What Does Craft Beer Look Like In 2019?
Hello! To those of you who don’t know me, I’m Nathan! There’s a chance you might recognize me from @NathanDoesBeer (IG and Twitter). As this is my first post on the BAOS blog I’ll give a quick introduction. I met Cee over beers (naturally) at Dieu du Ciel in Montreal in 2016. We’ve since become friends, as have the rest of the BAOS crew. We’ve attended festivals together, I’ve appeared in a couple videos, and we’ve generally had a good fun time sharing our love of craft beer. We’re also both avid milkshake IPA enthusiasts and founding members of @TeamLactose, admittedly the silliest thing either of us did in 2018. I call Ottawa home, and as such am a fanboy of Dominion City, Beyond the Pale, and Tooth and Nail, to name just a few of the growing list of fantastic breweries in my hometown. But I drink and talk about beer from all across Ontario, Québec and anywhere else I’m lucky enough to travel to.
For my first post, rather than drill down on a single topic I thought I’d just talk about a few observations from 2018 and a bit of what I hope to see in 2019 and beyond. Let’s get into it, shall we?
Breweries becoming community fixtures
It’s heartwarming to see breweries become part of their community. They can become places where people gather for after-work drinks, where students go with their laptops to study, where parents can bring their kids to meet with friends, where people will show up to play cards or board games, and places that will host trivia nights and other events. They even end up working with other local businesses like coffee roasters or ice cream shops on collaborations and events. Sometimes in these ways they end up filling a void in their neighborhood. This seems to almost be becoming the new norm in Ontario as opposed to the exception, and I’d love to see this trend continue.
One local success story by this measure has been Flora Hall Brewing in Centretown, Ottawa. They’ve only been open a little over a year now and will pack in a full crowd on any work night. With a full suite of mainstay styles and usually a couple of one-offs, they’ve got something for any palate. Another box they check is having a good selection of wine and ciders available for non-beer drinkers. This in particular helps make it feel like a community hub because any group of friends can go there and everyone, beer drinker or not, feels like they have something to choose from.
Changing how beer is sold
Perhaps one of the biggest movements in beer retail sales in Ontario in 2018 was the explosion of online stores. A few breweries have used this model for a couple of years now, such as Collective Arts, Beau’s (Ottawa area only) and perhaps most notably Half Hours on Earth, who promote their online shop as their primary retail method given their remote location in Seaforth, ON. Twenty eighteen saw a massive influx of breweries adopting the system, including Toronto’s highly sought after (and known BAOS favourite) Bellwoods Brewery. There are now over 50 Ontario breweries offering this service to ship beer anywhere in the province via Canada Post, with some offering shipping as low as $10 flat (Blood Brothers in Toronto).
This is unquestionably a fantastic way for Ontario’s craft brewers to get their product to consumers who don’t have access to them locally, but there’s no denying that the province still has a long way to go to improve how beer is sold. The LCBO remains the easiest way for most consumers in the province to access craft beer outside of their local breweries, yet it can be a hassle and a significant expense for brewers to get their product on LCBO shelves. Some stores treat their craft beer better than others, not all stores keep their craft selection refrigerated, and even if they do, unless the breweries are delivering their beer themselves, it will inevitably end up spending time waiting on an unrefrigerated warehouse shelf.
While yes, it is true that we have had grocery store beer sales in Ontario for a few years now, this remains a very small step forward in a VERY long way the province still has to go to modernize. Which grocery stores get beer licenses remains tightly restricted by the province, and the craft selection for the most part is pretty uniform, with a few exceptions as there are some grocery store managers who are clearly passionate and work to get product on their shelves you can’t get elsewhere (Brown’s Your Independent Grocer). All of this aside, it’s still not the solution that most brewers and consumers wanted. There’s still no ability for breweries to sell other brewer’s products in their bottle shops, no flexibility to open secondary retail locations where they aren’t physically brewing, and no ability for passionate enthusiasts to open up private specialty craft beer stores like we see in Québec or much of the United States. I’m lucky to live a short drive from Gatineau where I can get to craft beer stores like Broue Ha Ha, and Cee and Tiff have Depanneur Peluso in Montreal, both of which are a Québec craft beer lovers paradise. But I would love to see this happen in Ontario too - a long shot I know, but a man can dream!
* I focused mainly on the Ontario market here, as it’s where I live, and as such is the market I’m most familiar with. There are certainly many developments that have been made in other provinces and markets beyond, and many more still to be made, and I’d love to explore those markets more in depth too.
Inclusion and Diversity
This will barely scratch the surface of the importance of inclusion and diversity in beer, but I had to mention it for the important accomplishments of 2018, and to highlight that we need to not take our feet off the gas in 2019. This is a conversation that continues to spread and it is inspiring to see it gaining more and more traction throughout the industry. It’s a simple thing to say that beer is for everyone, not just straight, bearded white guys. It’s for women, people of colour, LGBTQ, EVERYONE! Again, it’s a simple thing to say, and it seems obvious, but it’s undeniable where the vast majority of representation in the industry still sits. Twenty eighteen saw some great attention on this conversation. Ontario’s own Ren Navarro started Beer. Diversity. and gives talks at breweries and events across the province, educating and advocating for diversity in the industry. Among all her appearances last year she was featured in episode 81 of the podcast, and on an episode of Hops & Bros. There’s already big news for 2019, which is that she’s been invited to speak at the Craft Brewers Conference in Denver as the sole Canadian on a panel discussing diversity in beer. Ren is an absolute boss doing extremely important work in the industry, and it’s outstanding that she was invited to participate in this event. On that note, you should absolutely check out her gofundme and consider supporting to help get her there! There are lots of other great people shining a light on the need for inclusion and diversity in craft beer, such as the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies in Ontario, Dope & Dank in California, and many more. Twenty eighteen was a good year for this conversation but the industry still has a long way to go. Let’s make 2019 a great year for it!
More conversation, less hostility
There’s no question that beer creates conversation, especially with the industry moving as fast as it is, and that’s a good thing! There’s a lot going on and a vast community itching to talk about it, and we should talk about it! Conversation about beer should be encouraged. Of course, not everyone is going to agree on everything. Everyone’s taste will always be their own, and just like anything else that people are passionate about, opinions can often run hot and sometimes it turns ugly. It’s fine to disagree, but we have to find ways of letting that drive discussion, rather than have it turn into outright disdain.
For instance, it’s ok for everyone to like what they like, and dislike what they dislike! This idea seems obvious and straightforward enough, but there will always be certain beers or certain styles that end up being very divisive. Chances are you already know what I’m talking about. The most obvious examples are everyone’s favourite adjunct styles, pumpkin ales, and milkshake IPAs. Well no, not EVERYONE’s favourite - that’s the whole point! They are the kind of styles that most people either love or hate. Very rarely is there a middle ground. It’s this exact division of taste which gave rise to the whole Team Lactose versus Team No Lactose “debate”. Cee and I (and the rest of the BAOS fam) LOVE a good milkshake IPA, and as such are strongly Team Lactose! Many others, including our friends Chris from Hops & Bros, and Noah of Beerism, sit pretty firmly in Team No Lactose.
I said “debate” in quotes because we don’t look at it as a real debate. While we like to tease and give each other shit for our chosen sides, and it is often presented as a Twitter battle between the two, we try to be pretty clear that it’s all in good fun. Everyone’s taste is their own, and you should talk about what you like, and what you dislike, too! That’s fine! No one’s forcing anyone to drink pumpkin ales if you don’t like them. There will always be marzens, festbiers and harvest ales. Just cause we’re Team Lactose doesn’t mean anyone else has to be. If you don’t like milkshake IPAs, there are lots of great west coast IPAs out there to enjoy! I don’t personally enjoy every variation or new adjunct that gets used in a new style, but I’m in favour of breweries being creative and innovative. Pumpkin beers are never going to get rid of traditional fall styles, and milkshake IPAs are never going to replace clear, piney, tropical IPAs. Don’t get angry that breweries are making them. There are styles for all of us to enjoy.
So there you have it! A look back on the past year, and a look forward into the new. Thank you so much for reading! I hope to be posting on here semi-regularly. We’ll see how things go. What are your thoughts on 2018? What are you looking forward to in 2019? What’s your favourite brewery that’s become a fixture in your community? Are you #TeamLactose or #TeamNoLactose?