Following news of the legal action against The Beer Store with a proposed “simple fix”, I got in touch with Michael Hassell from Barge Craft Brew Co for a brief chat on who Barge are and what they want to achieve.
Ryan Ward / Rare Republic: Barge seem to have come out of nowhere with this legal action. Who are Barge Craft Beer Co.?
Michael Hassell: Barge Craft Beer’s formal legal name is Barge Craft Beer Distribution & Retail Co. Inc. (www.bargecraftbeer.ca). The operating name is Barge Craft Beer or Barge for short.
Barge Craft Beer wants to open up boutique craft beer stores across the Province. It has a two step business plan: first, fight for a licence (requires a change to the Liquor Control Act) and second, launch the boutique craft beer stores.
Because we’re at step one and it will take time to get to step two whether a Bill is passed or a court order is obtained, it is impossible to retail beer right now. That right there is the unfairness. Barge wants to create jobs and compete, but the Liquor Control Act prevents that from happening.
Do any of you have a background in craft beer?
Hassell: I love craft beer and drink it all the time. I really appreciate what the craft brewers do to make a quality product. My background is in business and law. I am a trial lawyer. I solve business problems in court. Since Barge does not brew and is a distributor and retailer, we need a good appreciation for the market and what’s popular. We’ll be sure to get a good variety of craft brews on the shelves.
What made you issue this legal action against TBS?
Hassell: The Beer Store’s monopoly is just awful. It is holding back production of Ontario craft beer. It is holding back jobs. It is unfair and anti-competitive. It goes against my fundamental principles. I think Ontarians like a fair fight. No one wants to watch a five against one hockey match.
What is your intent with this legal action?
Hassell: The goal is for the Government to see the light and make the necessary changes to institute fair competition in Ontario’s beer industry. If the Government does so voluntarily, we could see craft beer stores in Ontario in late 2015 or early 2016. If the Government does not do so, we’ll proceed and do our damndest to knock the Beer Store’s monopoly out.
Did you approach the OCB association or any Craft Brewers before proceeding?
Hassell: Yes, I personally reached out to all Ontario craft brewers listed on the Ontario Craft Beer Network (www.momandhops.ca) multiple times during the fall of 2014 by email and made myself available to everyone who responded. Their responses taught me that the single biggest problem craft brewers face is inability to get their craft beer to market because of the laws.
How confident are you that you have a case?
Hassell: When I go to court, I often think of the argument the other side has to make; in this case: monopolies are good. I seriously do not know how the Government will be able to defend this application. But I do know they’ll put up a lot of arguments if they don’t just tweak the law to end the monopoly. If the Government were to lose a case like this for being anti-competitive, I think there would be some consequences at the next election.
If you win, what then?
Hassell: Ontarians will have a vast array of delicious beers to enjoy.
How do you personally feel about the state of Craft Beer in Ontario?
Hassell: Craft beer in Ontario looks like a giant dam holding back an enormous, artificial lake of goodness. If we bust the dam open, Ontario will be flooded with a massive surge of craft beer goodness that will put smiles on Ontarians’ faces.
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What do you think about Barge taking on the TBS? What do you think of it as a David vs Goliath scenario? Leave us a comment, below, and let us know.