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  • Big Beer Blues

    Troubling times are ahead for Canada’s oldest brewer.  After laying off 500 people across North America a few years ago, Molson Breweries have once again made the news, this time for locking out the workers in their Toronto brewery after months of acrimonious contract negotiations.

    Things have certainly changed for the Molson Brewery since it was founded in 1786 by John Molson, who set up shop on the edge of the St. Lawrence River in Montreal.  Canada only became a country in 1867, making Molson not only the oldest brewery in Canada, but also the oldest brewery in North America.

    The Molson Brewery grew from its humble beginnings in Montreal to span our great nation, with operations as far east as St. John’s, and as far west as Vancouver.  Everything went swimmingly for the first few hundred years, but the spectre of globalization began to loom over Molson at the turn of the millennium.

    In 2005, Molson merged with Coors to form the Molson Coors Brewing Company, becoming the 7th-largest brewer in the world.  A year later, the Brazilian operations were then sold off to FEMSA, makers of light Mexican beers such as Dos Equis, Sol, and Tecate.  To further muddy the waters, FEMSA sold off their beer business to Heineken a few years later.

    While all these beer brands were changing hands, the giant SABMiller brewery, itself the product of a merger between South African Breweries and Miller, decided to join forces with Molson Coors.  Are you confused yet?

    So, this new mega-mega-mega-mega brewer was formed out of the ashes of South African Breweries, Miller, Molson, and Coors.  The new joint venture was called Miller Coors.  At this point, there really isn’t much Canadian ownership left in Molson Canadian.

    To make it even more confusing, SABMiller was acquired by Anheuser-Busch Inbev a few years back.  Not sure who AB Inbev are?  They are the result of a merger between Anheuser-Busch (makers of Budweiser) and Belgium-based Interbrew.  

    After all these mergers, the global headquarters for AB Inbev is in Belgium.  This conglomerate owns hundreds of different beer brands, and commands 25% of the global beer market.  In fact, if you are drinking a beer right now, there is a pretty good chance that AB Inbev made it.  Yes, that includes Molson Canadian, as well as other popular brands like Budweiser, Corona, Stella Artois, Becks, and countless others.

    Lest you think that Labatt Blue is somehow more Canadian than Molson, think again.  Labatt was acquired by Interbrew in 1995, which was acquired by Inbev in 2004, which merged with Anheuser-Busch in 2008.  In other words, despite Molson and Labatt being fierce rivals in our domestic booze market, big chunks of their ownership can be traced back to the same multinational conglomerate.  

    While the locked out Molson workers are glumly marching the picket line, the nearby Big Rock Brewery in Toronto may be anticipating a swell in business and even a sense of déjà vu.  Way back in 1985, when Big Rock was just an upstart small brewer in Calgary, the Labatt and Molson breweries simultaneously went on strike in the hottest dog days of summer, making Big Rock the only beer available across Alberta, skyrocketing their market share.  That scrappy little brewery ran their production lines 24×7, with every worker from the greenest intern to the CEO taking their turn on the bottling line just to meet demand.

    As a beloved local success story, Big Rock has since grown larger than its ancestral home of Alberta, expanding to Vancouver in 2015 and Toronto in 2018.  The Big Rock Brewery in Toronto is just a few clicks away from the Molson Brewery, so the locked out workers may just have a nearby taproom to commiserate in after their long hours on the picket line.  

    Molson’s Toronto brewery produces 300 million litres of beer each year, including several dozen brands from their international portfolio.  With five large brewing facilities in Canada, Molson will likely shift production to their other breweries to weather this storm, so the shelves at your local booze merchant will not run dry.  

    The beer snobs in the audience are unlikely to notice, eschewing the megabrewers to support small craft brewers, including our hometown heroes at Township 24 Brewing, who are open for pizza and delicious brews in their taproom on Rainbow Road, so get some before the next pandemic lockdown arrives!