Follow beer writer, Troy Burtch, as he explores the wonderful world of craft beer and the pubs that serve it. Great Canadian Beer is a place to come to catch up on beer news, read tasting notes, check out event listings, and for pub previews and reviews.


Monday, May 31, 2010

Mill Street and Dieu du Ciel On BNN

The Business News Network (BNN) recently ran a feature on Canadian craft beer and interviewed Mill Street's Brewmaster, Joel Manning, and Dieu du Ciel's Brewmaster and co-founder, Jean-Francois Gravel.

Unfortunately I cannot embed the video here, but please click on the links to view both video clips.

Jean-Francois Gravel
Joel Manning

Saturday, May 29, 2010

New Website - Denison's Brewing Co.

I ran into Denison's founding brewer and owner, Michael Hancock, at Wednesday's Brewers Plate where he mentioned that he recently created a new website for his brewery.  It looks great, with some quality photographs and links to bars that carry his legendary Weissbier and Dunkel, the site is nicely laid out and easy to navigate.

Check it out:

Friday, May 28, 2010

Samichlaus Label Geared Towards Children?

If you take a look at the front page of yesterday's National Post you'll notice the headline ' Santa' beer on Ontario's naughty list' which shed's some light on an ongoing struggle between the importers of world famous Samichlaus beer from Austria's Eggenberg Brewery and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO).

Those of us who follow the Ontario beer industry will have known about this issue for a number of years now, but the article penned by Drew Halfnight did a great job telling the rest of Ontario beer drinkers the real story; a story that should be told and needs to be heard.  I strongly encourage you to go read the article first (if you haven't already) before continuing with this post.......

**Before I continue, I must point out that I know the owners of Roland and Russell Importers, Vlado and Liliana Pavicic, very well, they are both good friends of mine**

At issue is the name/label of the beer, which as you can read in the letters below (which are very vague and don't really provide much information), was originally under the AGCO’s microscope long before the Pavicic’s began representing them here in Ontario.  Samichlaus translated in English means Santa Claus, which the AGCO have issue with, as well as the image on the label (old man).

Here’s where it gets confusing.  The AGCO first found the label in contravention of their advertising guidelines back in 2001 but the matter was dormant until recently.  A single individual lodged a complaint with the AGCO, who by law were forced to investigate and their finding is relayed to the Pavicic’s in the letters.

The LCBO is quoted in the article as saying that the beer was de-listed for commercial reasons and that it had nothing to do with the label, as they were not aware of the AGCO's stance.  It would seem that way; especially since the beer was purchased by the LCBO and sold through there retail system after 2001, even with the AGCO’s determination.

The LCBO, as we all know, work off the Social Responsibility tagline when determining whether or not a product’s label/name meets their own “internal requirements”.  The LCBO, who have been great recently with their beer selections, have no official documentation that the public (or importers/manufacturers) can view that outlines their reasoning for these requirements. 

The AGCO, if they find a product in contravention of their advertising guidelines, will only follow up with the importer/manufacturer and not the LCBO (unless the matter is of great concern).  So, the LCBO may be selling products that have been, or are currently in contravention of the AGCO’s guidelines.  And how do they decide which product they will investigate?  Complaints.  There is no pre-approval of names or labels.  They AGCO won’t investigate anything unless there is a complaint. The LCBO, however, sees all products when they get submitted and they may determine it doesn’t fit their requirements.  Still confusing?  I know, my head is hurting too.

This all means that two agencies are pretty much doing the same thing but could get two totally different outcomes and communication between the two doesn’t really exist.

What does all this mean for Samichlaus and Roland and Russell Imports?  Well, for starters, individuals will still be able to do private orders through Roland and Russell as the beer wouldn’t actually be sold through the Ontario liquor retail system (stores).  The AGCO have no issue with that, even though it wasn't spelled out in the correspondence to the Pavicic's.  However, the beer cannot be sold through in the LCBO unless the label/name of the beer is changed. 

But I thought I just said the AGCO couldn’t tell the LCBO which product they can and can’t sell?  I did, and they can’t (AGCO - licences, LCBO - retail), but Roland and Russell, as importers, must comply with the AGCO’s advertising requirements (as silly as they are) and this would include notifying the LCBO themselves, which would most likely result in the LCBO removing the item/s in question.  This is concerning for an agency such as Roland and Russell when the AGCO starts issuing pretty vague letters, as they are also the regulatory body that issues licences to importers (manufacturer's representative licence).

*On a side note*
If the Samichlaus label/name is in contravention of the AGCO’s advertising guidelines, one must wonder how the Old St. Nick’s Eggnog (spiced rum drink) seasonal release receives no complaints??  Look at the god damn label.

But why even lodge a complaint against a product?  If you have responsible service and educated parents, there is no need to, and there should be no need for two separate agencies telling people what can and can’t be drawn on a label!

*Please note that Lynda Clayton (author of the two letters before) has since retired from the AGCO*

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Returns For Leukemia Bottle Drive

If you have a bunch of empties sitting in your garage you may want to wait until this weekend to return them as the United Food & CommercialWorkers, Local 12R24, and The Beer Store are hosting the fifth annual Returns For Leukemia Bottle Drive across Ontario.  You may have heard the radio ad's featuring Mill Street's Steve Abrams talking about it? (Mill Street matching any donation made by consumers that return their Mill Street bottles on May 29th and 30th)

On Saturday and Sunday, return your empty beer, wine and spirit bottles to the Beer Store to help raise funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada.  Last year the Beer Store raised more than $830,000 and this year they'd like to top the $1 million mark.

Beer Store employees (union) and The Beer Store have raised more than $2.2 million in the last four years. Donate 100% of your returns or even just a portion, any little bit helps.  (Beer Store radio ad)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

New Steam Whistle Retro-Opener

Toronto's Steam Whistle Brewery is once again giving away retro bottle openers in suitcase twelve packs of their premium Pilsner.

Started on May 16th, individuals who purchase a case of Steam Whistle will find a new bottle opener, the sixth in an ongoing series of 'thank you's' to their customers.  The new opener was designed by Elton Clemente, the brewery's Art Director, who is also responsible for the design of the previous five.

Suitcase twelve packs can be purchased in Ontario at select Beer Store retail outlets, in Alberta at private liquor stores and at select British Columbia Cold Beer and Wine stores.

OCB Discovery Pack No. 5 - And Two New Members

The Ontario Craft Breweries (OCB) are getting ready to unleash the fifth instalment of their Discovery Pack series.

This nicely designed Discovery Pack is set to appear at select LCBO's in June (lcbo #183798).  The pack will feature four cans (two ales and two lagers), and will come complete with tasting notes.

The four beers: 
Muskoka Cottage Hefeweiss
Great Lakes Devil's Pale Ale
Wellington Trailhead Lager
Trafalgar - Elora Grand Lager

Discovery Pack 1, 2, 3, 4

In addition to the Discovery Pack launch, the OCB is pleased to announce the addition of two new members - F&M Brewery out of Guelph and Black Creek Historic Brewery out of Toronto.

6th Annual Spring Festival of Craft Breweries - This Friday...

C'est What is getting ready to host their 6th Annual Spring Festival of Craft Breweries and their line-up of eleven cask ales and thirty draught options (so far, more tba soon) sounds terrific.  

The popular one-night event gets underway this Friday (May 28th) at 5pm and will run until 10pm.  Admission is free and drink samples will only set you back a buck (most samples).

Cask Beers (11):
C'est What Al's Cask Ale
Black Oak Mucho Mango
Beau's Beaver River
Neustadt Big Dog Porter Extra
Granite Hopping Mad
Great Lakes Imperial Hefeweisen
Flying Monkeys Smash Bomb Atomic IPA
Duggan's Porter
F&M Stonehammer IPA
Wellington Anniversary Ale
Grand River Plowman Anniversary Ale.

Draught (30):
Amsterdam Spring Bock and Oranjeweiss, 
Barley Days Lager
Big Rock Warthog Ale
Black Oak Ten Bitter Years
C'est What Mother Pucker's Ginger Wheat, Coffee Porter and Steve's Dreaded Chocolate
Church-Key Weissenbitter
Cool Beer Spezial
Creemore Kellerbier
Durham Hop Addict
Grand River Raspberry Pils
Great Lakes Miami Weiss
Heritage Sargent Major
Hockley Valley Black & Tan
Hop City Lawnchair Weissbier
King Pilsbock
St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, McAuslan Cream Ale
Mill Street Lemon Tea Ale and Roggenbier
Muskoka Born Bitter IPA
Nickel Brook Strawberry Wheat and Gluten-free IPA
Railway City Dead Elephant Ale
Steam Whistle Pilsner
Unibroue Ephemere Cassis
Waupoos Cider
Peeler Cider

Ontario Cask IPA Challenge Starts Sunday

barVolo has released the official bracket for their 2nd annual Ontario Cask IPA challenge, which is set to begin this Sunday, May 30th. 

Round one will get underway at 12pm and will run until 8pm, a day after barVolo hosts their first ever Canadian Double IPA Challenge.  The Cask IPA Challenge will feature 22 IPA's produced by Ontario breweries across the province, an increase in participants that the 16 barVolo originally thought they would attract. 

Beers Included:
Division One: Toronto
Duggan Number 9 IPA 
vs. Black Creek IPA (TBA)

Great Lakes Red Neck IPA 
vs. Chesire Valley English IPA vs. Granite IPA

Black Oak Hop Bomb IPA 
vs. Great Lakes My Bitter Wife IPA vsMill St. IPA

Amsterdam Bone Shaker IPA 
vs. Granite Hopping Mad IPA vs. TBA

Division Two: Ontario
Country Durham Hop Addict IPA 
vs. Muskoka Cottage Born Bitter IPA

Church Key West Coast IPA 
vs. Flying Monkey Smash Bomb IPA vs. Grand River Plowman’s Anniversary IPA

Publican House Square Nail IPA 
vs. Beau’s Beaver River IPA vs. Durham XXX IPA

F&M Stonehammer IPA 
vs. Trafalgar IPA (TBA) vs. Scotch Irish Sgt.Major IPA 

**Volo would like to remind individuals that all beers will be served blind and will be disclosed the following day on their website. The top score from each beer pairing will advance to the next round. 

All beers will be available by the 1/4, 1/2 and full pint serving size
1/4 pint - $2.00 

1/2 pint -  $4.00 
Full Pint - $8.00 included tax.
Cash only - This is a 19+ event. 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ontario Craft Beer Week Website Launched

The Ontario Craft Beer Week (OCBW) website has officially launched.  The website,, features listings of just some of the events, which have been divided by region.

Jason Ellesmere of Cameron's Brewing Co., who is one of the organizers of the OCBW, stated that more events will be posted in due time, and more keep rolling in.  The website also offers readers a chance to win a $1,000 pub celebration by simply filling out a contest form.

Head over and check it out for yourself:

Contest Winner Announced - Wins Beer Wars DVD

TAPS: Canada's Beer Magazine has chosen a winner for the Beer Wars: Brewed in America DVD contest that ran over the course of seven days.

Matthew Pollard of was the lucky winner.  He will receive the DVD along with a copy of the Spring Issue of TAPS Beer Magazine.

Save the Date - Golden Tap Awards

Cass Enright, good friend and founder of Ontario's Premier Beer Resource, The Bar Towel, wants you to save the date for the 8th edition of the annual Golden Tap Awards (GTAs).  Enright confirmed that the popular awards event will take place on Saturday August 21st at Toronto's beerbistro with plans to make it bigger and better than years past.

This will mark the sixth year in a row that the GTA's have been held at beerbistro.  Last years event was a tremendous success, as there were lengthly line-ups just to get into the awards presentation with many Ontario brewing representatives in attendance.

As in past years (2007/08/09), the GTA's will again feature Editor's Circle awards which are determined by a select group of individuals.  These awards recognize outstanding achievements in the Ontario brewing industry and are separate from the main voting.

About the GTA's:
The Golden Tap Awards are a leading awards event recognizing the best craft beer achievements in Ontario.

Now in its eighth year, the Golden Tap Awards is a democratic awards event, with voting to take place online at Visitors to the web site can vote for any or all of the categories they wish, which include:

  • Best craft brewery in Ontario
  • Best cask-conditioned brewery in Ontario
  • Best pub in Ontario for draught beer selection
  • Best pub in Ontario for bottled beer selection
  • Best pub in Ontario for cask-conditioned ale
  • Best brewpub or tied house in Ontario
  • Best regularly-produced craft beer in Ontario
  • Best seasonal or specialty craft beer in Ontario
  • Best cask-conditioned ale in Ontario
The new cask awards are presented in partnership with CASK! Visit them at

**Past winners** (note 2009 winners are not posted - click here to view them)

Muskoka Cottage Brewery Installs A Pilot System

Bracebridge's Muskoka Cottage Brewery has recently installed a small pilot system into their expanding brewery with the intention of developing new recipes and creating new one-offs for public consumption. The first beer they intend on creating will be an IPA by the name "Born Bitter" and they also plan on trying to whip up a funky saison in the near future.

The beer made on the pilot system will only be available at the brewery; however, Great Lakes Brewery will be welcoming Muskoka into their brewery for their June Project X cask event (Thursday June 24th) taking place during the Ontario Craft Beer Week (OCBW), so you might be able to get a taste of one of their one-offs there.

More good news coming from an Ontario brewery.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

2010 BC Beer Awards

The first ever BC Beer Awards were announced on Friday night (May 14th) during the Vancouver Craft Beer Week (VCBW) and the entire list of winners is listed below.  Judging was done back in March by a mix certified judges and beer writers who sampled and rated more than 150 beers from all over British Columbia.   BC's Brewery Creek Liquor Store sponsored the awards.

Session Ales  
Gold - Golden Ale: Salt Spring Brewery
Silver - Garibaldi Honey Pale: Howe Sound Brewery
Bronze - Altitude Honey Lager: Whistler Brewery

Wheat Beers
Gold - Hill's Special: Yaletown Brewery
Silver - White Bark Wheat: Driftwood Brewery
Bronze - Ipanema: Steamworks Brewery

Gold - Hermans Dark Lager: Vancouver Island Brewery
Silver - OK Springs 1516: OK Spring Brewery
Bronze - Pilsner: Longwood Brewery

Gold -  Nut Brown Ale: Granville Island Brewery
Silver - Beaver Brown: Canoe Brewery
Bronze - Hophead 45: Tree Brewing

Pale Ales
Gold -  Red Racer ESB: Central City Brewery
Silver - Driftwood Ale: Driftwood Brewery
Bronze - Red Racer Pale: Central City Brewery

Other Dark
Gold -  Skookum Cascadian Brown Ale: Phillip's Brewery
Silver - Black Lager: OK Spring Brewery
Bronze - Bunny's Black & Tan: Fat Cat Brewery

Gold - Black Currant Lambic: Storm Brewery
Silver - Longboat Chocolate: Phillip's Brewery  
Bronze - Coconut Porter: Swan's Buckerfields        

Gold -  Brick & Beam IPA: Yaletown Brewery
Silver - Woodward's IPA: High Mountain Brewery
Bronze - Red Racer IPA: Central City Brewery

Gold - Hammer Imperial Stout: Phillip's Brewery
Silver - Keepers Stout: LightHouse Brewery
Bronze - Diamond Head: Howe Sound Brewery

Gold - Oud Bruin: Yaletown Brewery
Silver -Spiced Reserve: Tree Brewing
Bronze - Farmhand Saison: Driftwood Brewery

Gold - Old Cellar Dweller: Driftwood Brewery
Silver - Thor's Hammer: Central City Brewery
Bronze - Scotch Ale: Swan's Buckerfields

Overall WinnerYaletown Brick & Beam IPA

Monday, May 17, 2010

Q & A With Jed Corbeil - Session: A Craft Beer Festival

I've received a bunch of emails asking about Session: A Craft Beer Festival (posted below) that is set to take place on June 26th as part of the Ontario Craft Beer Week (OCBW), so I thought I'd get the answers straight from the mouth of Jed Corbeil, one of the organizers of the festival.

How many people you hope to attract? 
We hope to bring 3000 people to the event. We are trying to target true beer lovers by offering an exclusively craft-beer festival that highlights beer-food pairings, beer education, and a great atmosphere.  We are also encouraging restaurant and pub owners to attend to create new relationships with craft brewers and get more Craft Beer into establishments.

What does the cost of admission get you? 
The $35 ticket includes entry into the Pavillion, a limited edition glass Beer-Stein, and the opportunity to taste 25 craft breweries at their finest. We will have many great Ontario craft brewers, and are hoping to have a contingent of east-coast, west-coast, and quebec based brewers as well. 

How much will tokens be and what does one get you? 
Tokens are $1 each for a 4 ounce sample. 

How will Session: A Craft Beer Festival differ from the Toronto Festival of Beer (TFOB)?
The TFOB have done a great job building a festival that showcases beer as a summer beverage of choice. TFOB patrons have access to brands from all over the world. They will put more than 10 times the number of people through their gates in 4 days, as we plan to for our 1-day festival. Where they target the masses, we are looking to target a specific group of beer drinkers. We pride ourselves on a more local focus; our beer vendors are all craft brewers, and mostly come from within Ontario (all from Canada). Our food vendors are Toronto-based, and will be showcasing their products using local supply wherever possible. We feel our event will highlight the more sophisticated flavours of local craft beer in a smaller, more intimate atmosphere. True beer people will be able to see, taste and discuss the benefits of the craft industry while enjoying the company of those who love craft beer.

06.26.10 Session: A Craft Beer Festival

Jed Corbeil and Curt Dunlop, the passionate publicans of the charmed Griffin Gastropub in Bracebridge, ON and the organizers of the annual Muskoka Beer Festival, would like to invite you to their latest event - Session: A Craft beer Festival.  The festival, which is part of the Ontario Craft Beer Week (OCBW), is set to take place on Saturday June 26th at Toronto's beautiful Sunnyside Pavilion with the hope of attracting craft breweries from across Canada. 
It’s a sunny & warm Saturday.  A light breeze blows in off Lake Ontario.  The music is great, and the food challenges your palate.  Plus, you were just handed your new favourite beer…by the brewmaster who made it.   It’s Ontario Craft Beer Week, and you have access to over 75 local brews. 
You made the right decision.  
Forget fighting the traffic to the cottage this weekend, you still managed to wrestle yourself free from city congestion.
Amsterdam Brewing - Toronto, ON
Black Oak Brewing - Etobicoke, ON
Beau’s All Natural Brewing - Vankleek Hill, ON
Brick Brewing - Waterloo, ON
Cameron’s Brewing - Oakville, ON
Duggan's Brewery - Toronto, ON
Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery - Barrie, ON
Great Lakes Brewery - Etobicoke, ON
McAuslan Brewing - Montreal, QC
Mill Street Brewery - Toronto, ON
Muskoka Cottage Brewery - Bracebridge, ON
Nickel Brook Beers - Burlington, ON
Propellor Brewery - Halifax, NS
Thornbury Village Cidery - Thornbury, ON
Trafalger Brewing - Oakville, ON
Tree Brewing - Kelowna, BC
Unibroue - Chambly, QC
Wellington Brewing - Guelph, ON
**And more breweries will be announced as they join**
Rodney’s Oyster House
Leslieville Cheese Market
Sassy Lamb Specialty Cupcakes
Sunnyside Cafe
Chris Chambers Band
Mike Daley Trio
Diesel Dog
Mr. Rick & The Biscuits

It should be noted that the Sunnyside Pavillion are very excited to be hosting what they hope to be their first of many craft beer events.

SESSION: A Craft Beer Festival 
Saturday June 26th - 12 to 8 pm - $35 admission
Sunnyside Pavillion - 1755 Lake Shore Boulevard West, Toronto

Friday, May 14, 2010

Duggan's Brewery - Growlers Coming Soon

I was in Duggan's Brewery the other day for a lunch meeting and I had the opportunity to chat with Michael Duggan who was getting ready for a big brew day, and I got word that his highly anticipated growlers finally arrived and they should be available shortly.

No word on how they'll be available (re: poured at time of purchased or pre-poured) or how much they'll be, but at least they're on-site.

And just a reminder, Duggan's German Mai Festival starts today and runs until May 22nd.  The event celebrates German beer that Duggan has brewed (Kolsch, Mai Bock, German Pils, Weisse and Alt Bier) and traditional German food (bratwurst, warm apple crumble and peel & eat shrimp).  To kick things off Duggan's will be bringing in George Kash to do his thing tonight (he can chug a pint upside down without using his hands!).

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Meet Anat Baron....Beer Wars: Brewed in America

The following interview was published in the winter 2009/10 issue of TAPS: Canada's Beer Magazine (pg.18) and is being republished with permission.    

*If you read through the entire interview and you know the answer to the trivia question I placed at the end, () for a chance to win a copy of the movie on DVD on behalf of TAPS.  I'll announced the winner here this time next week, on the TAPS Twitter account, and on the TAPS Facebook site.  Good luck*

Back in April, hundreds of passionate American craft beer drinkers flocked to cinemas throughout the United States to watch Anat Baron’s first independent film, Beer Wars: Brewed in America.  The passionate and opinionated producer had once held the helm of General Manager for mike’s hard lemonade, and it was during this time that she became aware of the dominance the multi-national brewing companies had in the US marketplace, as well as in the political arena.   Inspired by the true stories of small craft breweries and their fight for survival, Baron left the beer industry, grabbed a camera, and set off to tell Americans the real story behind the ‘David vs. Goliath’ battle. 

Baron, a Canadian living in Los Angeles, follows Dogfish Head owner Sam Calagione and Moonshot owner Rhonda Kallman, highlighting their highs and lows as they compete for a piece of the pie against brands like Budweiser, Miller, and Coors Light.  The film also includes interviews with executives from Anheuser-Busch In/Bev, MillerCoors, along with many respected craft brewing pioneers and innovators, and also showcases America’s three-tiered distribution system. 

Where did you get the idea to make a documentary about the American beer industry?
Here’s the back-story. In 2001, an old friend asked me to consult for his new company – mike’s hard lemonade – that had just been launched nationally in the US. I ended up running the company for 3 years.  [For clarification, mike’s is sold as a beer in the US, it’s malt based.] After I left mike’s, I started thinking about making an independent film. I had prior experience making movies for television but wanted to try my hand at making a film without a committee. When I received an invitation to the annual beer industry convention (I was still on the list) and after some research, I realized that no one had ever made a film about the beer industry. Since I knew I’d have unparalleled access, I decided to go for it. I wish there was a sexier story behind it, but it was a spur of the moment decision.

What did you want to achieve with the documentary?
I had a sign in the edit room that said, “Why should I care?” It reminded me that the film had to move people to care about the issues. Ultimately, I believe that consumer choice is something that affects everyone, not only beer drinkers. When you have industries where control is held by very few behemoths, it often creates barriers for the smaller players and, in turn, for consumers. Look at retail and how Wal-Mart has impacted mom-and-pop stores or how Microsoft has dominated software. In beer, you have 80 percent of control held by two global entities — Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors — both created through multiple mergers and buyouts. Another 15 percent is controlled by more foreign companies including Heineken and Grupo Modelo (Corona). And, finally, 5 percent of the market is made up of independent brewers. Is consumer choice limited? Of course it is. Market domination allows the large brewers access to market, to media, etc., and ultimately limits competition.

How difficult was it getting the brewers to speak freely during filming?
I think that Michael Moore has made people leery of being on camera. I was surprised that even some of the small brewers (non corporate types) would say one thing off camera and yet be afraid to be controversial once they were on. Subjects (that’s what we call the real people in documentaries since we don’t use actors) are so much more educated about what can happen to what they say in the editing process. The corporate executives I interviewed gave pat answers. You can tell that they’d been coached. So it’s tough to get those candid perspectives. That’s why you shoot long interviews and get your subjects to drink a few beers…

In industries like music and film or even specialty retail, small players who are shut out of distribution have found a new outlet—the Internet—where they’re able to sell directly to consumers. This is not possible in beer because of the influence of the distributors who are very powerful politically and want to continue their dominance over how beer is distributed.

Beer Wars focused on Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione (who TAPS interviewed in the Spring 2008 issue) and Moonshot owner Rhonda Kallman.  How did you choose these two brewery owners out of the thousands that exist?
I knew that no one would care about a film like this without an emotional connection to characters, so from day one I went looking for subjects to be the anchors of the film. I knew that if the audience related to their journeys, they’d care about the overall message. I put on my casting hat in looking for my subjects. I wanted two divergent stories about two entrepreneurs on different journeys. I set up interviews with about 20 independent brewers, but the minute I met Sam and Rhonda, I knew I was done.

I picked Sam because he is an articulate, no bullshit guy’s guy who made these extreme beers out of his passion. And he had a story I could follow over a few years. When we met, he and his wife were expanding their brewery by taking out a $9 million loan. Since I selected Sam to be in the film, he’s become the poster child for the craft beer movement, so I chose well. He was even featured in a long piece in The New Yorker in November 2008.  

Rhonda’s story was interesting because here was someone who was at the top of her game. She co-founded the largest independent beer company in America (Boston Beer, maker of Sam Adams) and now set out to do it all over again. But this time all on her own. Her chosen beer — Moonshot — the first beer with caffeine—was intriguing. I had no idea if she’d make it. And she was truly in start-up mode, so her journey actually shows us the struggles of starting a new business in an industry dominated by giants.

I also brought in the subjects’ families because I wanted to show the impact that Sam and Rhonda’s choices have on their families. The business became their life. The risks they took affected their kids.

What was the biggest eye-opener you experienced throughout filming?
Since I’d come from the beer industry, I knew about the obstacles but I was unaware of the power of the beer lobby in Washington, DC. Attending their annual legislative conference was shocking. The access they had to politicians, the monies they spent, I kept asking why? It became clear that they wanted to keep things just the way they are.

Help us understand America’s three-tiered distribution system and how it affects small breweries.
Most people know that the US was “dry” during prohibition from 1920-1933. The three-tier system was created after prohibition and gave power to the states to regulate alcohol. As a result, there are over 37,000 beer laws in America today. Not a hurdle for the big guys with their teams of lawyers, but an issue for small players who want to expand outside their state.

The idea of three tiers came from pre-prohibition times when there were “tied houses.” These taverns would be owned by the brewer and therefore only served their brand of beer. So the idea was that adding middlemen — known as distributors — who would take the beer from the brewer and get it into retail outlets (stores and bars), would create a more competitive marketplace.

But as a result, all these years later, having a distributor in every congressional district has made them (the middle tier) a very powerful political force. So now you have the dominance of two very powerful global brewing conglomerates and these powerful distributors, and the small brewer trying to get access to consumers. It’s not a level playing field.

I think it’s time to re-examine the three-tier system 76 years after it was set up. After all, we have a totally different playing field: Dominance of the few and yet 1,500 small players, the Internet, the growth of farmers markets, the locavore movement and increasing consumer advocacy.

What has to change in the US beer industry to create a more balanced playing field?
Allow self-distribution for very small brewers (California and Colorado where it’s legal are huge craft beer states because the laws allow them to go directly to retail). Change outdated franchise laws (these laws govern the relationship between the brewer and the distributor and vary by state) that favor distributors, not small brewers. Allow Internet sales of beer. Since distributors spend millions every year lobbying for the status quo, the only way for these laws to change is for consumers to get engaged and become politically active in large numbers.

How successful were the one night screenings that were held throughout the country (US)?
We had a special one-night event called Beer Wars Live beamed via satellite to 440 theatres across America on April 16, 2009. It was not as successful as I’d hoped as far as turnout. I’m currently in litigation with National CineMedia and the 3 largest theatre chains in the US who were my “partners” for the event. I’m fighting my own David and Goliath battle. The good news is that screenings continue to take place across the country.

Will there be a follow up documentary years down the road?
I think it would be great to revisit not only the state of the beer industry and capitalism, but the 2 main characters – Sam and Rhonda and see what has changed for them.  Let’s just say that I’m not thinking that far ahead since I’m still focused on getting this movie to more people.

Each Canadian province seems to have different rules and regulations when it comes to selling beer.  Any interest in making a Canadian Beer Wars?
I’m Canadian and having lived in 3 different provinces (Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario) I’m well aware of the differences. There’s more government intervention in Canada on one level through their ownership of the retail segment (although there are some states where alcohol must be sold through state owned liquor stores) but you also have the dominance of foreign brewers.  I think it could be an interesting take but… I made Beer Wars using personal funds and loans. And I learned that in future, I should always go with someone else’s money! So if you know someone who wants to fund the Canadian version, I’m in.

Where can Canadians purchase a copy of Beer Wars?
The DVD is available on my website It includes the film and a panel discussion with the key players from the film that we shot the night of the live event.

Do you ever expect a job offer from Anheuser-Busch In/Bev (joking) ?
Now that’s funny.  The answer is… no. I don’t think they’re paying much attention to me. They’re busy with the takeover and world domination. 

**Trivia Question**
How many interviews did Anat set up with independent brewers before choosing Sam Calagione and Rhonda Kallman to follow around?

Email answer to - (winner will be chosen randomly and announced next week)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cheers to Vrienden - Beau's Welcomes Koningshoeven Brewers

Beau's All Natural Brewing Company was commissioned months ago by the Dutch Embassy in Ottawa to produce a unique beer to mark the 65th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands, and yesterday the beer flowed from the taps to mark the start of the festival of Dutch and Canadian Creative Culture, taking place at the House of Orange.

The beer, a 5.5% Belgian Style Wit produced using ingredients common to both Canada and the Netherlands (juniper berries and organic maple syrup), was given the Dutch name Vrienden, which translated in English means "friends." It was, in part, brewed in collaboration with Lodewijk Swinkels, brewmaster with the world famous De Koningshoeven Brewery.

Swinkels was to come to Beau's brewery to participate in the production of the beer with Beau's brewmaster, Matt O'Hara, but due to the Icelandic ash clouds Swinkels couldn't make the trek.  However, O'Hara kept in touch with Swinkels through phone conversations and email, and the beer was brewed according to the recipe the two brewmasters concocted. 

As mentioned, the Vrienden was officially launched yesterday at the House of Orange (56 Byward Market Square aka Mercury Lounge) were it will be available until May 23rd.  The beer will be making a special appearance tonight at the Dutch Embassy where Princess Margriet of the Netherlands will taste it for the first time, and rumour has it that her husband, Pieter van Vollenhoven, is well versed in 'good beer', so his review will be one worth obtaining.  Tomorrow the beer will be served at the home of the Governor General of Canada.

Video of Vrienden being poured into a Beau's glass yesterday:

Pic* L-R Beau's Steve Beauchesne, Koningshoeven's Lodewijk Swinkels  & Gijs Swinkels, Beau's Tim Beauchesne (pic and video submitted by Darren Stevens of Beau's)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Vancouver Craft Beer Week Kicks Off Today

Today marks the start of Canada's first ever beer week as the Vancouver Craft Beer Week (VCBW) kicks off today and will run until the 16th.  The VCBW organizers have put together a very impressive list of events, and based on their and postings, the event has attracted a lot of attention with many of the scheduled events either sold out or are about too.

There are 25+ breweries involved and 20+ venues, and as the organizing committee state on the website - no crap beer.  Also, there was a special beer (VCBW Collaboration Ale - West Coast Abbey Ale) brewed just for the VCBW that will be available at select locations throughout the week.  A special cask version will be tapped by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson tonight at 6pm to officially kick off the week.

Head to the VCBW website and browse through their event listings.

Here is the 'I Am A Canadian Craft Brewer' video once again that was put together by the VCBW.

from on .

Friday, May 7, 2010

3rd Annual Queen's Park OCB Tasting

Queen's Park was abuzz with excitement Tuesday evening as various member of Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB) poured samples of their product for Ontario MPPs, legislative staff, Canadian Brewerianist members and various media representatives during the 3rd Annual Tasting of OCB Beers hosted by the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, The Honourable Steve Peters.

There were 15 OCB breweries in attendance pouring over 48 beers from their portfolio's. The breweries were set up around the outside of the two rooms and a cheese table and food table joined them, offering invitees something to nosh on while roaming the room with glass in hand.

MPPs and their staffers were issued ballot cards upon entry, featuring the names of all the beers which were broken up into their respective styles, and they were encouraged to sample some of the beers before placing votes. The beers with the most votes in each category will be highlighted in the Legislative Dining Room for the remainder 2010 and part of 2011, and the Speaker himself chooses one beer known as the Speaker's Selection.

As mentioned, Tuesday's tasting was the 3rd such event in the Speakers initiative to showcase OCB beer in the Legislature. It is a great way to introduce MPPs to the breweries that may exist in their riding and allows them to get more familiar with the beers being produced in this province.

Speaker Peters gave a very passionate speech about craft beer during the tasting that received generous applause from the OCB members in the room (see video for small snippet). His willingness to talk openly about his views on the brewing industry in Ontario is very refreshing to hear and hopefully other MPPs will retain bits and pieces of his speech.

The winning OCB brands were selected in the following categories:
Golden Lagers & Pilsners:
Beau's All Natural Brewing Co. - Lug Tread Lagered Ale

Refreshing Ales:
Cameron's Brewing Co. - Cream Ale

Amber Lagers, Ales & Honey Beers:
Flying Monkey's Craft Brewery - Hoptical Illusion Almost Pale Ale

Malty Dark Lager or Ale:
Muskoka Cottage Brewery - Dark Ale

Bold Flavoured Ale, Stout or Porter:
Grand River Brewery - Plowman's Ale

Wheat Beer & Specialty:
Mill Street Brewery - Lemon Tea Beer

Speaker's Selection: Railway City Brewing - Dead Elephant Ale
*To honour the 125th anniversary of the fate of Jumbo, Speaker Peters has chosen Dead Elephant Ale from Railway City Brewing - a perfect combination of the Speaker's two great interests - Ontario product and Jumbo the elephant.

Click here to see the past winners of the Queen's Park Tasting of OCB beers.

Picture: Speaker Peters and OCB President John Hay

And shameless plug - The Spring Issue of 
TAPS: Canada's Beer Magazine features a four-page extensive interview with the Speaker.  We covered his love of breweriana, supporting locals, the brewing industry, and government relations with respect to breweries.

Read the full press release:

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