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Buy a Top Shelf beer, support NHL alumni

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Ab McDonald (left), the first captain of the WHA Winnipeg Jets, with WETT's Bill Gould.

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Ab McDonald (left), the first captain of the WHA Winnipeg Jets, with WETT's Bill Gould. Photo Store

HOCKEY fans will be able to go top shelf all summer long, even after the Stanley Cup playoffs are over.

Top Shelf Classic Lager, a new beer brewed in conjunction with the NHL Alumni Association (NHLAA), will hit Manitoba liquor stores and beer vendors on Monday.

This is the second liquor-related initiative of the NHLAA in support of its 3,400 members, some of whom earn just $1,000 or $2,000 per year from their pensions.

Two years ago, the NHLAA launched red-and-white versions of Hat Trick wines, from which it receives 50 cents per bottle sold.

Top Shelf, which is brewed by Lake of Bays Brewing Co. in the Muskoka region north of Toronto, first came off the line last October and has been available in Ontario, Alberta, New Brunswick and a trio of states, Michigan, Ohio and New York.

Darren Smith, the brewery's president and CEO, said he was introduced to the alumni association by a mutual friend last year, and within no time, they had signed a three-year deal.

"We saw what they were doing with wine and hockey and we thought, 'OK,' but beer and hockey, 'Yeah!' " he said.

"That's a really good fit."

The NHLAA will receive 50 cents per 473-ml can sold as a licensing fee.

Smith said Lake of Bays also hopes to get some of its Masked Men series -- beers he described as "more adventurous," not to mention higher alcohol content -- on Manitoba shelves, too. It has already launched recipes with famous goaltenders Johnny Bower and Curtis Joseph on the sides and the next one -- a white ash-aged imperial pilsner -- will feature Jacques Plante.

"White ash oak is what hockey sticks are made of," Smith said.

Mark Napier, executive director of the NHLAA, said Hat Trick wines have done "very well" over the last two years.

"Beer was the next logical move for us. We just fell in love with Lake of Bays' proposals. It all made sense for us," he said.

Bill Gould, president of WETT Sales & Distribution, which is distributing Top Shelf throughout the province, said the hockey landscape is dominated by the major brewers, so it's interesting to see a small craft brewery try to get a piece of the market.

"We think we're going to have the opportunity to work with members of the alumni and have them at events, such as tastings. They're very supportive of the initiative," he said.

Napier said the NHLAA hasn't considered filling out its offering by branching out into hard liquor.

This isn't Lake of Bay's first foray into Manitoba. Its Crosswind Pale Ale and Rock Cut Lager are already in the market.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 30, 2014 B4

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