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Bring On the Expensive Beer

February 8th, 2011 · 11 Comments

There is a story in the National Post that Tim Hudak, leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party, was discussing how pricey beer was, referring to the minimum retail price that the LCBO sets for beer in the province. What isn’t discussed in the article, however, is that the LCBO has in fact released in the last couple of months its most expensive beers ever.  But we believe that’s a good thing for beer connoisseurs in Ontario.

The last few months has seen a slate of beers released by LCBO with prices unseen on shelves in the past. As part of the Harviestoun brewery feature, Ola Dubh 40 was sold for $18.95 per bottle. In the recent Norrebro brewery feature, Little Korkny Ale is selling for $21.95 per bottle. The upcoming Sam Adams Infinium will be sold for $14.95 per bottle. And the mother of them all, the Sam Adams Utopias lottery offered 70 bottles at a walloping $115 per bottle.

Not only are we seeing more and more super-premium beers with prices to match, but we’re seeing something just as remarkable. They are all selling. Fast.

Why is this a good thing? Well, its indicative that the Ontario beer drinking market is accepting to more premium-priced beers, which bodes well for the mission of Free Our Beer. You see, if we are to be successful with a goal with any form of private beer retail – drinkers will need to pay higher prices for good products.

We’ve been blessed in Ontario with some of the best prices around for premium products. Just this past Winter Warmers release saw Aventinus Eisbock sell for $4.25/bottle, St Bernardus 12 for $3.45/bottle and Traquair Jacobite Ale for $2.80/bottle. Incredible prices, really. But that’s what you get with the LCBO, “one of the largest single purchasers of beverage alcohol in the world”. With that kind of buying power comes negotiating strength, especially when you’re the only game in town for wine and spirits, and basically the only game for premium beer.

What would happen if there were private retail? Imagine for a second a cool specialty beer store on Queen Street (I certainly could). They could stock all kinds of funky stuff from Canada and abroad, free to bring in unique one-offs to satisfy even the most discerning connoisseurs.  This would be awesome and many drinkers could agree.

But this would also be a store that could only order smaller quantities of beer, thereby raising freight costs. And small orders would hinder buying power, further raising costs. And the lack of scale efficiencies like a large organization would have could lead to various other overhead costs. That would all result in bottles of beer that are higher than what we see at the LCBO currently. Go to any private store in the US or Canada and you see this.  This past weekend I was in a small bottle shop in Quebec City and they were selling beers from its own province for upwards of $25 per bottle.  In the US domestic premium beer often sells for $10+ per bottle, and that’s not even looking at the imported brands.

The LCBO has been doing some good things recently to push craft beer forward, and one of these initiatives is testing the waters with these super-premium and expensive brands. And this test is scoring an A+, as evidenced by thousands of entrants into the Sam Adams Utopias lottery and Norrebro hardly being able to stay on the shelves.

Our attention shouldn’t be on the cheap beer, but on the expensive stuff. It’s having Ontario beer drinkers increasingly more comfortable with paying for quality that will help beer connoisseurs in the long run.

Tags: LCBO · Perspectives

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11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 CK // Feb 8, 2011 at 8:54 am

    Great article. I whole heartedly agree. What I want from a private system is not “acme discount beer” style system, but rather an environment which encourages private retailers to compete on anything but price.

  • 2 Tweets that mention Bring On the Expensive Beer -- // Feb 8, 2011 at 10:44 am

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Paul Montag, Cass Enright. Cass Enright said: Bring On the Expensive Beer: There is a story in the National Post that Tim Hudak, leader of Ontario’s Progressi… […]

  • 3 Joe // Feb 8, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    There is a fantastic selection of craft brews south of the border in specialty shops that in many cases sell for cheaper than our LCBO.

    The laws of supply and demand ensure that this is the case. Increasing choice does not lead to increasing prices. Competition only leads to lower prices.

  • 4 admin // Feb 9, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Joe – don’t forget about taxation. Competition alone would not help when beer is taxed both federally & provincially.

  • 5 Taste T.O. – Food & Drink In Toronto » Bottoms Up! – Thursday, February 10th, 2011 // Feb 10, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    […] do the bloggers think about all of this? Well, one thinks we need more expensive beer in Ontario, not cheaper; another agrees with him; while a third thinks the first two are crazy. [Free Our […]

  • 6 Derek // Aug 27, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Craft beer is not expensive. The average cost to get the product into a keg, for the US craft brew industry is 50 cents per pint. Those are the beers I want made more available in Ontario. It is the system that is expensive. Boutique brews like the one’s in the article with super high prices are kind of a play on people’s naivety that higher prices mean higher quality. Its like with wine, drink what tastes good. Blind taste tests, without information on the selling price can be very eye opening.
    I fully support the aims of

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  • 8 concern // Jun 24, 2013 at 7:17 am

    Living in saskatchewan for a long time, I recently moved to Ontario and couldn’t believe the prices here.

    A case of Pilsner beer cost $51 and here $29.95, what a difference, and this is ran by corner stores. Who also have different pricing during the day and night, what a total rip off.

    To the people of Ontario keep the system you have because the beer is far cheaper and colder than anything from a corner store

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  • 11 Pearl // Dec 18, 2013 at 11:05 am

    That is the policy of the LCBO – they carry mostly quality beers, that are not to be found in any Beer Store. However, you can have the price for a 24 if you use the Licensed Dial A Bottle Service in Toronto: Online Beer Delivery