Canadians’ love affair with craft beer is burning strong, with the LCBO reporting close to an 18-per-cent increase in sales for 2017/2018. Joanna Britton, Sales and Marketing manager for Craft Beer Market, credits the continuing popularity of craft beer with its ties to the locavore movement. “The idea of shop local, eat local, drink local, buy local has become such a huge part of culture in Canada,” says Britton. “People want to drink what’s close by.”
Craft Beer Market works with local breweries at its seven restaurants across Canada to develop individual tap programs. At its Toronto location, Britton says Left Field’s Laser Show Vermont Style IIPA ($7) is consistently one of its top-10 sellers out of 160 taps. “People are really gravitating towards beer that’s made in their own towns,”
Scott Simmons, president of the Ontario Craft Brewers Association, headquartered in Toronto, agrees the locavore movement has been one of the primary driving forces behind the success of craft beer. “[People] love to support entrepreneurs. They love to know that when they talk to the owner, that’s the person that’s making the beer. It’s very personal,” says Simmons.
He adds that, in Ontario, retail changes have also helped to boost craft-beer sales in recent years. “The LCBO has put a strong push on supporting local,” says Simmons, “and the foray into grocery stores has helped, too.”
The growth of the craft-beer segment has been slower in Alberta, according to Jeff Orr, president and co-founder of Tool Shed Brewing Company, a Calgary-based brewery. Up until 2013, the Alberta government imposed a minimum yearly-production requirement on brewers to sell commercially — a significant hurdle for small brewers trying to enter the market. “That really held us back for a long time, so we’re kind of catching up,” says Orr.
Since this minimum-production requirement was lifted, the number of craft breweries in Alberta has grown from a few dozen to more than 100, but Orr says the province is still a young market for craft beer. “[We still need to] open people’s minds up to this product,” says Orr.
Tool Shed’s People Skills cream ale ($7 for 20 oz), which Orr says is the most-approachable option for fans of mass-produced lagers, continues to be the company’s bestseller, but sales of its Star Cheek IPA ($7 for 20 oz) have doubled over the last few years. Orr credits this shift in sales to Albertans’ growing appreciation for the taste of craft beer. “People have become more attune to these different flavours in beer that three years ago [they] found highly offensive,” says Orr.
Back in Ontario, Britton says the future of craft beer lies in the province’s small towns. “The past mindset was: open a brewery and make it get bigger and bigger, so you could ship across the whole country,” says Britton. “The mindset now is to open a brewery for the people in your community and the point isn’t necessarily to grow; it’s about making a great product.”
Written by Jessica Huras