LITTLE CURRENT—A smorgasbord beer offering from six Northern Ontario craft brewers is on its way to an LCBO near you.
“It’s a great opportunity to demonstrate that Northern Ontario has great breweries,” says Manitoulin Brewing Company co-owner Blair Hagman.
For this edition, the brewery has included its Swing Bridge Blonde Ale.
“It definitely stands out and people will recognize that as one of the great beers of the North,” says Mr. Hagman.
“There’s a great visual aspect to see our product joined with five other big brewers from Northern Ontario,” he says.
This is the second edition of the mixed pack, informally known as the mixed sixer. It is a collaborative effort between six Northern Ontario breweries that are members of the Northern Ontario Brewers Alliance, a group started by Highlander Brewing Company co-owner Dwayne Wanner.
Besides Manitoulin Brewing Co. and Highlander Brewing Co., from South River, the alliance consists of Lake of the Woods Brewing Co., New Ontario Brewing Co., Sleeping Giant Brewing Co. and Stack Brewing. Mr. Wanner had started the informal group in an attempt to better compete with brewers in more advantaged market.
“It’s hard up here because of the smaller stores and less population; that’s always the issue with the North. We tried to figure out a way that we could get back our market share, at least within our own Northern area,” says Mr. Wanner.
Mr. Wanner had selected Manitoulin Brewing Company to be part of the alliance because they had already been stocking their products into the LCBO and were members of the Ontario Craft Beer Association. Those two factors mean the brewers have signed a quality agreement and are already approved suppliers to the LCBO. The latter has made the process of stocking the mixed pack easier, though a new approval process was still required in addition to overcoming ordering constraints.
“Nobody had ever done it before, six brewers coming together to sell as a group. The system was only set up to buy from one brewery,” says Mr. Wanner. After some manual entries into the system, the six-pack was greenlighted for sale.
The idea has proved popular, too, based on the interests of craft beer consumers in Canada.
“In Ontario, we’re still at a stage where people are still experimenting to find their new drink,” says Mr. Wanner.
“That gave us a better chance of dealing with the LCBO, where we said, ‘you don’t have to take a risk on one SKU of beer that might sit on the shelf for six months.’ The idea is, you can buy six and sample them,” says Mr. Wanner.
That idea has proven popular. By the end of the first edition’s run, the alliance had sold 10,000 cases across the province.
Mr. Hagman says the LCBO in Little Current has ordered the six-pack, and he hopes to get all the other stores on the Island to carry it as well. At press time, the units had not yet arrived at the Little Current store. Interested consumers can order product off the LCBO website and have it shipped to retail stores free of charge.
“It’s very encouraging to see the support for the Northern Alliance six-pack for the second edition,” says Mr. Hagman.