Brewing up change in the Hammer
Photos by Matty Flader / Photo Reporter
Recently, Hamilton has seen an influx of craft breweries establishing themselves around the city. With craft beer on the rise, MERIT Brewing Company is one of the industry leaders, brewing locally in their space on 107 James St. North.
Co-founder of MERIT and McMaster alumnus, Tej Sandhu, wanted to create a communal, welcoming space by combining a tap room, brewery, kitchen and bottle shop.
“Really what we hope it is, is a space for community around [MERIT]. So much of what we built this place to be is to facilitate conversation, facilitate our community, and facilitate a great experience for people around these things that we love producing . . . in a space that is easy to get to, that is accessible, that’s inclusive, that is open and that is friendly and warm. Those are things that we had as our goal for what we wanted the space to be but for what we keep as our goals for everything we do as well,” said Sandhu.
On Oct. 1, the Ontario Craft Brewers, a membership trade association that represents local breweries in Ontario, participated in a government roundtable in the Niagara region. The OCB represents the voices of approximately 30 per cent of craft breweries around Ontario
“We participated in the roundtable to provide our perspective and make sure the voice of local brewers is heard on potential changes to the alcohol system, which are critical to our future growth and success,” said the OCB via their Twitter account.
(1/2) The Ontario Government is currently consulting on potential reforms to Ontario’s beverage alcohol sector. As Niagara is home to many craft producers, the govt hosted a series of roundtables this weekend w/ reps from craft wineries, distillers, cideries, and breweries.
— Ontario Craft Brewers (@OntCraftBrewers) September 29, 2019
(2/2) We participated in the roundtable to provide our perspective and make sure the voice of local brewers is heard on potential changes to the alcohol system, which are critical to our future growth and success.
— Ontario Craft Brewers (@OntCraftBrewers) September 29, 2019
The association also shared photos with Sam Oosterhoff, a Progressive Conservative member of provincial parliament from the Niagara-West riding. Oosterhoff has claimed that he wants to remove abortion rights. Additionally, he has actively opposed Bill 128 — the All Families Are Equal act, a piece of legislation that removes the words "mother" and "father" in favour of gender-neutral terms allowing all parents to be treated equally. He continues to defend his socio-political beliefs when confronted by the media. The tweets promoting Oosterhoff with the OCB were taken down after being posted.
Although not an OCB member, MERIT Brewing Company released a statement about the OCB’s event via their Facebook page on Oct. 1.
“MERIT was not part of this discussion, nor are we members of the OCB, but we would like to say that we are unequivocally against the views of MPP Oosterhoff and outraged over the OCB’s decision to promote their work with him as some sort of gain for the industry or brushed off as part of their responsibility to work with the government,” said the statement.
MERIT turned their attention to the community that was being affected by the OCB’s statement. The team reflected on their values of creating a welcoming, diverse space but found that the industry association that indirectly represents them was doing the opposite.
“While working together with the government is a good thing — when there's someone whose beliefs, outside of beer . . . are directly attacking not only owners of the businesses but staff members, people who are our guests and our consumers, that really strikes a chord as something that . . . the OCB did without thinking [about] what the implications are,” said Sandhu. “. . . We were angry because even if you're not an OCB member, the OCB indirectly represents our industry. They are the only association that we have. Their stance [on] promotion and their communication is reflective of our entire industry in Ontario.”
The OCB has issued an apology on Twitter.
— Ontario Craft Brewers (@OntCraftBrewers) October 1, 2019
Sandhu emphasized that MERIT, and all members of the OCB, had the responsibility to hold higher organizations accountable for their actions.
While MERIT had voiced their concerns on an industry level, Sandhu also reflected on local level concerns in Hamilton.
On Oct. 1, as a part of Hamilton’s “Fast 40” initiative, local and fast-growing businesses were recognized for contributing to the city’s economic development. MERIT Brewing Company was one business amongst many to receive the award given by mayor Fred Eisenberger. In light of tensions between Eisenberger and the LGBTQA2S+ community, while MERIT claimed their reward, they left shortly before a photo opportunity with Eisenberger.
“There has been a ton of conversation internally about the handling of the LGBT community, the mayor’s response to the concerns that have been raised and the threat to our staff that are part of the community as well. [Our] action wasn’t meant to be a massive ‘F-U’ to the mayor, it was a way we could ask for accountability. It was something that was small that we thought would have, at the very least, an impact on showing our staff and our guests that we are standing up for them and not standing with someone who isn’t protecting them,” said Sandhu.
MERIT Brewing Company does not see themselves as a voice for marginalized communities, but rather as a microphone that allows their voices be heard. MERIT felt that their action was a step towards greater accountability among local leaders.
Regardless, you don't take a picture of brewery owners smiling and raising a glass with this guy. It's horrible PR. pic.twitter.com/W7njlY6jMu
— Robin LeBlanc, from work (@TheThirstyWench) September 30, 2019
Eisenberger has asked to sit down and meet with MERIT. While the company did not confirm a meeting before this article was released, Sandhu hopes to open a door for members of the community to start communicating with the mayor.
“Conversation is not enough; action needs to follow a conversation . . . You still need to have conversations to get to action . . . We’re trying to do our part. It’s inherent and embedded in what MERIT’s about, from why we are called “MERIT” to what we strive to do here and have be our experience. This is something that we feel is not only our responsibility, it’s our privilege to be able to speak out on these things and it’s something that we are doing because we’re passionate about it,” said Sandu.
Local businesses like MERIT Brewing Company are lending their voice to members of marginalized communities in hopes of not only starting a conversation but also demanding action.
The Silhouette has reached out via email to Ontario Craft Brewers and the office of MPP Sam Oosterhoff for comment; however, we have not received a response.