Buck-a-Beer Falls Flat with Craft Brewers

Friday, August 10, 2018

Niagara craft brewers say they aren’t blending buck-a-beer brews.

On Aug. 27, Premier Doug Ford will lower the minimum cost of a beer to $1 for the first time in a decade. The price was raised to $1.25 in 2008 by Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government.

But Jamie Gallucci, manager at the Brimstone Brewing Co. in Crystal Beach, said his company won’t be implementing dollar brews.

“No, definitely not,” Gallucci said, adding that Brimstone serves a quality product with the best ingredients.

Nick Venneri, a brewer at The Exchange Brewery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, said he doesn’t know anyone in the craft brewery business that could justify a dollar per craft beer.

“It’s not really designed to help craft breweries at all,” Venneri said. “For us, it just doesn’t make sense.”

The Exchange Brewery’s products are aged from two months to two years, he said. The cost of their beers range from $8.80 to $16 for 750 mL.

“A dollar a beer is just no way in our window of expectations,” Venneri said.

The buck-a-beer initiative applies only to brews under 5.6 per cent alcohol content and not to draft beers.

“Nobody is being forced to lower their prices and there will be no subsidies or tax handouts,” Ford told reporters on Tuesday.

Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce issued a news release on Thursday asking Niagara to reject buck-a-beer in support of local brewers.

“Breweries in Niagara and across Ontario have assured both the GNCC and the province that a quality beer cannot be brewed for $1 per unit,” the release said. “To meet this challenge, Niagara’s breweries would have to make enormous compromises on quality and abandon the reputation for outstanding beer which they have so painstakingly built.”

Jake Foster, head brewer at Lock Street Brewing Co. in St. Catharines, said while his beers sell for about $3 each, he has considered producing a $1 beer.

“We’re still trying to find a way to make a quality product at a price that has a margin that’s so small,” Foster he said.

He explained while he’s close to filling a can for less than $1, aluminum tariffs mean the cost of a can alone is almost 50 cents.

“That doesn’t include the beer that goes in it, or my time to make it or the label that goes on it,” Foster said.

But he isn’t worried about losing customers if he can’t meet the $1 margin.

“The demographic for a dollar beer is almost completely different from the people that are going for a three- or four-dollar can of something interesting or different,” Foster said.

Venneri also said he won’t be affected by the new market.

“Craft beer is a niche market and we’re kind of a niche market within that niche market,” he said.

However, he does take issue with losing prime shelving and advertising spaces at LCBO, saying that the former Liberal government promoted buying local.

In its release, GNCC said it will continue to support local firms and asked the provincial government to do the same.

“Buck-a-beer effectively offers government-sponsored market advantages to large, foreign-owned businesses at the expense of small Ontario employers.”

Galluci, Vennerri and Foster all took issue with discount ale and responsible drinking.

“I don’t think it helps at all,” Gallucci said.

“Ontario’s really been big on enjoying alcohol responsibly,” Foster said. “I think it’s kind of counterintuitive to promote $1 beer when we’re trying to make sure everyone drinks responsibly.”

by Rachel Emmanuel The St. Catharines Standard
with files from The Toronto Star