Brewer's Blog

In Which We Discuss The Difference Between Domestic, Premium, and Imported Beer

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The impetus:

In Which We Discuss The Difference Between Domestic, Premium, and Imported "Beer"

There is none.  It's all just "beer"

When Winnipeg had two macro breweries pumping out drivel to the masses, they produced "import" beers there and charged as much to the consumer as if the salesmen had filled a boat with 24's and rowed em across the ocean, portaging the beer across many miles of Ontario, through the shield and to our back door.  When the provinces were deregulated, the macros pulled out and now ship beer to us from somewhere around Toronto, and somewhere in BC (Creston if it's Keet's, the venerable "Pride of Nova Scotia").

Folks, it's all about pricing brackets.

Think about this for a moment:
A large macro brewery like the Canadian division of Sapporo has multiple breweries under it's wingspan.  Unibroue, Sleeman's, Okanagan Springs, etc.  To reap the full benefits of cost saving from this arrangement, they pool their buying power and intelligently buy supplies in bulk from the lowest bidder.  They contract brew other brewery's beers regularly and at one point, John Sleeman himself eschewed the family history they so proudly tout today in commercials to slog Guinness across North America.  Nothing wrong with that.  It's business, that's how it's done... right?

Does it take more skill, ingredients, magic, etc to brew Sleeman's Clear than it does to brew Blonde De Chambly?  No.  In fact, due to the technical knowledge and abilities of their brewmasters, I'd say it takes a hell of a lot more to brew a Sleeman's Clear and still make it taste like beer.  I may not like it, but I appreciate the skill involved much like I'm amazed by the skill in producing Wonderbread.  Tasteless, spongy Wonderbread.

The above example includes all the "Domestic" breweries under that one "Imported" parent umbrella.  But you as the consumer are charged a much larger markup for the privilege of buying say a Unibroue "Premium" beer vs. an Old Milwaukee (produced for the Canadian market at Okanagan Springs).  OM is an "import" though, isn't it?

No, OM is a "value brand", and falls in under the same pricing category with such gems as Lucky, Special Dry, Schlitz and our beloved Minhas Creek.

(on a side note: is there such a place?  Minhas Creek? What tributaries does it run into with it's magical mixture of epic fail, misleading advertising and corn?)

Value brands are dubious at best and the MLCC regulates how many SKU's of them can be carried at each of their stores.  A few year's back when our friends at Fort Garry came out with their NUBRU (a gluten free product) they mistakenly priced the "beer" in the value category.  And why not!?!  It cost them less to brew because it contained no barley malt - which is expensive compared to pulse crops.  When the stores wouldn't carry it because they are regulated to only carry a certain number of value SKU's, the folks over at FG fixed the problem by simply adding to the price tag.  Et Voila!  Their "value brand" was suddenly a domestic and could be carried by any store in any quantity they wished.  On a side note, I think that one was discontinued a few months later in favour of FRIO! which was subsequently discontinued a few months after that.  And before you ask, no we're not making gluten free "beer" here.

This proves my point about the difference in category listing between domestic, premium and import.

When it comes to macro breweries, it's all about how much you as a consumer are willing to PAY!

Ever notice how all the macros produce beer that is 5% a/v and yet you pay a higher markup for Rickard's vs. Canadian?  Why - it's the same brewery, same general volume of ingredients, roughly the same alcohol contents...

Molson Canadian 12 pack = $18.35                      Labatt's Blue 12 pack = $18.35
Rickard's Blonde 12 Pack = $20.31                      Keith's 12 Pack = $20.31

Does anyone else find that suspicious?  That two vastly opposing, multinationally owned super-corporations have the exact same price on their comparable products at the exact same time?  Yeah, nothing wrong here, move along, nothing to see here!

None of these breweries has used anything special or different in the process.  In fact, they've used the cheapest ingredients they could find to brew the most profitable beer that they could possibly produce.  Have you ever noticed that they all use "the choicest hops, malts and specially selected yeast strains" to produce their beer?  Have you ever wondered if the accountants from all the major breweries stand in the same auction hall and see who bids the highest on their "choicest hops, malts and specially selected yeast strains"?  They don't, but that would be a cool scenario kind of like the Hunger Brewer Games.

Where does that leave craft brewers?

Simply put, in real craft beer you can taste the difference.  There's no Bullshit Purveyance Department and most of us are so small that we can't keep up with demand for our real beer anyway so there's little need for one.  We don't call a beer St. James "Premium" Pale Ale because we figure you can taste the difference between it and Standard, Keet's or 50 in a heartbeat.

We also figure you can smell a lie like a fart in a car.

Cause in the end it's all just beer anyways, and though I may disagree with the traditionally applied method of denoting one's quality over the other (price) I figure you're all smart enough to know the difference.

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