My latest Planet S column takes a look at so-called “regional brands”, their history and how that rich tradition has been usurped by the big corporate brewers for marketing purposes. You can read the column here. Because it is written for a Saskatchewan paper, I emphasize three so-called regional beer sold in Saskatchewan – Lethbridge Pils, Calgary Beer, and Bohemian Lager.
I walk through their true historical origins and point out that every single one of them is now a Molson-owned property, brewed in Vancouver or even further flung locations. My point is a basic one: these are beer that resemble their history in only one way – the name. Okay, maybe two. The name and the label. Everything else is different. Certainly the ownership has changed hands, sometimes multiple times, since the beer could last call itself truly local.
But the beer is radically different too. All are now part of the discount market, meaning they are so light-bodied as to be watery, laden with corn syrup and probably only had hops waved over the brew kettle (I exaggerate, but the IBUs are stunningly low). I would require some evidence before I believe that the beer are actually DIFFERENT recipes these days.
The three I highlight all happen to be Molson properties, but Labatt (AB-INBEV) has its share as well. And every region has these same pseudo-regional beer. A brand only available in a particular province that once had a real connection with the region, but no longer. However, there is enough nostalgia to keep new generations of drinkers buying it, thinking they are drinking the same beer their grandfather (or grandmother – I remember my grandma in Toronto sitting down with a pack of Export A’s and a case of Red Cap to watch her evening television shows). Of course they aren’t, but it is good for sales.
One correction from the column. I finish the article with a hat tip to “real” local breweries, such as Paddock Wood. Somehow (not sure if it was me or the editor) Great Western got downgraded to a parenthetical aside. That is an oversight. They legitimately can claim to be a prairie regional brewer, making beer for Saskatchewan and other prairie provinces. Much of it might be in the same segment of the market as the pseudo-regional brands, but that doesn’t make it any less authentic.