For craft breweries identity is important–and occasionally controversial. A central question in that debate is: Can a craft brewery keep that label after it is bought by a large, multinational brewing company? For instance, Ontario’s Creemore Springs Brewery was bought by Molson is 2005 and then B.C.’s Granville Island Brewing was in turn purchased by Creemore in 2009.
Both companies have kept many of their fans despite the takeover by Molson Coors. I think this is especially true when it comes to special or seasonal releases. Granville Island’s Lions Winter Ale is a typical example.
What distinguishes a craft beer from a large-scale beer? As the market share slides toward newer, smaller brewers, and the older, behemoth competitors find new ways to keep customers, that question becomes more relevant. Big beer companies are resorting to a number of tactics to stay in the game, including starting their own microbreweries or buying existing ones.
Vancouver’s Granville Island Brewing has been owned by Molson Coors since 2009. Once under a macrobrewery’s branded umbrella, it can be difficult to objectively separate noteworthy flavour from crafty marketing, but Granville Island’s Lions Winter Ale — which has a well-deserved, devoted following — stands out as a remarkable, flavourful exception.
Out of the can and into a pint glass, the colour is clear ruby and brown. The aroma leans on sweet, dark fruit with hints of Christmas spices like cloves and cinnamon. On first sip, flavours that remind me of milk chocolate and licorice allsorts continue the Christmas candy theme. Compared to the taste and aroma, the carbonation, body, and head of the Lions Winter Ale are just average.
A wide distribution network is one of a macrobrewery’s greatest advantages. In this case, Molson Coors devoted the resources to the LCBO’s product approval process to get the Lions Winter Ale listed here. That means Ontarians no longer need to depend on six packs smuggled back from B.C. by friends visiting family for the holidays.
Granville Island Lions Winter Ale, $2.85 for a 473 mL can, LCBO #321877