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Beer Geeks Branch Out

The Edmonton Beer Geeks Anonymous have launched their 2012-13 season in a spectacular way, announcing in their newsletter a couple of new initiatives. First is something that I think may be one of the coolest beer events yet. They have organized a beer tasting on an Edmonton Radial Railway Society’s (ERRS)  streetcar. For those of you not from Edmonton or unfamiliar with ERRS, they are a non-profit group who operate a small fleet of historic streetcars that run during the summer and fall between Old Strathcona and Jasper Avenue, running across the top of the High Level Bridge (an historic Edmonton landmark), and at Fort Edmonton Park. They have refurbished streetcars from the early 1900s, when Edmonton had an operating streetcar system, and are preserving the unique experience of streetcar travel. As for the event, beer will be served at the various stops, and the view from the High Level is unbelievable. The tasting is September 17 and tickets are $20 (which includes beer) in limited quantities.

They also have announced that they have started a beer rating system for Edmonton’s bars and pubs. Seen as a local supplement to online rating sites, the Geeks saw a need for a local rating system that, in their words, Edmontonians “have complete control over how different bars are rated, what criteria are used, and which bars even get a nod”.

The rating works on the following formula: 35% tap list; 35% bottle list; 20% serving and service; 10% staff knowledge. They toss in a 50% reduction in score if inducements are suspected. The final grade is translated into a letter grade, on a scale very similar to most school grading systems. For now the sponsors of the Geeks have preliminary ratings for 16 local pubs. As I cannot yet find this information on their website, without prejudice (meaning I neither endorse nor reject the content of the list) I reprint it below for your convenience:

Edmonton Beer Geeks Anonymous Beer Rating

Wunderbar – A+
Sugarbowl – A
Three Boars – A+
Next Act – B
Accent – B+
Pourhouse – C
Urban Diner – B+
Cha Island – A
Continental Treat – B
Hudsons – F
Ale Yard – F
Original Joe’s – D
Metro Billiards – C
Sherlock Holmes
– F

I am not going to comment, at this time, on the actual ratings themselves, because instead I want to first tackle the bigger question of a rating system in general.

This is a controversial step, in my mind. And to be frank, I am undecided as to how I feel about it. In my writing I have tried to advance the demand for quality beer pubs and in doing so have highlighted locations that I thought were doing good things and occasionally took others to task for missing the boat.  I have always been careful, however, to not say one place is better than another, or rank the various options. I try to offer information – sometimes sprinkled with editorial – but leave the final evaluation to others. I do this for two reasons.

First, I believe choosing a preferred watering hole is a subjective, complex decision that people will make for a variety of reasons, including non-beer reasons (such as atmosphere, proximity, familiarity, etc.), and I do not wish to over-simplify the process. Second, I try to keep my eye on the long game. Developing a beer culture takes time and it takes many steps to reach that goal. Some of those steps may frustrate a beer aficionado – such as a chain offering a couple of token craft taps amidst a sea of corporate beer. But they are all, in my opinion, parts of the process. If the presence of a comprehensive beer bar pressures some longtime mainstay to up its game, even just a bit, then that is a victory for good beer. The spate of new and about-to-open pubs with extensive tap lists is an example of that slow, steady progress. I am not sure that a hard rating system helps the process of moving beer forward, as I fear it may discourage partial steps.

But the Geeks are not me (although I do consider myself a “Friend of Geeks”). They are devoted fans of beer – consumers first and foremost. They are unencumbered, and thus free to rate, judge, evaluate and criticize as they see fit. If they want to express frustration at some mediocre bar, or call out a pub for not living up to its marketing hype, then they are well within their rights to do so. And in that context, more power to them! That uncompromising demand for quality beer (and the consumer dollars behind it) may have more impact on changing Edmonton’s beer culture than a decade’s worth of my ramblings. And that might make this poke-in-the-eye rating system a good thing. As you can see, I am not sure.

What I would like to see next is the Geeks placing the ratings (including the raw scores) on their website to promote discussion and debate about both the concept in general and the specific ratings they have calculated. Because, in my mind, that is where the real gain is to be made. Get people talking openly about what makes a good beer bar and engaging in lively debates about the relative merits and demerits of each location. That kind of back-and-forth can serve both beer consumers AND pub operators, for they can learn what it is beer drinkers want from their so-called craft beer pubs.




19 comments to Beer Geeks Branch Out

  • Kurtis

    I saw the rating system in the newsletter and liked the idea but am not entirely happy with the way they went about it. I would prefer to see the raw scores as well, but think it would be better if there was a way others could add their own reviews. This would make it a more community based system and possibly bring out some hidden gems that might be overlooked. Also comments as to why it scored what would help. Some pubs I liked scored lower that I would have, while others did better. That all being said I think it’s a step in the right direction, a local list rated by local drinkers.

  • At this time developing a rating system for local pubs was the next logical step to us. We took a small initial survey to ‘test the waters’ with the scheme stated above (and in our newsletter) without discourse.

    The goal, in time, is in fact to promote and encourage feedback from the community, both patrons and bars/pubs, though developing that kind of infrastructure takes both time and money. For now the rating system will explore and respond to all comments and criticism. We look forward to integrating the ideas based on a majority of opinion, perhaps with a voting system online (web developers?).

    To respond to Jason’s comment about the long-term goal of a healthy, thriving beer culture, it seems like this past year has not held to anything near a linear progression, when one considers the flurry of venues, availability of new product and increased industry exposure. Given this exponential growth we felt it time to have more of an organized voice from the community. Just consider what CAMRA has done both in the UK and even closer to home on the West coast.

    So, with all of that in mind, please don’t hesitate to contact us either via our social media feeds or our website. We look forward to the debate, but hopefully we can do it over a pint.

    Thanks for the post Jason.

  • Having never been to many of these establishments, but having heard good things about some of them that fared poorly, I want to know why places like MKT and Sherlock Holmes (both of which serve pretty decent beer that’s not widely available on draught) received an F. What does an F mean? Without the grading criteria more specifically spelled out, the grades are nearly meaningless. What does a bar like Hilltop Pub rate, if Sherlock Holmes is an F? Are we grading certain pubs and bars on different standards?

    I appreciate excellent beer, and appreciate reviews of beer, bars, and restaurants, but without knowing more than a simple letter, the information is not terribly useful.

    • SDot

      I suspect that MKT got hit with the 50% inducement penalty.

      It’s quite clear to me that from walking into that place that its under the thumb of the Macro Giants. Their selection and pricing isn’t as great as they would want you to believe either.

    • Paul

      In my opinion, MKT deserves that F. They do have some good beer on, but it’s too expensive, served ice cold, in tiny serving sizes. The place very obviously takes inducements. The food is horrible and the service when I’ve been there hasn’t been much better.

      The whole beer aspect feels like nothing more than an attempt by Century Group to cash in by copying Craft Beer Market (their menus are even designed the same) before they open their location downtown.

  • I agree with Kurtis. Even without the raw scores, it would be nice to see a brief write-up (2 – 3 sentences would probably suffice) explaining why each pub got the rating that it did.

  • Tico

    Think beer advocate website for bars? Just get yourself a IT/beer geek, there must be one out there!

  • I prefer promoting good beer and good pubs, and simply ignoring the stuff I don’t care for. Keep it positive! Promote and encourage those who do things right, and acknowledge those who are making steps to get better. That’s what beer advocacy is all about.

    Handing out “F ratings” to local businesses, with little to no explanation, nor opportunity for rebuttal/debate that an online community could offer, rubs me the wrong way.

    I could spend my whole life handing out Fs to people, places, music, TV shows, restaurants, shops, etc, or I could spend my time on the things I truly enjoy. As one of my favourite sayings goes, “life is to short to drink shitty beer.”


    • Paul

      I also think it’s strange to just slap a grade on them without any review or explanation, but if this is going to be a useful resource then it should evaluate all the spots in town, good or bad.

      If I was visiting Edmonton and didn’t know where to go for a good beer, I might end up at MKT (they have billboards all over) and be disappointed. A bad review, though, would keep me away.

      • There is already beeradvocate and ratebeer if you want ratings and reviews for pubs. The fact that the EBSGA are providing exclusively “local” ratings doesn’t really have a big attraction for me, as local ratings are likely to hold more bias (either positive/negative), as most local beer scenes are rather insular and based on personal relationships. With BA and RB, you get local reviews, but also reviews from travellers, which seems to provide a better overall assessment.

        In regards to: “If I was visiting Edmonton and didn’t know where to go for a good beer, I might end up at MKT (they have billboards all over) and be disappointed. A bad review, though, would keep me away.”

        Are you suggesting that EBSGA also has billboards all over the place? I think you are mixing things up. Anyone that relies on billboards to find good beer establishments in unfamiliar cities sure aint gonna be looking for EBSGA reviews of said establishments. If a true beer geek was to visit Edmonton for the first time, they’ll be all over RB or BA before getting there, look up the top rated establishments and visit them. So again, I say, “why even bother mentioning the F-rated establishments?”

        • Paul

          Maybe it would be better if they just published a list of “EBGA Approved Bars” or something like that. Could be cool, make stickers or signs or whatever that the bars could put up?

  • Mark

    Another thing – all y’all Edmonchuckians need to get over the whole “inducement is comparable to apartheid” thing too. It’s REALLY tiresome. Is this really ruining/holding back the beer scene up there?

    “They toss in a 50% reduction in score if inducements are suspected.” Wow, talk about a witch hunt. Hey Jason, better hope they don’t they don’t start publishing a list of suspected commies in the Edmonton area as well…

    Cheers from the free enterprise province next door,

    • Mark your province is not without inducements please get your facts straight. The comparisons to apartheid and McCarthyism whoa that is a stretch this is beer we are talking about. Your faux intelligence new Bohemian naval gazing is not impressing this industry insider.

      Although not totally familiar with your province Earls seemed to have a lot of Inbev graft, the boys at Winston’s told me that fake hand pump was Premier Brands graft, why is it you can only buy one brewery’s beer at a Roughriders game.

  • Anon

    The definition of inducement should be closely examined since a tap handle, glassware, and coasters generally fall into this definition. Never mind the umbrellas, aprons, bottle openers, paying for logos on menus, kicking in kegs for feature nights, etc.

    I doubt there’s a bar in Edmonton who doesn’t take these “inducements” already. It’s called selling beer.

    When you consider a well respected brewery like Tree offers yearly kickbacks for sales over a certain point where does that leave the good bars who carry them?

    And how is that different than Molson’s walking in the door and paying out $250 per tap line then fully supporting the bars who are stupid enough to fall for that.

  • The full rating system with sectional breakdown can be downloaded here:!local-pubs/bars

    We don’t have the user interface yet, but we’re working on it. For now, use the contact form if you want to get in touch with us.

  • Major piece on inducements in the Journal today: “Trouble brewing on Edmonton beer front”

  • Shane

    Inducements are a stain on our beer culture but I really can’t see them going away, enforcement or not. I think the macro brewers would even go so far as to set up separate corporations specifically for their inducement programs. There are just too many ways to get around the letter of the law if not the spirit of the inducement ban.

    I’m more interested in creating a level playing field. I grew up with the Brewers Retail abomination in Ontario so I am acutely sensitive to macro brewer legislative favoritism and bullying. I truly think the micros can compete if all things are equal, though real labeling laws listing corn as a adjunct ingredient would help for starters.

    I think the AGLC rules should be rebooted. Lets remove any reference to inducement bans from the rule books. At least it would be more fair than the current system. Lets allow all the innovative marketing scheme that folks like Brooklyn, Rogue, Anchor Steam, even Boston Beer have used in the US for years. Tulip glasses, beer mats, should all be legal. Remember, the micros have a superior product and a superior reputation.

    We live in a province though where the macros and the liquor stores chains are some of the largest donators to the PC Party. You even have some laws specifically created to assist Calgary based regional brewers founded by former party bag men. Makes it tough for the micros to break thru when the cards are stacked against them. Heck, a recent PC Party leadership candidate is now CEO of the largest liquor store chain in the province that is the biggest inducement magnet in the province and vehemently anti micro brew (and has rip off pricing). They like things just the way they are.

    Maybe the Wildrose Party can take up the challenge? It would definitely be worth their while from a political perspective to cut off the legs of their competitors largest funding bloc.

    What do you think?

  • Paul

    What a joke!!! I love how Wunderbar is at the top of the list with an A+ rating. What a coincidence that it just happens to be the headquarters of the EBGA and friends with the organizer. You talk about lack of integrity when it comes to inducements and yet this attempt to promote their own bar through this thinly veiled rating system is far more insulting! Shame on you!

    As for inducements, who cares! Inducements exist in every aspect of our life. In our grocery stores, in our doctor offices, in our schools, and even in our political offices; so why are we so righteous when it comes to the liquor industry. When the government owned the liquor stores in Alberta (and it is still this way in other government run provinces) they took inducements!! Distributors / producers paid the government for floor displays, promotions, shelf glorifiers, etc. However, once the market privatized these practices were considered illegal for two reasons 1) Because the government no longer benefitted from these payments and 2) The big players like Molson and Labatt’s did not want it. If a law like this was created they could then say “We would love to pay you _____ however it is illegal.” We all know that inducements continue but now the larger companies can be selective about who they give them to while at the same time hiding behind this law when it comes to smaller groups.

    The irony about all this “inducement” talk is that small brewers like Alley Kat, Yukon and Wild Rose are experiencing their greatest success in the last couple of years, not because of enforcing inducement policies but because customers are looking for something new and unique. The large brewers are terrified and this is demonstrated by all their attempts to look more “craft”-like and acquire smaller breweries. No longer are they battling one large foe but instead a wellspring of Canadian micro breweries and other imports from around the world. If you are a small brewer on the scene who is unable to survive in a market like that perhaps they should stop searching for external excuses and take responsibility for their own actions and business practices.

    Rather than trying to “police” what other bars are doing vote with your dollars and go to the establishments that you like and that serve your preferred products. As a consumer, if you don’t like what OJs or MKT (or any other establishment for that matter) has on tap or how they run their business… don’t go there! Do we really feel it is the job of EBGA to educate the masses? Are we really going to move from one mindless beer society that assumed drinking a specific beer would garner us a date, to another arrogant group that we are going to blindly follow like lemmings? How pretentious and obnoxious. If I happen to like Coors Light who are you to tell me I am wrong?! Beer is supposed to be fun and enjoyable, a truly non-exclusive social lubricant and yet your “wine-like” snobbery reeks of elitism.

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