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December 7 - Vintages to cease beer importation

The Bar Towel has learned that Vintages, the premium wine and spirits division of the LCBO, will cease to import beer by the summer of 2001.

Vintages will continue to honour all outstanding purchase orders for the next few months. However, by the summer of 2001, new beers will no longer appear in monthly Vintages releases.

Vintages has released in Ontario over the past year such fine beers as the McAuslan Vintage Ale from Quebec, the Boon lambics and Alexander Rodenbach from Belgium, Wild Irish Rogue and Ommegang from the United States, and Traquair House Ale from Scotland.

The beer importing responsibility is being shifted from Vintages to the Beer and Special Markets Category of the LCBO. This division currently buys the beers released through the LCBO (non-Vintages). Recent imports through this division include XO Beer, George Gale Prize Old Ale and St. Peter's Winter Ale.

What does this mean to Ontario beer connoisseurs? It is hard to say at this point. The LCBO recognizes the importance of super-premium brands to the Ontario marketplace, and plans to continue releasing such beers through the Beer and Special Markets Category. However, this division has not released the same caliber of interesting and unique beers as Vintages has in the past. Further, certain beers that have been annual Vintages releases in the past have not been renewed for 2001. Time will tell how this decision will affect the selection Ontario beer drinkers have grown accustomed to in recent years.

Although beers will no longer be appearing in the monthly Vintages releases, beers will continue to be imported on a regular basis through the Beer and Special Markets Category. The Bar Towel will continue to post new beer releases as they are announced.

Keep coming back to the Bar Towel for updated information on how Ontario beer drinkers can continue to acquire fine brews in the province.

November 16 - McAuslan Brewing sells minority position to Moosehead

McAuslan Brewing expanding into new brewery
MONTREAL, Nov. 16 /CNW/ - McAuslan Brewing and New Brunswick based Moosehead Brewery have joined forces in the Quebec marketplace with Moosehead Brewery becoming a minority shareholder in McAuslan. The deal will allow McAuslan Brewing to increase its present production capacity for the popular St. Ambroise and Griffon brands, while giving Moosehead access to the Quebec marketplace for the internationally-known Moosehead Lager beer.
"Increasing demand for our products has forced us to expand our brewing capacity," says Peter McAuslan, president and chairman of McAuslan Brewing. "The alliance with Moosehead will permit us to develop our brands and allow us to brew Moosehead lager in a new state-of-the-art Montreal brewing facility."
The terms of the deal have not been made public.
McAuslan Brewing is Quebec's foremost micro-brewery and has been brewing and distributing bottled and draft beer throughout the province since 1989. The McAuslan family of beers includes St-Ambroise Pale Ale and Oatmeal Stout; Griffon Extra Pale Ale and Brown Ale; Frontenac Extra Special Pale Ale; McAuslan Cream Ale; Scotch Ale; and the seasonal beers, Apricot Wheat Ale, and Spiced Pumpkin Ale. A substantial portion of the brewery's production is sold out of province and in the U.S.
Beer lovers can find out more about the brewery by visiting the McAuslan Brewpage at

September 29 - Gordon Biersch coming to Canada!

The Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant Group, operators of 24 Gordon Biersch brewpubs in the United States, is expanding into Canada. Under an arrangement with Fusion ITM, Gordon Biersch will open 14 locations in Ontario and eastward. The brewpubs will open over a five-year period, with the first opening in late spring 2001.

Gordon Biersh Brewery Restaurants offer "sophisticated casual dining" and custom brewed lagers, all brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot. Styles of lager available in their US restaurants include bock, marzen, pilsner, dunkel, maibock, hefeweizen and others.

Although the location of the first restaurant is undetermined, there is a very good possibility it will be in the Toronto area. This marks great news for beer fans in Toronto, as the city only contains a few brewpubs. Although Gordon Biersh is a brewpub chain, in the US most brewpub chains maintain high standards of brewing quality. Hopefully Gordon Biersch will be a fine addition to Toronto's brewpub scene.

September 28 - Sleeman acquires Maritime Beer Company

Sleeman Breweries has added another micro to their ever-expanding portfolio of breweries. They have acquired the assets of the Maritime Beer Company, based in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. This acquisition gives Sleeman an immediate presence in Eastern Canada.

The Maritime Beer Company produces the Atlantic Storm, Black Pearl, Kings, Halifax 1749 and Frosted Frog brands of beer. As with Sleeman's other regional breweries, most likely their beers will not be coming to Ontario.

The Maritime Beer Company joins the portfolio of Sleeman Breweries, which also includes Okanagan Spring and Shaftebury in British Columbia, Upper Canada in Ontario and Seigneuriale in Quebec.

September 22 - Special Niagara beer first in a century with homegrown hops, brewer claims

ST. CATHARINES, Ont. (CP) - After a century's absence, regional nuggets and fuggles are once again hopping-up in a Niagara brewery.
The tongue-twister hop varieties are a crucial part of the brewing process, but for the first time in generations, Taylor and Bate Brewery is using a native commercial harvest.
For the Wismer family growers from the Vineland, Ont., area, this milestone is thanks to two varieties of the bitter bud - nugget and fuggle - which was exactly what the 166-year-old brewery needed for a limited edition brew called James Taylor Porter.
"At the moment, we're innovators I guess," said tender fruit grower Robert Wismer.
"It's something new for this region, but we believe a market is out there," Wismer said.
This commercial batch could well be the first in Ontario in over 100 years, the brewery said.
Experts from Ontario's Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs were unavailable to confirm the Wismer's pioneer status Friday.
Last year's test crop couldn't cut the mustard but this summer's harvest of six different varieties of hops finally made the grade.
"It's really still in the research and development stage," said Wismer's son Joe.
The hops - which have a bitter taste and look like immature pine cones - add flavour and aroma to beer and also act as a preservative.
"The timing for these hops was perfect," Tim Taylor, president of Taylor and Bate Brewery, said.
The release date for the seasonal suds with Niagara buds is scheduled for about Nov. 5.
That's the birthday of James Taylor, Tim's great-great grandfather, founder of the brewery.
About 4,000 litres of this year's special edition will hit the shelves from "Ottawa to Fort Erie," Taylor said.

September 19 - Smaller brewers want to face smaller excise tax than Labatt and Molson

TORONTO (CP) - There's a revolt fermenting at Canada's micro-breweries.
About 70 of the country's small brewers - from Ontario's Creemore Springs Brewery Ltd. to British Columbia's Granville Island Brewing Co. - have joined together to push for a reduction of up to 60 per cent in the excise tax charged by Ottawa.
"This industry is threatened," said Pierre Paquin, general manager of the newly formed Canadian Council of Regional Brewers. "We're not saying give us handouts. We're saying, give us a field where we can play too."
The council, which met Tuesday at the Steam Whistle Brewing Co. on the downtown Toronto railway lands, hopes to push for the tax reduction in the next few weeks before Ottawa's finance committee.
The so-called craft-brewing industry, which employs about 3,300 people directly and indirectly in Canada, now pays about $21 million a year in excise tax.
While the council argues its members are small business people, they are charged the same rate of excise tax as Canadian beer giants Molson Inc. and Labatt Brewing Co., which control 90 per cent of the domestic market and, as a result, can produce beer at far less cost.
"We are different from the large, industrial beer makers in very many ways. Governments around the world recognize micro-brewers as being different from industrial brewers (and charge them less tax). Canada still doesn't," said Paquin.
Canadian brewers, regardless of size, pay about $2.30 in excise tax on a case of beer, said Donald Ross of Granville Island Brewing, chair of the Craft Brewers Association of British Columbia.
But it costs a small brewer as much as $260 to make a hectolitre, about 12 cases of beer, compared with $128 for the big breweries, he said.
That's largely because the craft brewery employs about seven workers for every one at the major breweries, where machines do a lot of the work, said Ross.
Many countries recognize that inequity and charge less in taxes to small brewers, said Paquin.
In the U.S., for instance, the big brewers pay about $1.88 Cdn a case in excise taxes while the small brewers pay about 74 cents, said Ross.
Under the council's proposal, the small breweries here would pay about 92 cents a case.
"It creates an uneven playing field. By dumping us into the same pot as the large brewers and charging us the same amount, it's actually making us non-competitive. It's punitive to our section of the industry," said John Wiggins of Creemore Springs Brewery Ltd., chairman of the Ontario Small Brewers Association.
"The tax was put in place when most breweries were competitive in size. But we're a new industry playing with old rules."
But the group is bracing for a strong reaction from the major brewers, who they say have argued in the past that they, too, should get tax breaks on the first 50,000 hectolitres of beer they produce.
"But what we're saying is we're small businessmen, and we're paying the same tax as huge corporations, some of the biggest corporations in the country," said Ross.
"The last thing Labatt and Molson need is a tax break. They're very well-off."

July 29 - The LCBO enters e-commerce...sort of

The LCBO, Ontario's primary retailer of wine and spirits, has entered the realm of electronic commerce - sort of. The LCBO has partnered with, a new e-com website located in Toronto, owned by real estate company Oxford Properties Group. is a marketplace website that allows users to purchase goods online from such e-retailers as, and Instead of having their purchases delivered to their homes, users can specify an location, where the goods are centrally delivered to. The user can then pick up all of their goods at the specified location, and bring them all home. Currently, has only one pick-up location, at the Royal Bank Plaza in downtown Toronto. Since is owned by Oxford Properties Group, the website plans to open pick-up locations at many of the company's office towers.

Most interesting of the initial partners of is the LCBO. Alcohol is a tricky product to offer for sale through the internet, due to the individual provincial authority and prohibitive laws surrounding its sale. The Manitoba Liquor Commission currently offers online alcohol purchase, and La Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) is considering entry into e-commerce.

The LCBO, well known for its "liquor conservatism", is getting its toes only slightly wet with Through, users can purchase from a limited selection of wine, spirits and beer and have them delivered to an pick-up location. Currently, the only beer the LCBO offers for purchase are 6-packs of popular brands Corona, Heineken and Moosehead.

Whenever the LCBO does something forward-thinking it is obviously a step in the right direction. is an interesting concept, catered to online purchasers who do not wish products delivered to their home. The LCBO's involvement in adds an interesting element to their vendor list, however their current selection offered is basic and limited (for instance, Absolut is the only vodka available). If a drink connoisseur was to utilize for purchasing goods from their other vendors, they would be best to visit one of the many LCBOs near the pick-up location for better choice. However, the LCBO must be commended for taking the leap (albeit a short one) into e-commerce.

July 7 - LCBO to be stripped of regulatory authority

The Minister of Ontario Consumer and Commercial Relations, Bob Runciman, announced this week that the LCBO would be stripped of its alcohol policy-making and enforcement powers. This comes as good news to the province's brewers and vintners, who for years competed with the LCBO, yet the LCBO had the monopolistic advantage of being able to set the rules of the marketplace as well. The regulatory powers will be transferred to the Alcohol and Gaming Control Board of Ontario by the end of the year. The impact of this announcement on beer in Ontario is unclear at this time, but will there will undoubtedly be benefits for the province's brewers.

May 17 - Sleeman and Samuel Adams enter into strategic partnership

Sleeman Breweries of Guelph and the Boston Beer Company, brewers of the Samuel Adams brands of beer, have entered into a strategic partnership this week. As part of the agreement, Sleeman will immediately represent the Samuel Adams brand in Canada. As well, the Boston Beer Company will conduct market research in the United States to identify potential markets for Sleeman and their brands.

As interesting as this kind of agreement seems, it will probably not benefit beer connoisseurs of Ontario very much. Sleeman immediately becomes the agent for the beers of the Boston Beer Company in Canada, and will control which brands will be distributed. The flagship Lager will continue to be distributed in Ontario, but it seems unlikely that any other brands will be released. Without some form of compensation, and there is no indication that suggests this, Sleeman would be putting themselves in a position to lose market share if they distributed competitive brands in Canada.

Various Sam Adams beers from the Boston Beer Company slate are widely available in Buffalo and New York state for those looking to try some of their other brands.

May 6 - Update for Unibroue fans!

Unibroue of Chambly, Quebec, one of my personal favourite breweries, has some recent developments of great interest to Ontario drinkers of their fine brews.

On the new product front, they are about to launch two new beers: L'Ephemere, a seasonal beer, and La Bolduc, billed as an "old-fashioned brew". Without question, these new offerings will be anticipated greatly. As well, they are about to venture into new segments with a yet-unnamed non-alcoholic beer, and bottled spring water under the brand Nunavik.

You may wonder how this may affect Toronto beer drinkers. Well, very interesting news has come from Unibroue recently. Currently, Unibroue relies on a distributor, Charton-Hobbs Inc., to act as their agent in the province. Although they arranged for the release of a number of Unibroue's beers, including the wonderful Quelque Chose and L'Eau Benite last year, the marketing and promotion of the company and their products has been virtually non-existent in Ontario, and Unibroue's branded merchandise is not offered for resale in the province.

However, it seems that Unibroue has gained self-control of their commercial representation in Ontario. How this will affect their presence in this province is unknown at this time, but the company has stated that they intend to more aggressively promote themselves and their beers in Ontario. Perhaps we will see the arrival of Unibroue's full slate of beers? Or at least the ability to purchase their excellent branded glassware? We will have to wait and see.

May 6 - Hart and Robinson's merge!

The Hart Brewing Company of Carleton Place (near Ottawa), and Robinson's Brewing Company of Mississauga have agreed to merge. More specifically, Hart's parent company, Upland Global Corporation, has acquired Robinson's. The Hart Brewery, producers of such beers as the Amber Ale, Winterfest Ale, Pumpkin Ale and Cranberry Ale, has never had a strong presence in Toronto, neither in the retail outlets nor in the pubs. This merger hopes to change that.

All of Hart's and Robinson's beers will continue, but there will undoubtedly be some retooling of their slates when the breweries come together. All of their beers will be offered for sale in Beer Stores and at the Robinson's brewery store, at 2390 Cawthra Road, Suite 3, Mississauga.

The Hart Brewery, although always well-respected in the province, has never conquered the Toronto market like they would probably desire to do. They produce an interesting array of brews, but many have been difficult to find in Toronto. With this merger, Hart's beers will come to Toronto, and Robinson's slate, including the Red Ale, Dos Tontos Mexx and Black Cherry Ale, will be distributed in Ottawa.

In Ontario, a merger of two breweries is always better than the closing of one. Hopefully this marriage of microbreweries will strengthen both of them, and we can look forward to continued quality brewing from the new company.

March 23 - Ontario eases up on brewers

In a move to help the province's small brewing industry, the Ontario Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations has removed a $105 per store yearly fee charged to all brewers selling in Beer Stores. This follows a cost reduction introduced in May 1999, when The Beer Store moved from a flat one-time listing fee of $24,930 per product to a tiered fee of $2,500 plus $200 per store, up to a maximum of $24,930. The $105 fee elimination will undoubtedly improve small brewers' ability to sell their brews at The Beer Store. Let's hope we will see even more small Ontario microbrews in our local Beer Stores soon!

Bar Towel



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