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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sleeman Street Brewpub?? WTF

Back on June 16th I was down at Mill Street Brewpub to meet up with a sales rep with regards to a private tasting. As I walked up through the back patio I noticed something strange. Sleeman patio umbrella's were everywhere. I stopped dead in my tracks and wondered WTF is going on here. Now Sleeman banners hang in between buildings everywhere in the Distillery and even over the front door to the brewpub.

First I thought it might have had to do with the lawsuit Sleeman's launched against Mill Street late in 2007, but the sales rep I was meeting informed me that it had nothing to do with it.

Every restaurant in the Distillery district is owned by the Distillery Restaurant Group (DRG) and for some reason the group has taken a stance against one of their most successful occupants in Mill Street brewery. Back in 2002, before it was brewpub, the Mill Street brewery blew a breath of fresh air into the distillery giving them a resident who promoted local flavour and played off the historic presence of the area. That all changed in January as the DRG went with Sleeman's for their all their public spaces and Mill Street was bumped out.

"I believe in competition, it's healthy, but when you fly a banner (Sleeman's) over OUR front entrance, its a slap in our faces," stated co-founder Steve Abrams. "I'm disappointed that our landlords have chosen to promote a large foreign-owned company when there's a fantastic brewery right at their doorstep. We're good tenants and actively promote the Distillery in our marketing campaigns. For me, it's heartbreaking."

Abrams went on to say that Mill Street worked very hard over the years trying to keep the DRG happy and was surprised to see all the changes occur over the year. "We have been and continue to be a favourite tourist destination in Toronto and visitors are now scratching their heads when they come here for beers on our patios." Mill Street or Sleeman's? Fortunately you can't order a Sleeman's at the brewpub, so the confusion pretty much ends there.

It's just not happening at the brewpub though, I have noticed many more pubs with the Sleeman patio umbrella where there are Mill Street offerings on tap this summer than ever before. One example would be The Boardwalk Pub in the Beaches, a big Mill Street account (5 taps) and this summer their patio is lined with Sleeman's umbrella's. Are they starting another 'beer war,' something that we haven't really witnessed (or you haven't, I might be to young) since Molson and Labatt's raged war on each other in the late 80's early 90's? Is seems to me that Sleeman is targeting Mill Street's recent success.

Abrams also stated that Mill Street would never go over to the Roundhouse for example (where Steam Whistle is located) and hang a Mill Street banner over the entrance. One, the landlord would be committed to keeping Steam Whistle happy (as they pay rent) and secondly Mill Street just wouldn't slap another respectful brewing company in the face.

The topic has also appeared on Bar Towel and founder Cass Enright and I had a great talk about it at the Victory Cask Festival on Sunday. This could be the beginning of some interesting months in the Ontario brewing industry. It's just weird!

Abrams, "It's truly a sad day when you come to work and see this hanging above your brewery." "The DRG can do business with whomever they choose. We love being a part of the Distillery. It helped put us on the map. We're part of an incredible community of artists, designers and entrepreneurs. It's just sad."

The DRG was not contacted for comment.

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