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Craft Beer Propaganda

One of the things that has been slow to evolve in Canada is a kind of craft brewery solidarity. Now, don’t get me wrong, the men and women who make craft beer are quite collegial on the whole, and they cooperate and assist each other quite frequently (offering emergency supplies of ingredients, troubleshooting, etc.). But they haven’t made themselves a unified political and economic entity, to create a “craft” branding as it were. Especially in western Canada.

Ontario has established a craft beer association, which lobbies on behalf of and markets for the craft beer industry as a whole. And of course, the U.S. is far ahead of us, with a fairly aggressive approach to putting the craft scene out front. But we have seen little of that in the Prairie provinces (in part because it is hard to be a one-member umbrella group…).

I understand why. There are fewer brewers out here and they are far too busy making and selling beer to dabble too much into politics and the high stakes games of marketing. Besides, Alberta politics, in particular, is a sport not for the faint of heart. However, I do wonder if our local brewers could be a bit more “out-there” in terms of putting forth their commonality and shared commitment to good beer. This is just my personal opinion, and I realize they may disagree with me or prove me wrong (I would like to hear what they think on the subject).

There are small steps, I think, that are very encouraging. Recently the Canadian government helped fund a short promotional video for “prairie brewpubs” that highlighted Bushwakker’s in Regina. I have embedded it into this post.

However, I am going to force you to click on the “continue reading” thing to see it. Not because I am a jerk, but because I didn’t want to slow down the loading of the front page too much. So … Here is the video:

The video is an understated version of a U.S. video, I Am A Craft Brewer (sorry, no more embedding), which has been copied recently by Vancouver-area brewers to promote their first-ever Vancouver Craft Beer Week (which is next week, by the way). The video is on the front page. (Thanks, by the way, to Greg over at Canadian Beer News for drawing my attention to the video).

My favourite line from the Saskatchewan video? “Life is too short to be drinking one kind of beer.”

Precisely.

In the video it mentions 12 brewpubs in Regina. While factually accurate, it is a bit of a stretch. Saskatchewan laws allow brewpubs to sell off-sales, which some years ago led to a proliferation of token brewpubs – who make one or two marginal beers and then continue to sell primarily Molson and Labatt. Most do not retain a full-time brewmaster. The quality of the beer varies, but none of the places (of the ones I have frequented) had anywhere near a craft beer vibe. The exception, of course, is Bushwakker, who has blazed the trail in the prairies for how to help build a beer culture through a brewpub.

Of course, short little videos of craft brewers talking about their passion are useful, but marginal in their ability to foster more profile for craft brewing. That takes a more concerted effort, with some politics, some clever marketing and some enhanced cooperation.

How about pushing for a craft-brew mixer pack, with a beer from each of the prairie craft brewers (on some kind of rotation of sorts)? They do that in Ontario, and I hear it sells well, increasing consumer knowledge of a bigger swath of craft breweries. Or how about lobbying to change the taxation laws, which make it difficult for a small brewery to become a not-quite-as-small brewery? Or use a cooperative strategy to open up more tap space in prairie bars for regional brewers?

Of course, it is easy for me to pontificate about possibilities, sitting in my basement chugging out blog posts and beer reviews. I have the easy job. Which is my way of saying I understand where our prairie brewers are coming from, and I empathize with the complexity of the situation they face. I am just putting the thought out there for the beer world to contemplate.

Now, all of you, go out and purchase a six-pack of western Canadian craft beer today. Or better yet, turn a friend onto your favourite craft brewery and get THEM to buy a six-pack (maybe they’ll invite you over for a beer). Every six-pack will help build a movement.

3 comments to Craft Beer Propaganda

  • We just discovered your blog! Strange. It looks like you’ve been around for a while. And we note that you do seem to be aware of us. Next time you’re in the neighbourhood please stop by to say hello!
    With regard the issue of craft beer solidarity in Saskatchewan, the problem has been exacerbated by the unfortunate situation involving prostitution of the industry in this province that you describe elsewhere in your blog. (A detailed discussion of how this embarrassment came into being is described in detail in the long version of the history of the Bushwakker as it appears on our website.
    There are many indicators that Saskatchewan is now being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 1990’s (from the 1980’s of course) Who knows where we might go from there.
    Bushwakker does not market its beer for wholesale, but we respond to requests. One year ago we sold one beer to one hotel. We now sell four beers to three hotels. We also sell to three other licensees in Regina.
    You have noted ourselves and Paddockwood as being serious about craft beer in SK. Niall O’Hanlon of O’Hanlon’s has recently installed a small brewing system and is now brewing some very drinkable craft beer. We have been approached by two groups with an interest in our assistance in helping them join the craft beer community in SK., one as a brewpub, the other as a microbrewery. Of course we will oblige.
    We are beginning to work together. I recently sent a 1900-word discussion of issues affecting the growth of the craft beer community in SK to various provincial government departments and we are now working with the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority to remove barriers to growth, some of which I see you have also recognized.

    • beerguy

      Bev,

      Thanks for the kind words, and I am glad you found me. I am committed to doing my best to report goings-on around the prairies, so feel free to contact me if Bushwakker is up to anything interesting.

      Funny you mention O’Hanlon’s. My niece, who lives in Regina, was visiting last week and mentioned that O’Hanlon’s has just started brewing and suggested I sniff it out a bit. So, thanks for the heads up. I will try to get a bit more poop on what they are doing and add them to the Prairie Beer page.

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