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Monday, February 1, 2010

Meet Gary McMullen: Chair of the Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB)

The following interview, minus the intro, appeared in the fall issue of TAPS: Canada's Beer Magazine alongside an interview with the President of the Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB), John Hay.

McMullen founded the Muskoka Cottage Brewery in Bracebridge, ON in 1996 with his friend Kirk Evans, who unfortunately passed away after the brewery was up and running. Over the thirteen years the brewery has been operating Ontario residents have been able to drink the likes of a Weissbier, Cream Ale, Dark Ale, and a Premium Lager, all of which continue to bring in medals at the annual Canadian Brewing Awards. This fall the brewery released their first seasonal in years with a Harvest Ale, a beer I found to be quite well done with a nice hop bite, good malt balance and very sessionable.

On top of running his brewery, McMullen also serves as the Chair of the OCB. The interview focuses mainly on his work in that capacity.

How long have you served as Chair of the Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB) - Ontario Small Brewers Association?
I have been Chair of the Ontario Craft Brewers since 2005.

What does your role as Chair of the OCB entail?
I work closely with our President, John Hay, the Board of the Association and our members to continue to form and guide the strategic direction of the Ontario Craft Brewers. Also, there is always time invested in working with our membership to understand their concerns and ideas and to help them gain a better understanding of the political/regulatory environment that our industry operates in. When you get more than 25 entrepreneurial organizations sitting around a table, it can be a real challenge to find the right balance sometime. But this entrepreneurial flare and the differing views of our membership is a big part of what makes us so special and unique.

What has been your proudest achievement while serving the OCB?
As an Association, we have taken some great steps forward in the areas of taxation policy and over all regulatory environment, and I am proud to have been part of the team that brought these events to positive conclusions. However, I think one of the proudest moments for me was when we officially formed the Association. At that time I was heading up the finance area and Howard Thompson was Chair. I always take great pride when a new member joins our Association. They see the value that has been created....

You're not only the Chair of the OCB, you are also the brewer and owner of Lakes of Muskoka Brewery in Bracebridge, ON. How do you handle all the responsibilities?
Busy for sure! There is always more to do than the time allotted! But the truth is that I have been able to surround myself with great people. This makes my responsibilities both manageable and also enjoyable and satisfying. Working with John Hay (President of the Association) makes the job of Chair very manageable. John is a consummate professional - well respected, and he is always moving our objectives forward. Inside Muskoka Cottage Brewery I now have a great management team who really keep the ship going in the right direction... I am grateful for that.

What does the next six months look like for the OCB?
The fall is always a time for our Association to stop (for a second) and take a look in the rear-view mirror to see how we have attacked our plans and to re-check our collective views on the future. We will have many discussions and the culmination will be a refreshed focus on the near-term objectives for the current year, and a 'clearer' view into the Crystal Ball of the great future of our Association and its members.

We will work closely with the government on taxation policy, access to retail opportunities for our members, and as always we will work to continue to educate our members on these issues.

How successful have the OCB Mixed Discovery Packs been?
The Discovery Pack has been extremely successful for our association. Our Marketing Committee, which is chaired by Peter Bulut Jr. from Great Lakes Brewery, has done a tremendous job bringing the Discovery pack to the very successful stage that it’s at now. Thanks Peter!

Name some goals you would like to accomplish before your position as Chair ends.
Well the sun is setting on my term as Chair! A new Chair should be in position prior to Christmas of this year. A few of the items we have focused on over the past several months include changes to the membership structure, which will accommodate the growing and diverse membership; continue to work closely with the government of Ontario on key opportunities to improve the ability of our members to compete in a lop-sided marketplace, and the successful implementation of a modified association structure with fewer committees and twice monthly executive teleconference meetings - which is open to all members!

Describe the relationship between the current Provincial Liberal government and the OCB?
We have a very positive working relationship with the Government of Ontario. I believe that they have come to know our Association as a forward thinking organization that comes to them with solutions rather than problems. We will continue to engage the government on key opportunities such as better access to retail for our members. This can be a win for consumers, the government themselves, and our members. The concept of a beer retailing system (The Beer Store) owned by three multi-national companies (all foreign controlled), with limited oversight is quite frankly unacceptable and unsustainable in the modern world. There are ample solutions that can work for all stakeholders and we all need to keep working to find them.

So you think the government could be doing more to assist Ontario craft breweries with sales?
The Ontario government is very supportive of the craft brewing industry and the LCBO is a great environment to expose consumers to our products and to build awareness of our brands. We work closely with the LCBO on programs and opportunities to grow our members volume. We appreciate this positive working relationship. Nonetheless, it is my personal opinion that in order for craft brewers to be able to achieve their true potential, the retailing system in Ontario will need to change. The reality is that the majority of the beer in Ontario is sold through a system that is owned by the three largest competitors. If the political will is not there to change The Beer Store, or to provide more transparency, then other non-government owned competition needs to be explored. There are many positive options that can be explored.

What is the main purpose of the OCB?
The main purpose of the Association is to promote the interests and activities of craft brewers in Ontario, and to provide a forum for the discussion of issues of importance or interest to the industry and its members, and to share information and opinions for the mutual benefit of industry members.

How beneficial was that $8 million Ontario Craft Brewers Opportunity fund to the 25 members of the OCB?
The Fund is very helpful to our members and we appreciate the support that the government is providing. Craft brewers have roughly 20% of the jobs in the Ontario beer industry right now, and we are continuing to grow and attract investment dollars. I believe that the opportunity fund is a great investment for the government. In a tough economic environment craft brewers continue to grow and create jobs - both in the major urban centres and also in small town Ontario. Imagine what we could do with say, oh, a few Craft Beer Stores!

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