laws of 1944 and 1947 divided the administrative functions of retailing alcohol from licensing. These changes created the fourth legal regime beer drinking Ontarians had to live with since the beginning of 1927. They represented a further unraveling of the temperance web of control but not an elimination. The LCBO was still able to announce in a publication in that year that there was no reason Ontarians should not be able to buy what they wished if they were law abiding and financially able. It was still the role of authorities to sift who was who. Changes to the law were brought in by another change in provincial government with the Liberals being replaced by the Conservatives of George Drew in 1943. The new laws brought in by Premier Drew sought to distance it from allegations of political patronage in the distribution of licenses and also to respond to public attitudes. In April 1944, a Gallup poll indicated that 73% of Ontarians now rejected any steps toward prohibition.

The brewing industry was interested in public opinion as well. In a private polling undertaken in 1946 and 1947, attitudes of Ontarians were measured related to beer ads in the media as well as the management of breweries and retail outlets for beer. The polling, conducted on behalf of Quebec brewers Molson, captured post war perceptions at a time of further changes to the province’s Liquor Control Act. A drop was noted from 90% to 80% on the question of whether beer was an intoxicating beverage. The shift was even bigger drop for those under 30. A great one-year jump of 40% to 88% was recorded for support for Brewers’ Retail stores with far higher marks for their management compared to hotel beverage rooms.

These opinion polls capture not only post war changes in public attitudes but also changes to the system of selling beer in Ontario which came into force on 1 January 1947. Announced the new further relaxed regulations, Attorney General Leslie Blackwell confirmed that throughout the war years beer consumption more than doubled from 24,000,000 gallons in 1939 to 51,000,000 in 1946. The old rules were described as restrictions which amounted to partial prohibition which were being “disobeyed by increasingly large numbers of otherwise law-abiding citizens.” Apparently the generation that wanted to get to work after fighting the war wanted a beer as well.

The changes in attitudes behind the polling reflects the social leveling that occurred through the years of economic depression followed by years of war. The hand of political influence was no longer an accepted norm. Nor was the moral superiority of your dry betters. Brewers were involved. Labatt was staking a claim for beer as a normal part of life by placing ads in newspapers asking for public support of the St. John’s Ambulance Society, sponsoring events like a UK food drive and organizing safe driving demonstrations at small town Legions…

At the end of the first half of the 20th century, Ontario was undergoing social transition. It was just a few years from the first human rights legislation protecting against discrimination in employment and accommodation. The Progressive Conservative party was still in the early years of a forty-two year run of uninterrupted power. The population of the province expanded over 20% in the 1940s and the economy was booming. E.P. Taylor controlled 50% of the provincial beer market compared to 20% for Labatt. At the century half way point, Ontario’s brewing industry and beer itself was changing to keep up with the race forward.