Ontario’s sole remaining buck-a-beer brewery is scaling back its dollar suds to long weekends only.
Cool Beer Brewing Co. of Etobicoke has informed Premier Doug Ford’s government it will raise the price of its lager to $1.25 per bottle effective Feb. 11, corporate development officer Kevin Meens told the Star on Tuesday.
“We want to be the most affordable beer in Ontario. We can do that at $1.25 and then we can continue to help the government with its promise of affordable beer in Ontario,” Meens said in an interview.
“We’re going to do buck-a-beer for every long holiday weekend in 2019…I don’t see how people could complain about that.”
Cool is making the change to keep the low-cost beer concept “sustainable” while pushing Ford’s Progressive Conservatives — who championed buck-a-beer during last spring’s election campaign — to lower service fees for breweries selling through the LCBO and Beer Store.
“You break even at best when it’s buck-a-beer,” said Meens, whose brewery signed on for buck-a-beer to open a dialogue with the government about the taxes and fees breweries pay, and to brainstorm solutions for more affordable beer.
He is urging the government to allow breweries to sell beer for less in their own stores because they are saving money on shipping and listing fees.
“In our on-site retail store I can make money at buck-a-beer, but not when I give it to the government or the foreign breweries,” he added in a reference to the LCBO and Beer Store chain, owned by the offshore parent companies of Labatt, Molson and Sleeman.
Ford officially announced buck-a-beer at Cool’s boutique brewery at Islington and Evans Ave. just before the Labour Day weekend, lowering the provincial floor price for a standard bottle or can of brew below 5.6 per cent alcohol by volume to $1 from $1.25.
The premier urged all brewers to participate, insisting they would find “the respect and appreciation they will get from consumers will be priceless.” But there was little take-up by the province’s nearly 300 breweries, large or small.
For Cool, it has been a challenge to keep up with demand for the dollar lager — stocked in about 130 LCBO outlets and 80 Beer Stores — while maintaining other production.
“We sell everything we make. We would have liked to give them more beer but we just can’t keep up,” Meens said.
“When you’re a small brewer or regional brewery like us it taxes your ability to get as much production and it taxes your ability to buy your materials. Bottles are not cheap.”
Provincial and federal taxes comprise about one-third of the cost of beer.
Ford had tried to lure more breweries into buck-a-beer by promising them ads in LCBO flyers and in-store promotions such as extended shelves and end-of-aisle placement to make them more visible to thirsty consumers.
Critics called the buck-a-beer policy a gimmick.
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1