Winter Games ≠ Winter Beer
“Our time to shine.”
“Showcase Vancouver to the world.”
These are just two of the pithy slogans Olympics boosters have come up with to get us to embrace an event whose overall benefit to Vancouver and the province are rather dubious. What does the general public have to endure in order to ensure official sponsors get unimpeded access to assault us with their advertising? That IOC’s reputation is not impugned by those opposed to its methods or who question its goals? Plenty.
Some argue that this is acceptable, given how we’re all going to do well by the Games. That’s a rather facile way of looking at it. Ask yourself if some will benefit disproportionately to others? By how much? Ask yourself if all this money were invested in some other fashion, would it result in greater good for the whole? Is this the beginning of a slippery slope where respect for our fundamental freedoms becomes optional?
The road to tyranny is short. The journey to freedom can take generations (and has).
So what does this have to do with beer? Well, corporations will tell you that they embrace consumer choice and strive to offer the best quality products for the lowest possible price. What their actual goal is, is to maximize shareholder value. This is the sole demand of their charter, which is achieved by slashing costs to the absolute minimum, while reaching the highest possible amount of sales. To attain this pinnacle of profitability, one must dominate a market. In plain language: reducing the amount of consumer choice to, ideally, one’s own products. The interests of industry eventually part company with that of the public.
This is what we are getting at Olympic venues. Official beer sponsorship means, according to Larry Pynn of The Vancouver Sun, that only Coors Light, Molson Canadian, Molson Export — and, at the odd location, a Rickard’s product — will be served. Any other beer that had the misfortune of already being poured at those venues gets kicked to the curb.
This is a Winter Olympics (although I’ve seen it referred to as the first Spring Olympics). But from the choice of beer styles on offer, it may as well be the Summer Olympics. In fact, it might as well be BC before Horseshoe Bay Brewing, Granville Island Brewing, Vancouver Island Brewing, and Spinnakers began operating — a time when there was only mass-produced lager available, and when “beer” was synonymous with only that style. If we truly showcased the variety of beer on offer from the province’s nearly 50 breweries, we would see barleywine, Belgian-style tripel, double IPA, porter, and Russian Imperial stout.
You would have thought that Molson-Coors could have at least produced a special, commemorative beer for the Games, like the wine that I’ve seen in bottles the shape of the World Cup trophy or the beer brewed by Brauerei Weideneder Tann for the election of Cardinal Ratzinger to the papacy. Instead, we have to turn to two local micro-breweries who had the creativity and cajones to deliver the goods, in spite of the establishment’s attempt to limit the ability of non-sponsors to offer even the slightest suggestion that something other than business-as-usual is going on here.
Howe Sound Brewing recently release their 7.5% ABV Three Beavers Imperial Red Ale. The label shows three beavers (Canada’s national animal) sitting on three log posts wearing gold, silver, and bronze medals. Although the medals are those the brewery won from the 2007 and 2009 North American Beer Awards, they are clearly aimed at evoking an association with the Olympics. It’s clever, timely, a beer that you would drink in winter, and would clearly appeal to visitors looking for something that is unique to Vancouver and the Winter Olympics, as opposed to a beer you can get any time, all over the place. As Tim Pawsey of The Vancouver Courier said, “If only Molson had a hint of Howe Sound’s creativity and humour.”
Hats off, also, to R&B Brewing for brilliantly recognizing a marketing opportunity when it presented itself. When Stephen Colbert decided to financially rescue the U.S. speedskating team with his sponsorship, is it any wonder that he started talking smack about their main rival, Speed Skating Canada? Overly-sensitive Canadians might take offense at Colbert calling us syrup-sucking iceholes. However, most take this American über competitiveness in stride and let it slide.
R&B came up with a light-hearted response — Iceholes Celebration Lager, a 5.0% ABV pilsner. They officially launched the beer last night at the Pumphouse Pub in Richmond and Capones in Yaletown. Capones and R&B are hosting an outdoor live jazz stage during the Olympics where Iceholes Celebration Lager will be poured. It’s also available at independent liquor stores, but only during the month of February. I’m told that arrangements have been made to ensure Colbert has a ready supply in his fridge while he’s in Vancouver for the Olympics.
Given the deep advertising pockets of the brewing conglomerates, it’s no wonder that the great majority of the top selling brands is American lager. Therefore, it’s a shame that our local craft brewers have upped their lager production in the run-up to the Games, to the detriment of winter warmers that mostly can be produced more quickly. Nevertheless, it’s a business decision I can understand. They’re in a David & Goliath battle where an event like this can make a big difference to their bottom line. It gives them the means to push the boundaries and save us from being pulled back into the morass of the beer parlour monoculture.
As hosts to the world, we can do our part by encouraging, or even inviting, our visitors to experience what is unique to our part of the world. Not only is our population diverse, so is our food and drink. If we support establishments that offer this, instead of those serving brands with the biggest advertising budgets, we will see an improvement in consumer choice. It’s that simple. Be the change.