There’s a sign in The Beer Store that quite puts me off going into the beer store (well that and the Soviet service ethic). I’ll get to the sign, but first there are a couple of things you should know about the history of the beer biz here in Ontari-ari-ario.
For many years it was reputed to be the most profitable beer market in North America. Or was that the world? Whatever, it was very fucking profitable.
Superior production? Nope, Miller’s brewery in Milwaukee could drown the entire Canadian market in the middle of a shift change. Brilliant advertising? Probably not. Tight cost controls? Hmm, they spent more on curling sponsorships than most companies made in a year. Great product? Unlikely given that only the label assured the discerning sluggo he was actually quaffing his favoured brand of otherwise interchangeable brewski.
Like all good communist enterprises it was government relations that ruled the day down at Molbatt. Did I say communist? Sorry, I meant capitalist. You see back in the day, Ontario’s breweries (all three – later two – of them*) boasted some not inconsiderable advantages. Only beer brewed right here in Ontario could be sold in Ontario, competition being for weenies. And it could only be sold at Brewers’ Retail stores (since imaginatively renamed The Beer Store), which were (and still are) wholly owned by said breweries. The big swinging dickheads at Molbattling (later Molbatt) had long since conferred over a bottle or three of finest single malt (well the beer tasted like ferret’s piss) and fixed a comfortably profitable price.
But then – and this is the really, bloody outrageously brilliant bit – they agreed to use identical bottles. Which they rented to the punters for 10¢ who dutifully returned them to be re-used – an average of 19 times. As you might well imagine, getting a ferret to piss into a bottle costs a lot less than making the bottle in the first place.
Times are tougher in today’s beer-world, now that consumers are people too, and they want to be engaged rather than shafted, or conversed with, or given experiences and all the other nouveau marketing tosh. There’s a third gang back in at The Beer Store, this time it’s Sleeman, who had the novel idea of making beer that tasted a bit like beer, before selling to Sapporo (and Godzilla ain’t about to take it up the tuchus from the muppets down at Molbatt). The price is no longer fixed, but that’s really only because there are fewer fools prepared to pay full whack for ferret piss and anyway, real beer is now available elsewhere.
So back to that off-putting sign. It asks customers to help out this already colossally coddled cartel by pre-sorting the bottles. (“Well, Labatts won’t want a bottle with Sleeman on it will they” explained the helpful girl at the returns counter). And by bringing them in at off-peak hours (umm, off-peak probably means it’s inconvenient for customers), in approved containers. This apparently, is all in aid of their long-standing commitment to “environmental leadership”.
That and their long-standing commitment to taking the piss even as they’re charging for it.
*Molson, Labatt, Carling (later bought by Molson)