While Canadian beer consumption in general has declined, the craft-beer segment has experienced double-digit growth since 2000. In fact, according to LCBO statistics, craft-beer sales have increased 12 to 15 per cent and continue to rise — despite recent talk of a saturated market.
“It feels like it should be over, but it’s not yet,” says beer writer Ben Johnson. “For years, they’ve been saying there’s only so much shelf space to go around, yet the industry seems to keep growing.”
The scenario is similar in B.C., according to beer blogger Dustan Sept of Beer Me BC. He says the industry has grown drastically. “The only thing that’s grown faster than the interest in and purchase of craft beer is the number of breweries that have opened,” he says, estimating that there are currently 160 bricks-and-mortar breweries in the province.
Mark Wilson, LCBO category manager, Beer and Cider, agrees, saying retail sales have exploded over the last four or five years precisely because breweries have. “Five years ago, we bought from about 40 Ontario craft breweries. Now we’re close to 150,” Wilson says.
Restaurants are also experiencing a craft boom. “Five years ago, a bar may have had three macro-taps and two local beer taps,” says Sept. “Those places now may have 20 taps representing many more options for consumers.” Johnson adds consumer tastes are simply more sophisticated. “Restaurants have taken notice and are being forced to keep up.”
Consumers are discovering beer flavours for every occasion. That includes a recent shift toward fruitier, lighter and more tropical flavours, says Sept, and away from piney, bitter and hoppy IPAs. Robin LeBlanc, beer columnist at The Thirsty Wench and co-author of the Ontario Craft Beer Guide, notes more beer options “diminish the draw of the big brewers” and has seen them buying craft breweries to appeal to the demographic that wants more flavour and adventure in a beer.
“It’s a progression from people looking at their food or wine and realizing if we care about local ingredients and good quality, then we should consider everything. Beer has become a part of that,” she says.“They just keep finding ways to grow,” says Johnson, noting the perfectly crafted storm of new flavours, high demand and brewer dedication. “It’s almost as if the more available craft beer is, the more it sells.”
Written by Andrew Coppolino