My most recent column in Planet S/Prairie Dog is sparking some controversy in the flat province (you can read it here). A while back my editors asked if I might do a piece on cheap beer (what the producers of those brands call “the value segment”). I hummed and hawed for a while since as a beer guy, I don’t spend a whole lot of time dealing in the discount end of the market. But they persisted and I finally relented.
As this is an article for two Saskatchewan papers, I focused on what was available in that province (which means Drummond and others who would otherwise deserve mention were omitted). I defined cheap beer as selling for less than $2 per bottle. The main macro brands run between $2.10 and $2.50 a bottle in Saskatchewan, so I wanted to capture brands that were intentionally aiming for the price conscious consumer.
I worked hard to make it clear I was not endorsing these beer, arguing that to get the price point down inevitably requires compromises on ingredients and process. However, not all cheap beer are created equal, and so I tried to point readers to some better examples of brands available.
Figuring high on that list is Great Western Brewing. Excluding their Original 16 series which is legitimately more craft-y, they generally play around in the value segment, as they own a large brewhouse and need to move quite a bit of beer to keep it economical. I also toss in Molson’s Old Style Pilsner, despite the misnomer style name, as I have always felt it is a step up from some of the other discount options out there. I also make the decision to scare people off Minhas products. For readers of this site it is no mystery that I am not favourably inclined to Minhas due to their marketing practices and low beer quality.
It appears this may have been a column that pleased no one. I have gotten some WTF comments from craft beer fans in province, while Minhas is none too pleased with me either. My editor says that Great Western wants to talk to me, as well. I am not sure why but my editor ominously suggests people don’t call when they are pleased. We are currently playing email tag.
Rather than scurry away and let the column fade from memory I am choosing to re-post it here. All I will say in my defense is that the so-called value segment is a valid and sizable portion of the beer market. Sure, it may not be beer for the experienced beer aficionado, but the world does not revolve around beer geeks. I figure if I can point beer consumers to locally made, relatively better quality beer than I am doing the beer world a favour. The men and women in this segment are very price aware. They simply won’t buy a beer that is three or four dollars a bottle. It is an exercise of meeting your audience from where they are, rather than where you prefer them to be.
Plus, in the coming months I am planning a couple of columns focusing on “transition beer”, beer that can take the value segment (or pale lager) drinker, when they are ready, from Old Style Pils or Canadian or Rickard’s Red to something more fully craft. That seems the next natural step.
For now I will take my lumps and drop any expectations of getting a Christmas card from Minhas this year.