No Signs of Intelligent Life on Planet Beer

Hey Lloyd, whatcha saving that Hennepin for?

For a day like today, when I went to the Danforth LCBO and couldn’t find a goddamn thing worth drinking.

The lone aisle that used to be devoted to bottled stuff, where you might luck in on a gem once in a while (like the lovely Matilda by Goose Island — which, though now owned by the Budweiser people, seems to have been allowed to keep doing what they’re doing), is now devoted completely to cider.

The other side, which held the so-called “imported craft beers” (cough, cough, Heineken) is full of stuff like Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Mott’s Caesars in a bottle, and those pre-mixed rum and Cokes (because apparently some people lack the skill, or the recipe, to make their own rum and Coke).

So I went into the cold room. Enough empty spaces in the shelves that I thought I was at the Broadview Loblaws. Lots of old reliables (like Muskoka, Neustadt, Black Creek, Flying Monkeys, King Brewery — even Steam Whistle, which is fucking ubiquitous) were nowhere to be found.

Funny, there’s no shortage of PBR, Budweiser or Molson Canadian. Or really shitty imports like DAB, Tuborg or Rolling Rock. Never out of stock on those.

So if you’re confronting the soul-crushing prospect of an afternoon on an exurban patio, with a relative you don’t much care for or a friend who was too nice not to invite the annoying neighbour who thinks Tim Hudak has some good ideas and that “the gays” really “stepped out of line” when they “went after” the Duck Dynasty guy (and which he seemingly only just heard about on Sun News Channel in a rare moment when they weren’t baiting the CBC), the world’s your oyster at the Danforth LCBO.

I guess they view themselves more as a “convenience” location for the locals. After all, look at the real estate around here. We can all just climb into our Volvo XC90s, BMW X5s and Toyota Highlanders (hybrid, of course) and motor on up to the urban big-box farm on Laird Drive (so handy to Longo’s) or to the Summerhill location. Can’t we?

Um, not all of us.

The irony is, we’ve got this big, shiny, suburban-looking liquor store that really ought to be surrounded by an acre or so of parking spaces. It promises a wider selection than the old 2,000-square-foot job we used to have. But it’s actually worse.

For me, the real “fuck you” moment came when I looked into a lonely corner of the cold room and saw a poster from an LCBO advertising campaign. As fate would have it, it was in French, perhaps for the benefit of the 5% of the Riverdale population who claim it as a mother tongue (certainly not for the children of the locals with the $800,000 mortgages and the Volvo XC90s, whose kids are almost certainly in French immersion; for their benefit, there are signs in both official languages warning that no one under 19 is even allowed to touch a bottle for fear that they become an alcoholic).

“Planète Bière,” it said.

Now, the LCBO’s branding renders that in English as “Beer World.” But I prefer the literal translation: Planet Beer.

Planet Beer? The Danforth LCBO isn’t even Beer Pluto.

(An exception should be made for the marketing machines known as Beau’s and Mill Street. Both make some excellent products, but they’re not all there is to beer in Ontario.)

With a provincial election campaign, I can’t imagine things changing. The NDP are beholden to the unions who represent the workers at the branch plants of the multinational megabrewers (InBev/Anheuser Busch, Sapporo and Coors) that control the sale of beer in this province. The Beer Store monopoly is also unionized. The Liberals’ attitude toward beer and liquor suggests their old name might’ve been the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. And the Conservatives won’t do anything to offend the multinationals who are their friends. Besides, it’s “not a priority.” Two hundred microbrewers in the province that can’t get their stuff to market, except through their on-site bottle shops and tap rooms. Some of them so small, they can’t afford proper brewing gear of their own, so they’re contracting out to slightly bigger operations. If something doesn’t change, though, they’ll never grow to the point that they’ll be able to really be their own bosses.

This is being sloughed off as a lifestyle or convenience issue, but it’s really an economic development issue. There are people out there who would love to create some jobs here in Ontario, pay some taxes, generate some spin-off economic activity, but they’re being shut out by government and big business, two constituencies that talk a big game about free markets, but in reality are deathly afraid of anything that’ll displace a single percentage point worth of market share.

Enough to drive a poor fellow to drink. Which is why I’m glad there were still a few Hennepins, from a recent trip to Buffalo, still kicking around.

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