Queen’s Pub puts Queen’s grads on ice

Gananoque Brewing Company says it’s been shut out by QP

All of Queen’s Pub’s draught offerings are owned or distributed by Molson Coors.
All of Queen’s Pub’s draught offerings are owned or distributed by Molson Coors.
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When a local brewing company owned by Queen’s graduates approached the Queen’s Pub (QP) last year about getting their beer on the menu, they didn’t realize how difficult it would be.

Gananoque Brewing Company (GBC) was founded by Bruce Davis, ArtSci ’84, in 2011. That was also the year he first approached the AMS about selling his products on tap — something that didn’t happen until winter 2014.

In Feb. 2014, Davis said, he and a GBC sales rep met with the 2013-14 AMS executive, as well as AMS Retail Operations Officer John McDiarmid. GBC pitched its Naughty Otter beer, along with the idea of a Queen’s beer that could be sold across Kingston with royalties paid to Queen’s organizations.

“That was shut out completely, 100 per cent no interest,” Davis said. “It was the most awkward meeting I’ve been in.”

Davis said he pitched the AMS on the fact that five of the GBC’s seven owners are Queen’s graduates — four, who own 20 per cent of the company together, are Comm ’13. He added that he finds it “peculiar” that they’re unable to sell beer to the AMS, given that The Grad Club and Sodexo both buy from GBC.

When he met with the AMS in February, he said, they explained that they “weren’t in a position” to sell GBC beer on tap.

“They didn’t have anything available and they already had commitments, and they, you know, they had relationships,” Davis said.

“It’s not uncommon in the beer world for people to have relationships and they’ll just say, you know, ‘if a tap comes open we’ll think about it’ — but it was basically, ‘we’re not in a position to take your beer’.”

The AMS declined multiple interview requests for McDiarmid.

Robbie Mitchnick, one of GBC’s co-owners, approached the AMS twice more, speaking with current Vice-President of Operations Justin Reekie over the summer and TAPS Head Manager Ben Schoening throughout the fall. Mitchnick said while Schoening agreed to take GBC’s Naughty Otter Lager, they’d only buy it in bottles — GBC would have to “prove” itself before it could be sold as draught.

Breweries prefer their products to be sold as draught, Mitchnick said, because it’s what customers prefer to buy.

Naughty Otter Lager went on the holiday menu. According to sales records provided by the GBC, QP ordered cases of Naughty Otter a total of five times from November to January. Then the orders dried up.

Because sales had previously been strong, Mitchnick reached out to Schoening in January to ask what was going on.

“He said, ‘oh, you know, it’s just, January is just slow, it’s normal’,” Mitchnick said. “He didn’t mention the fact that we were no longer shown on any menu.”

After a friend told Mitchnick there were no menus showing Naughty Otter, Mitchnick asked Schoening how they could be put on a menu. He said Schoening told him he wasn’t interested in reprinting menus.

“You don’t have to be a lab scientist to see that when you were on a menu, you’re selling four cases — so that’s 100 bottles a week — and when you’re off the menu you’re literally selling nothing,” Mitchnick said.

He added that servers either didn’t know whether QP was still selling the beer or told customers it wasn’t available, and promotional materials with Naughty Otter’s slogan — “ask me how you can get naughty” — had been removed.

The promotional materials were removed because of issues surrounding the slogan, Davis said — he was told QP thought they could lead to a sexual harassment claim.

Schoening told The Journal via email that QP decided to remove the materials “after multiple instances of servers feeling unsafe by comments made by patrons regarding the material”.

Schoening said QP’s purchasing decisions are made through competitive analysis, “as well as an analysis of historical results and products that have been favoured by our customers”, with final decisions approved by the Hospitality and Safety Services Director and the VP Operations.

All beers on draught currently sold by QP — Canadian, Hops & Bolts, Rickard’s White, Rickard’s Red, Creemore, Granville Island Pale Ale and Newcastle Brown — are either owned directly or distributed in Canada by Molson Coors Brewing Company.

“Before we add a beer to our menu, we trial run a beer through special menus, such as the Holiday Menu,” Schoening said, adding that QP was “happy” to continue selling Naughty Otter, which is now displayed above the main bar.

“However, even though we are continuing to advertise the beer, demand has decreased and we have not had the need to replenish our stock,” he said.

Farzeen Ghorashy, Comm ’15, hasn’t ordered Naughty Otter since it was taken off the seasonal menu.

“I just assumed it was no longer available,” said Ghorashy.

“That’s the issue with not having it straight on the menu — people just assume, ‘okay, whatever, that was a short-term thing’, and everyone just goes back to ordering their typical go-to beer.”

He contrasted QP with bars like the Brooklyn, which write their offerings on a blackboard.

“At QP, they don’t really put any effort in promoting it at all.”

GBC’s problems with the AMS may not be over yet.

Davis said he’d been told by the chairman of GBC’s board that the company was recently threatened with legal action by someone who works for the AMS.

Mackenzie Biddie, AMS communications officer, told The Journal that the AMS hadn’t spoken to the chairman and had no knowledge of a lawsuit “nor any intention to bring forth a lawsuit”.

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