Follow beer writer, Troy Burtch, as he explores the wonderful world of craft beer and the pubs that serve it. Great Canadian Beer is a place to come to catch up on beer news, read tasting notes, check out event listings, and for pub previews and reviews.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Tale of Two Tastings

It's not very often that I find myself with a free night. A night with nothing to do - no writing, no deal making (for TAPS advertising), no wedding planning. I had some free time during the last couple of weeks so I decided to help out a local craft brewery with some tastings they had planned for an LCBO store near my home and a Beer Store not far away.

I have done many tastings for a couple of craft breweries in LCBO's but never in a Beer Store, so I was very curious to see how the two sessions would differ and thought it would be an interesting topic for posting on. The first tasting took place on August 27th at the LCBO and the Beer Store tasting just took place on Friday night, September 4th.

The government retail outlet runs tastings all the time. Wines, spirits, and beers can be tasted by customers throughout the week as many of the large wineries hire individuals to stand behind the tasting booth to pass along free samples while reading from the back of pre-made tasting notes. I don't like this method. It doesn't make me feel like they really care about the product.

Anyway, back on topic. The LCBO prepares the booth for you. They bring extra cases from the walk in fridges to help with the display; with the thought that the grander the display the more likely incoming customers will notice it and stop by. All this is usually done by the 'Beer Guy/Girl' who also make display cards that feature the price of the product being sampled and tasting notes provided by the brewery. The individual doing the tasting is responsible for bringing along a snack (I prefer to bring pretzels) and ice. So, upon arriving, all the taster needs to do is get the beer on ice and put the snack in the bowl, and then get at it.

The LCBO serves individuals from all walks of life, from white collar professionals to the homeless and everyone in between. This makes tastings interesting. You can immediately spot someone walking through the doors who may be interested in hearing about the product and these are the people you want to target. Then there are the people who see 'free' samples of beer and 'free' pretzels who approach and just wants a couple of drinks. You do the whole spiel and then it comes to the price - "wow, no thanks, but maybe next time." I love that line, especially when you see them leave the store with three bottles of Maximum Ice. However, that being said, the majority of people that stop by the booth are generally interested in learning something, or tasting something different, and I've found some success in turning these people onto the particular product for at least one evening, which is rewarding.

The Beer Store
Friday night. The start of the long weekend. I had planned to be 3 1/2 hours up north at the cottage drinking a Lakes of Muskoka Hefe-Weissbier on the dock, but a medical emergency in the family prevented that, so I offered to do the tasting.... at the Beer Store.

Every Ontario citizen that reads this blog is probably having the same thoughts that I did about a Beer Store tasting, especially tasting a craft beer - "it's going to be an interesting night, dealing with the kind of people that hang outside the front doors and the kind of people who only drink one kind of beer and never veer from it." And it was, to a certain degree. Naturally, and with good reason, I had already typecast the Beer Store as a place that would be an inhospitable environment for such a tasting, but I was in for a surprise.

Just like the LCBO beer guy/girl, the Beer Store manager had everything all ready to go. He had brought a number of cases from the back to arrange a display, moved the large Bud Light Lime display so I wasn't standing directly beside it, and he provided the ice for the tasting. We spoke about Ontario produced craft beer and his exact words were - "I love to support the little guys as much as possible. They make great beers, but education is key in winning over the people that continue to buy the same thing time and again." That was definitely good to hear from someone who receives his cheque from the owners of the Beer Store.

The customers. From 4:30 to about 7:00pm there were a number of people who stopped by and sampled the beer and had some questions about it. I did my little speech about the positives of craft beer and why this particular beer had taste that they may not have ever experienced before. The first three gentlemen, all in the early forties and looking professional, all left the store with a case each. The taste of the beer seemed to capture their interest and hearing why they were tasting the things they did worked in their favour.

After 7:30pm or so it went downhill from there. Red Baron Lime sales took off. Multiple cases of Molson Canadian, Keith's, and Carling left the store. People at this time were entering the store and heading straight to the cashier. No attention was paid to the tasting booth, or the infamous wall of choices for that matter. I decided to pack it in early and head to home.

LCBO - fresh, fresh beer (bottled August 27 and selling on August 29th), customers who show interest to try the product and learn about it, cleaner stores, overall better environment

Beer Store - willing to assist, more interest than initially thought, provided a cooler to pre-cool the beers during sampling

LCBO - not to many come to mind. The staff aren't as educated about the beer as you'd like to think (some have never tried it).

Beer Store - dirty store, bottle return brings in some sketchy folks who want nothing more than copious amounts of samples, older product (I sold another product from the same brewery and the customer blew dust off the top of the box - the date stamp was still in good standing (end of June)), and you are surrounded by advertising for cheap beer.

It was certainly interesting to see the differences in how the two stores operate. The Beer Store plays loud classic rock and re-plays Beer Store tv behind the counter while the LCBO plays soft music. The LCBO id's everyone that looks under 25 while I didn't see even one person get carded by the Beer Store. The Beer Store turned two people away and both cashiers took turns going outside the store to tell the one women to leave - the LCBO employees would never do so.

Overall, as you may have guessed by now, the LCBO was/is a better place to educate people on the merits of craft beer and the LCBO system as a whole is way more conducive for the sale of craft beer. However, the Beer Store wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

1 comment:

Alan said...

Sounds like you need some abusive disruption theory added into your presentation. Call me in when you need that skill set.

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