My idea of a "Beer Boutique"

Coming from Manitoba, we have two places where you can generally buy beer. First off, the MLCC, which is the provincially ran chain of stores across of Canada, with locations ranging from Churchill to Virden. Their stock generally consists of the major brands, a a limited import selection (always generally Corona, Stella, the usuals), and a selection of microbrews.. such as Half Pints, Russell/Ft Garry and in the larger stores, Tree or Garrison. You can usually get what you're looking for. The majority of the beer is sitting at room temperature, but some of the individual bottles are refrigerated. THEN, there are the private vendors, generally attached to a hotel/motel that also has a bar located somewhere on its property. The selection there is very varied. Some vendors really go out and try to push for as much variety and selection as possible, while others - will ONLY carry Molson, Labatt, Moosehead and Sleeman products. If they carry Sleeman, then wow! While MLCC generally closes fairly early depending on location (6PM in some places, 11PM in others), the private vendors are allowed to stay open until 2AM, yes, that late!

When I heard about Ontario's new Beer Boutique store being proposed by The Beer Store, I was a bit excited but wary. Excited because I felt that this could be a chance for a new store in Ontario to sell MAINLY microbrews, imports and rare beers. Wary because the problem with The Beer Store is that it's a business ran completely by Molson, Labatt and Sleeman. I have a problem with that, they have total control over what can and cannot get sold there. Microbrews such as Muskoka are more than welcome to sell their beer, but they have to pay a fee to their largest competitor just to be able to stock there.

It's too much of a conflict of interest as it is, why isn't there a rival beer store chain that's ran by a coalition of several Ontario microbrews? In Manitoba the beer vendors aren't ran by any brewery, it's ran by the hotel/business that's selling the beer in the first place. So as a Manitoban, it's funny that Molson, Labatt and Sleeman own the largest beer store chain in the province. So of COURSE they'd want their Beer Boutique to be set up to their liking.

Say here in Manitoba, if liquor laws were to change and MLCC allowed for private beer boutiques to exist, similar to the wine boutiques we find in Winnipeg. Here's how I would have the beer boutique:

  • First off, the main focus would be microbrews, imports and rare beers. Stuff you don't see every day.
  • Would I sell Molson or Labatt products? I wouldn't want to, but frankly.. that WOULD alienate a possible large portion of the clientèle, so yes, there would likely be some beer by the major breweries, but just kept to a minimum, but no lite lime beer.
  • Product experts, that's something I love about the MLCC, employees who are there to know the product. Say if you want a specific wine for a specific dish, they'd generally know what would be the best wine to pair with. There would be significant emphasis on this. When people want to try a new beer, or beer in general, they get flustered and just pick up the brands they've heard of the most. This would be a big help to some people.
  • Have classrooms/kitchens in the back of the boutique. In Quebec the SAQ stores (their version of LCBO, MLCC) quite often have information sessions where you can learn about pairing food with different beverages, how to compare different styles of beverages and whatnot. I'd like to see some sort of cooking with beer seminar as well. Learn how your favourite ale can also be used as a stew. The options are limitless, really.
  • Cold beer, all the time. When I overhear people going into a beer store, they want their beer COLD. So give them that option. However, some don't.
  • Sell glassware. This is something the Beer Boutique in Ontario is apparently doing. Good for them, I guess. It's not that easy to find the perfect glassware for a Belgian ale in Manitoba.
  • Taste testing. Everyone loves that. 
  • Anything else?
As always, I'm a dreamer!


Scott MacNeil said...

Wholly enjoyed the flavour of this post... look forward to more. Cheers.

Cody Lobreau said...

I like to blog when I'm most cranky, so that helps.. I suppose!

pintbypint said...

Lots of good points.

I like the idea of selling glassware. I like the idea of the brewer giving away the glassware with purchase as well. It ensures that the beers is presented in the way the brewer intended.

Cold beer is a must, in order to ensure freshness. I never buy beer that is not refrigerated. Even worse is when beer is displayed by a window. Lightstruck and warm beer is a sure way to lose customers.

The problem with not wanting to sell macrobrews in your store presents a problem, simply because it probably would be hard to turn a profit selling only micros and rare imports. Having a wide selection is one thing, but if no one is buying... Even the best beer stores that I've been to sell macrobrews, in addition to wines, spirits and coolers.

I like the idea of offering seminars as well, information is the key to craft beer advocacy. I've done my own Belgian food and beers pairings at home and people are really surprised at how well beer and food pair.

shawn (pint)

Cody Lobreau said...

I agree on brewer giving glassware with purchase. 98% of the glassware I own is thanks to free glassware with purchase.

Here, the liquor stores don't have beer in fridges for the most part. Only individual bottles. But the vendors almost always chill the beer. Then there's the purists who call it blasphemy if you drink a La fin du monde cold.

I agree re: macrobrews. Thats why I said it would "alienate the clientèle", if I could charge a premium on Labatt/Molson, I would! ;)

I know a few gastropubs and breweries that have offered sessions to teach people about beer, food and beer, and other various things. I'd love to have something like that in a store environment.

I will continue to dream!

Kinthelt said...

Wow, another like-minded individual! I've often toyed over the idea of something like this. But being unfamiliar with the liquor laws here, I didn't think there was anything stopping anybody.

Cody Lobreau said...

The liquor laws are way too conservative for that sort of thing. Also, starting your own beer store in general, unless if you own a motel too - will be damned near impossible. Things will change over time, thankfully!