While most people get chocolate in their Advent calendars, Toronto lawyer Michael Hassell’s was full of 25 beers.
It’s perhaps not surprising given that he’s the lawyer trying to take on the Beer Store through a legal challenge he announced last week. A co-owner of Barge Craft Beer Distribution and Retail Co. Ltd., he’s a lawyer who practises civil litigation and commercial defence who has also started up what he calls a “beer law niche practice” focused on advising craft brewers on regulatory issues and, since the issue of what to do with the Beer Store exploded into Ontario’s political consciousness in recent months, breaking up its dominant position in the market and the legal framework that allows for it.
Hassell, a 34-year-old graduate of Western Law who has been practising law since 2008, says his passion for beer itself dates back to good memories of hanging out with friends in high school. “There’s such a great social aspect to having a beer,” he says. But his passion for beer law is a bit more recent. One of his favourite beers was Creemore Springs, a smaller brewery bought up by Molson Coors Brewing Co. in 2005. Hassell was sad to see the acquisition of his favourite brewer, and when he realized the brewing behemoth also owned the Beer Store, he became more aware of just what the business environment for beer in Ontario was all about. “I didn’t realize it was this single private company getting untold millions of dollars,” he says of the retail environment for beer in Ontario. Like many people, he had the vague idea that the government had some sort of stake in the Beer Store or that the profits somehow flowed back to the province. But with the media, notably the Toronto Star, having started to question the current arrangement in recent months, people have become much more aware of the Beer Store’s ownership by the brewing giants, the limitations on beer sales at the LCBO, and the industry’s warm relationship with Ontario’s political parties.