Stalwart Brewing Co., based in Carleton Place, is a great example of a bootstrap brewery that worked hard to build a successful business and a well-deserved following.
Last week they announced they were going to be carried in Ottawa-area LCBOs. Amazing news for the team that started as a stove-top brewery in the Wellington Gastro Pub under the name Stock Pot Ales. Fast forward a couple years and they have firmly established themselves in Carleton Place and through the LCBO, will be available back in Ottawa again. Well-deserved for the small business.
Pump the brakes.
The LCBO pulled the product after accepting a large order of cans and selling Stalwart’s IPA for one (!) day.
The concern is that Stalwart’s delightfully hop-forward IPA, Dr. Feelgood, has a label that features a play on the Rod of Asclepius, which it is suggested, could create confusion around the healing properties of the flavourful ale.
If not for the news around this, I would have not been familiar with this particular rod nor Asclepius. A quick Google tells me the Greek god Asclepius is a deity associated with healing and medicine. It is a dated symbol commonly associated with medicine, which is ironic because western medicine rarely uses divine intervention anymore. The integration of this symbol by the artist that designed the label, I assume, is on the “Dr.” designation of Mr. Feelgood. That, of course, is a play off the Mötley Crüe song. More like mötley scrüewed, amirite? (*pause for groans.)
So to be unclear: the nuanced artistic interpretation of a label design for a beer named after a song invokes a Greek god which raises a red flag with the LCBO who doesn’t want to confuse consumers that might believe this beer has medicinal attributes. As a frequent LCBO customer, I can assure you this beer does not make me believe I’ll be a better doctor anymore than Sailor Jerry’s rum would make me a better boater or Budweiser’s free NHL tuque would make me a stronger hockey player.
But here’s where things become confusing, the LCBO initially approved the beer, the label and the name. Any brewery will tell you, the LCBO runs a tight ship. There are numerous requirements a brewery needs to meet to get into the LCBO, which with the Beer Store, one of Ontario’s two primary beer-selling businesses (grocery stores can only carry LCBO approved beer). It was only after the beer was delivered and on the shelves that the LCBO’s backtracking took place. This is pretty disappointing to see happen to a hard working group of folks who delivered the beer themselves.
As a frequent LCBO customer, I can assure you this beer does not make me believe I’ll be a better doctor anymore than Sailor Jerry’s rum would make me a better boater or Budweiser’s free NHL tuque would make me a stronger hockey player.
Despite the setback, Stalwart Brewing remains upbeat. “We’re still excited to get this beer to the people who want it on the shelves,” says co-owner Adam Newlands. “We’ll be moving ahead with new artwork, as requested, but we’ve obviously lost revenue and had significant costs associated with the LCBO twice changing its mind on our label’s status.”
So why does that matter? Well, it means fans of the brewery will have to continue that trek down Highway 7 to 10 High Street in Carleton Place – on the positive side, you can grab a Lakeside Shawarma while there – to enjoy the top-notch beers these top-notch folks produce.
It also means a small craft brewery takes a hit. Resources would have been shifted to meet this huge opportunity to be carried in the LCBO, the brewing schedule is impacted, new labels have to be bought and printed, old labels are a waste, and the beer isn’t getting any fresher as it waits to be (re)approved.
For me, the big impact is that it takes away from what was going to be a great first impression for the brewery. Momentum takes a hit. Stalwart is exactly the kind of local brewery you can feel good about supporting and this kinda ruins their arrival party.
Whenever the tasty beer is available at the LCBO under its new label, I’ll be there to buy it – for its taste and not its healing ability.
And next time I’m at the brewery, I’ll probably buy one of those controversial Dr. Feelgood labels that everyone is talking about.