On Aug. 7, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced his Buck-a-Beer challenge. In return for lowering prices on liquor stores sales to $1 per beer, breweries would receive preferred treatment in stores, free advertising, or other non-monetary compensation.
By the official start of Buck-a-Beer, Aug. 27, only three Ontario breweries out of 300-some signed up: Barley Days Brewery, Cool Beer Brewing Company, and grocery chain Loblaw’s President’s Choice brand beer. Before Labour Day, Loblaw announced it would exit the promotion after only one week.
Pundits, beer lovers, breweries, and many people with eyes saw the move for what it was–a bone thrown to Ford’s base and a good-news story to drown out commentary on his government’s approach on sex-ed curriculum, $100 million in funding cuts for school repairs and other social programs.
While Ontario’s Buck-a-Beer has been an overwhelming failure, it raises a question: what does it cost to make craft beer in Nova Scotia?
Consider cans. Shawn O’Hearn, president and co-founder of Nine Locks Brewing Co. says the cost of a printed can (one that comes with the label already attached) ranges from 32–37 cents, plus an additional 5–7 cents for a lid.
Ordering in bulk helps lower the cost, but many breweries don’t have to storage for 100,000 cans. Not to mention the fact that getting cans has been difficult this summer, thanks to an aluminum shortage.
“This year we’ve gone from about a four-to-five-week turnaround from when you order our cans to getting them anywhere to 12–16 weeks out,” says O’Hearn. “We were very lucky because we had a lot of cans in stock. But, right now we’re completely out of cans for one of our brands of beer. We’re desperately waiting for cans to arrive.”
O’Hearn says his next batch of cans will be the first he’s ordered since the aluminum tariff came into effect July 1. He expects about a 10% increase on the price of that batch he’s waiting for.
Then there are payments to the NSLC.
If you buy a 6-pack of bottles of Boxing Rock Brewing Company’s Hunky Dory Pale Ale at NSLC, you pay $17.36. Subtract the tax and bottle deposit, and you have $14.50. NSLC takes 40%, and Boxing Rock is left with $8.70. That’s $1.45 per beer, before you consider shipping, marketing, labour, and brewing.
For Boxing Rock co-owner Emily Tipton, that 40% isn’t the issue. She says she feels like she gets good value for it. But that Nova Scotian craft breweries are not treated the same as their New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island counterparts by NSLC is frustrating.
When N.B. and P.E.I. breweries sell to the NSLC or N.S. bars, they don’t pay the 5% retail sales mark-up allocation on sales that Nova Scotian breweries do.
In 2007, before most of the craft breweries opened in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia committed to the Maritime Beer Accord. The agreement allowed the Sleeman’s plant in Nova Scotia and Molson Canada in New Brunswick to distribute their beers in both provinces as local brewers.
Additionally, the news release read, “Nova Scotia will treat New Brunswick microbreweries the same way we treat Nova Scotia microbreweries, and vice-versa.”
“I pay exactly the same taxes as a New Brunswick brewery in New Brunswick and a Prince Edward Island brewery in P.E.I.” While Tipton estimates the markup only amounts to $4 per keg, it remains unequal.
“If we are going to have the Maritime Beer Accord and we truly believe there should be one market in the Maritime Provinces for beer, then why wouldn’t we harmonize the policy and tax rate on how this stuff works so that all breweries are treated equally in all three provinces?” asks Tipton.
The Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia raised the issue with both the NSLC and the provincial government. Over a year ago, the provincial government said it would look at the issue.
And then there are water, staffing, insurance, marketing, shipping, and production costs, which vary widely from one brewery to the next. Add it all up and the conclusion is obvious: if you’re getting beer for $1 each, you’re probably getting pretty crappy beer.
Must try beers: Beers from Ontario that are worth more than $1
Thrust! An IPA
Great Lakes Brewing Co. | 6.5% | Toronto
This malty beer with a thick white head brings a snoutfull of hops. Breath it in for a moment, appreciate the grapefruit, mango, and stone-fruit aromas of these massive dry hops. It smells nearly as good as this beer tastes. Your first sip will yield tropical fruit and piney flavours, balanced by strong malt flavours. Find it at Bishop’s Cellar.
Mash Up the Jam (Dry hop sour)
Collective Arts Brewing | 5.2% | Hamilton, Ont.
Hopheads! Sour savourers! You don’t have to choose. This ale blends the two solitudes to craft a jaw-twinging sour that brings generous hops to the table. It’s light and airy in your mouth, and features Nelson Sauvin and Citra hops to create a juicy, but nonetheless sour sipper. Find it at NSLC stores.