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Beer News! Beer News Everywhere!

The iconic Molson sign is coming down, replaced by a faux “microbrewery”

Wow! I go away for a week and the whole beer world turns upside down.

Okay, not really, but I am amazed at how many comment-worthy beer stories popped up in the last few days (I will write more about my trip to the Centre of the Universe in the coming days). So, without further ado and tangent let me get to them.

Story #1: “Micro” Brewery to open in old Molson Brewery

Tucked into an Edmonton Journal story last week (read here) was the news that the old Edmonton Molson brewery, shuttered in 2005 will soon be home to a new microbrewery. Kinda. Sorta. The journalist felt the lead was the removal of the iconic Molson sign that has sat atop the brewery for decades, and the fact that “a new Molson micro-brewery” was going to re-purpose the first floor of the historic building merely mentioned a one-line, uncritical mention.

I appreciate the sign’s demise is of some note, although it sounds like it will be replaced with a replica, but the real story here is that Molson is deigning to open something it calls a “microbrewery”, aimed at “craft beers”. I have for a while grumbled that the so-called Brewery District (as the new development going up on the old Molson lands is called) doesn’t even have a brewery in it. But this isn’t what I was hoping for.

Molson hasn’t released any details on the plan and so I don’t know what kind of brewery they are putting in. My guess, however, is that it will look a lot like Batch in Toronto, which is their so-called urban”craft” brewery. Batch has a small brewhouse that makes in-house beer which are supplemented by the stable of Creemore beer (who are owned by Molson).  I wonder if the Edmonton location will be Granville rather than Creemore. I didn’t get to Batch in my recent trip but did make a visit back when it was called Beer Academy (read my post about it here) and the beer was quality stuff. So the beer is not the concern. It is their gall at calling it a microbrewery. Nothing from Molson can claim that title.

I get quite torn about the big boys opening brewpubs and small-scale breweries (such as Mill Street). But the thing i am clear about is that they are definitely not micros.

Story #2: Trade Challenge Hearing

Artisan Ales’ trade challenge through the Agreement on Internal Trade against Alberta’s beer mark-up policy went to hearing last week (read the story here). You can see the background on this challenge here. There isn’t a whole lot of new info in the story, but it does highlight that Artisan Ales, an importer who specializes in Quebec craft breweries including Dieu Du Ciel, has experienced a 40% drop in its sales since the policy change. The challenge is being supported by the right wing Canadian Constitution Foundation. The panel is expected to issue its ruling within the next two months.

This challenge is separate from the lawsuits launched by Steam Whistle and Great Western Brewing which are slated to go hearing later this month.

So stay tuned for more interesting developments on the beer mark-up lawsuit front.

Story #3: AB-Inbev Buys Part of Ratebeer

On Friday it came out that beer mega-conglomerate AB-Inbev (more accurately their IT investment arm) has bought into beer rating website No details on dollar amounts or what percentage of the company it now owns were released. And the deal apparently went down last December and Ratebeer’s owner only came clean last week.

Initial reaction seems to be ranging from yawns to shouted declarations of “sell-out”. The reality is none of us know what this means because this is the first of its kind. Its significance lies in that the corporate boys, who have long been scooping up breweries to add to their portfolio, now seem to be looking at some of the ancillary aspects of the craft beer industry.

Will suddenly ratings of AB-Inbev beer go up? Will criticisms of the big boys by raters be censored? No. AB-Inbev isn’t that stupid. They know sites like Ratebeer live on their reputation for creating a space for honest assessment. They want a return on their investment, not a shallow faux-approval of their products. That said, I think we should expect changes. More ads? Definitely. A slightly more corporate feel to the site? Likely. Subtle ways of promoting AB-Inbev products? Not out of the question.

I don’t really participate in ratebeer, beeradvocate or those kind of sites, although I do go to them from time to time for research. I find ratebeer’s city places ratings useful when traveling, for example. This isn’t the most earth-shattering news on the planet, but I think it is worth noting because anytime the big boys delve into a new area, we should all pay attention because we should know it is just the beginning. This won’t be the last website investment we see from the big boys. Mark my words.

Story #4: Stampede Welcomes Craft

The last story is a good news story. The Calgary Stampede announced on Friday that it will have a location on the Stampede grounds that offer Alberta craft beer (read the announcement here). Just one location, mind you, apparently called The Big Four Station. They say it will have beer from 23 Alberta breweries – no announcement of which ones – plus select Ab-Inbev product.

I chalk this announcement up as a victory for the Alberta Small Brewers’ Association, which made a small ruckus during last year’s Stampede about the lack of local beer. While it is only one location, we can’t under-estimate the significance of this agreement. AB-Inbev has had an exclusivity agreement for years with the Stampede, which has both enriched the Stampede’s coffers and ensured a monopoly for AB-Inbev’s beer. That the Stampede and AB-Inbev responded to the pressure (and you have to know AB-Inbev is part of why this development happened) is encouraging.

My hope is that it opens the door to similar types of deals at other events. I have long argued that we can balance non-profit events’ need for revenue with consumers’ desire for variety. The financial sponsor can receive the attention through banners, ads, credit and so forth. They can even have the majority of the beer on offer. Just give some space to others. I don’t want to undermine important non-profit organizations but the time  has come to offer a wider range of beer offerings for attendees.

My personal project is the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, long a Big Rock exclusive zone. Hopefully we soon see some Edmonton breweries being served along side Trad and Grasshopper.

That is all the news that is fit to post. At least for now. Stay tuned for updates.

3 comments to Beer News! Beer News Everywhere!

  • Owen

    I see the Molson micro and the Stampede news as two aspects of the same story. Both show a big brewer trying to gain some cachet by looking crafty. I can guarantee that InBev crafty brands will be pouring alongside the real small brewers at the Stampede, and relying on the average consumer to assume that Shock Top is the same thing as Cold Garden.

  • NH

    I don’t know if it’s uncouth to post a link to someone else’s point, but Sam Calagione had some interesting things to say about AB/InBev and Ratebeer. I think it’s great and I hope other brewers follow suit.

    If AB?Inbev ever buys a portion of, I will stop visiting this site as well.. and then I will drink myself into a heavy slumber.

    There are very few things that AB/Inbev can do that I will support. If it’s good for them, it’s probably not good for us.

    • beerguy

      It is totally couth.

      And, trust me, onbeer will never sell to AB-Inbev. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t listen to offers from other, non-world dominating investors. 😉

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