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(BEN CLARKSON FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
(BEN CLARKSON FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

My modest victory over the beer marketers Add to ...

I have been confronted by my age. I’m used to seeing a few grey hairs when I look in the mirror and shamelessly agree when young people offer their seats to me on a crowded bus. I don’t notice my brisk city walk slowing down nor do I fear turning into a pumpkin if I stay out past midnight. No. My problem arose when I visited the beer store and found that they don’t sell Molson Export in six-packs anymore.

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Molson still makes Export. I’m sure it is still a good performer for Molson in 12-packs and 24s. It is just that Export is not a young person’s beer. It’s no longer a beer to bring over to a friend’s house for an impromptu evening of fun. If I do bring it to a party someone almost always says, “Hey, that’s the brand my father used to drink.”

It obviously is still on the market and, despite changing demographics, has its loyal customers, ones who pick up 12s and 24s to throw in the car to take to the house or cottage.

Beer commercials today are not about getting middle-aged people to change their brands, they are about getting young people to choose a brand they will stay with for years. Export did the same thing at one time. Molson used to spend a fortune on ads with young people getting off work, coming in from a hockey game or sitting by the cooler on a cottage dock. “Ex says it all,” was a slogan that resonated for years. Times change. I haven’t seen an ad for Export in some years.

Ex recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Molson redesigned the label to celebrate its longevity, but they didn’t spend a lot of money in promoting the fact that they were still pushing a product that was introduced a century before. I started buying Ex when I came of age in the mid-1970s in Central Ontario near Algonquin Park, on the western edge of Eastern Ontario. For reasons I have never fully understood, ales are more popular in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec than they are in the rest of the country. I still think of it as the brand on a tavern table, or cracked open in a lumber-camp kitchen while the old raconteurs told fabulous stories of highjinks in the bush camps and fishing trips into the backwoods where only bears and blackflies dare to go. When one of the old-timers offered you a beer the choice was not lager or ale, simply Molson or Labatt.

At that time brewers were spending their advertising dollars trying to persuade young people my age to settle their tastes on lager, with Molson Canadian and Labatt Blue being the two heavyweight challengers. I may never have worked in the lumber mills, as did my father and countless cousins, but I still stayed loyal to ales – and Export over Labatt’s 50.

These days, American brands made under licence in Canada dominate the market. At the same time, microbreweries are very popular. I admit I enjoy sipping a Mill Street craft beer in the bar they have created in an old lumber mill on the Ottawa River. Still, when it comes to buying beer for my home, it is usually Export.

About once a week I gather up my empties and wander from my apartment building to the beer store. Living in the heart of the city, I don’t have a car anymore. Carrying a 24-pack the 10 or so blocks back home is not in the cards. Carrying a 12-pack is just too awkward. But a six-pack or, better, two six-packs, is perfect. I can put them in my two durable tote bags, perfectly balanced, one in each hand.

Although we have never learned each others’ names, I have become a familiar figure to the beer-store staff. They see me in the line with my empties and say, “Two sixes to go?” as my turn comes up. Some even punch the order into the computer so I get the two six-packs for the slightly lower price of a 12-pack.

Then one weekend last spring I was told they were out of Export in six-packs. I tried again the next week. Same story. The third time, the guy they call Red shook his head and said, “Sorry, they are not making it in six-packs anymore. I guess the six-packs aren’t selling very well.”

I ordered two six-packs of something else and made my way home. I think I left the store paraphrasing T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in my mind, “I grow old, I grow old, I still like my beer cold.”

I was brooding over whether to switch brands or throw away my aversion to drinks packaged in aluminum. Neither option appealed to a man set in his ways.

Of course, I did go back to the beer store a week later. Red saw me coming, “Two sixes to go?” he said coyly.

“They don’t make them anymore,” I reminded him.

“No, but we can,” he said. In a moment he was into the back room and out with a 12-pack of Molson Export and two six-pack holders for some imported beer. In a minute he was snapping the 12-pack open and stuffing the bottles into the holders. There they were, two six-packs of Molson Export – for the price of a 12-pack.

My visits to the beer store are a little more labour-intensive these days. When it’s busy, I have to do the breaking up of the 12-pack myself. But I get my brand in bottles, in six-packs.

And the walk back home is with a spring in my step. Somehow the fellows at the beer store have helped me ward off the necessity of changing with the times.

Tom MacGregor lives in Ottawa.

 

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