The story is a bit of a complicated one but I can assure you that it’s worth the read. The most important thing that you need to know is that we are currently a “Contract Brewer”. This means that our beer is brewed under contract at another existing brewery with available capacity. In our case, this takes place at two fabulous host breweries – Grand River Brewing and Barley Days Brewery. This was our simple way of getting our beers out there before investing insane amounts of money into bricks, mortar and stainless.
Although we don’t own our own brewing equipment (yet – it has been ordered with delivery set for early September), we develop and own all of our recipes, and own all of our ingredients and kegs. We manage all of our own sales, deliveries and line cleanings and remit beer tax on the regular.
Why does all of this matter? Because it’s recently been brought to our attention by the AGCO that as a contract brewer, we’re only allowed to sell beer to three parties; The LCBO, The Beer Store and Licensed bars & restaurants. That list specifically excludes Special Occasion Permit (SOP) holders.
Despite the fact that our beer is brewed at licensed breweries, has been lab tested by the LCBO and is consumed safely at over 60 bars and restaurants every day, we’ve learned that the AGCO deems the activity of us selling directly to SOP permit holders, including beer festival organizers, as illegal. That’s right, a brewery who is licensed to sell beer in Ontario cannot sell beer to beer festivals. Mind bottling, isn’t it?
Beside the fact that contract breweries have been participating in SOP festivals and events for many years, some attention has been drawn to the issue just recently and we seem to be the initial target. Unless a policy change takes place rather quickly, our weekend plans of pouring at festivals were just crushed pretty badly.
We’re actually co-hosting YumCha!, a Dim Sum festival at the space next door to our future brewery on Wagstaff Drive this Sunday and while we had intended to pour our own beers, we’ve been left with no choice but to serve beers made by other craft breweries.
There are a lot of alcohol control laws in Ontario that don’t seem to make a heck of a lot of sense. There are even more laws that are just outright ignored by most suppliers. In our view, the only solution in this case is for us to lobby for policy change.
As a new and small brewery, events and festivals are the single best way for us to sample our beers with the public and are one of our few opportunities to interact directly with beer drinkers. We’re investing in bettering our neighbourhood, in job creation, in Canadian-made equipment and ingredients and we believe that we’re doing all of the right things for the right reasons. It’s a shame that such an antiquated policy is going to have us benched this summer.
If you agree that the laws should be changed, please write to your local MPP, the Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment, Eric Hoskins and to the office of the Premier, Kathleen Wynne asking that small contract breweries like ourselves be allowed to participate in beer festivals.
Mark & Mandie