Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 30, No.11

March 03, 2005


Molson professor studies beer

By Keith Randall

Kai  Lamertz does a little research at McKibbin’s Pub

Kai Lamertz does a little research at McKibbin’s Pub
Photo by Kate Hutchinson

Associate Professor Kai Lamertz was asked by the media to comment on the recent merger of the Molson and Coors breweries. He not only studies the industry, he likes the product.

“I was born and raised in Cologne, Germany, which probably partially explains my interest in beer,” he said with a chuckle.

Lamertz has a doctorate from the University of Toronto, and began teaching at Concordia in 1998. He was attracted to the subject by a class project at the U of T.

“I became interested in the industry, and started doing historical descriptions of brewing in Canada and other empirical work in the current industry.

“I’ve become very interested in all facets of beer brewing. Doing research is that much more motivating when the context you’re studying has a personal relevance.”

Lamertz’s special fascination is the rise of microbreweries in the North America, a scene he avidly follows as a researcher, consumer and home brewer.

He specializes in the cultural aspects of organizations, especially how the images companies project reflect regional attitudes and connect with their local community and society at large.


For example, microbrewers have a great interest in craftsmanship and are generally less concerned with making profit than making beer. It was this specialty that drew journalists’ attention.

“Since the summer, [the coverage of] the Coors-Molson merger was all about shareholders and financial outcomes. Very little was said about how you actually integrate two companies.

“Coors is conservatively oriented. In comparison, Molson’s character is much more liberal, partly a function of the fact they’re Canadian.”

In Lamertz’s view, the fusion of two historic family breweries in the second tier of the global industry reflects the industry as a whole. He sees the industry as comprising two fields, big breweries competing globally and little regional brewers competing among themselves.

“Molson and Coors are not quite big enough to compete at the highest level. Together, they can probably start playing in those leagues.”

International competition has brought Stella Artois, Hoegaarden and Leffe from Belgium to Canadian tables, while medium-sized brewers like Sleeman import Grolsch from the Netherlands and Brasseurs RJ Bitburger from Germany. In fact, Sleeman is growing its portfolio of Canadian microbreweries and maintaining its local labels.


Lamertz has traced the cycle before. Canadian breweries began early in the 19th century and peaked by 1900.

With consolidation, there were just five independent breweries in Ontario in the late ’70s. Today, there are more than 50. The same phenomenon has swept the U.S., which now has more breweries than Germany.

“What you’ve seen at the national level over the last century is now happening at the global level. In many countries there are a few very large breweries, the outcome of long years of consolidation. With the new global playing field, the next round of consolidation takes place with international mergers.”

Lamertz cheerily admits being an advocate of the beer culture. Quebec, he maintains, produces by far the best in Canada.

“I think people should make more of an effort to try different beers. You don’t have to go far. Companies like McAuslan are exemplary in the product quality. Unibroue is unique in North America for the styles of beer they make.

“In some of our brewpubs, like Cheval Blanc, Brutopia just around the corner here, Dieu du Ciel in the Plateau, you’ll find fabulous stuff. The SAQ carries quite a large number of European products.

“You’ll find Becks, Grolsch and Bitburger at your dépanneur. And there’s a variety of good local beer across the border in the States.”