For most of my life, I lived in Ontario — and for most of that time, I lived in the bedroom communities just east of Toronto. Of course, for all of that time, there were really only a couple of choices when it came to purchasing beer. Either I went to The Beer Store, where the selection was mostly limited to products from only the largest brewers, or I went to the LCBO, where the selection has grown significantly in the last decade but still only has small amounts of shelf space set aside for homegrown and specialty beers.
If I was really lucky, I had the opportunity to purchase directly from one of the many micro-breweries that have popped up in the province over the last 20 years. Living near Toronto, that wasn’t necessarily a chore, as it seems 80% of the micro-breweries in Ontario are within pissing distance of the country’s largest metropolitan centre.
To most beer drinkers in Ontario, the selection available at The Beer Store and LCBO are perfectly fine. Let’s face it. Most people who drink beer select brands from the likes of Molson, Labatt, Anheuser-Busch and other multi-national brewing companies. There’s nothing wrong with that. Former Beer In Canada contributor Rawl Chan will tell you to this day that his absolute most favourite beer of all time is Labatt 50. And there is certainly a large portion of the beer drinking population that has given its brand loyalty to one of the top-selling macro-lagers.
But for those with more, shall we say, refined tastes, the choice between a privately-owned, foreign monopoly and a government-owned all-in-one store for alcohol doesn’t cut it. It wasn’t until I “discovered” craft beer that I started to see the flaws in the system — and its unfairness. And for years now, I have been one of the many voices in the crowd asking for a third option, preferably one that either allowed for another beer store geared toward micro-brewed beers or an out-and-out privatization of the system.
These days, I make my home in the North, although I make several trips a year into Alberta — usually to Edmonton. Privatization of alcohol in Alberta has its good and bad points, but none of the big fears those opposed to Ontario liquor law changes seem to have come true in the western province.
As Ontario gears up to start pushing beer and wine into grocery stores, perhaps the only real concern is for the fans of micro-brewed beer. Only 300 of the more than 2,000 grocery stores in Ontario will be able to sell beer and wine, and that likely means it will be some of the largest stores in the province that end up doing so. And what are they going to sell? Why, the brands with the fastest turnover, of course. Canadian, Blue, Budweiser, you name it — those will be the brands appearing on grocery store shelves later this year; not Black Oak, Beau’s, Clifford and the like.
Once again, the Ontario craft beer fan will be left out and calling for change.