Last week, Bev Robertson, leading man at Bushwakker Brewpub in Regina, let go a classic rant in their newsletter, Wakker Weekly, about the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) and their recent review of beer mark-up rates. You can find the newsletter here – the rant starts on page 3 [EDIT: Apparently the link has been broken. Here is a permanent link from their Facebook page - thanks to Mark for finding it].
Before getting into the topic of Robertson’s rant, I want to acknowledge that I don’t write about Bushwakker much on these pages, despite the fact that it has consistently been one of Canada’s best brewpubs for years. This is not because of some odd vendetta or dislike, or even omission. Instead, it is a combination of the fact that I don’t get there much (in fact I have only been there once – my loss), and that the beer is only available on site, restricting accessibility (the latter is the same reason Brewster’s doesn’t get much ink on these pages). Such is the challenge of brewpubs – they only make news when something happens OUTSIDE their premises. Such as Bev’s rant.
Moving to the rant, he chastizes the SLGA for deciding to leave their mark-up rates as they have been for years. And I get why he is pissed off about that. Bev has two particular beefs in the rant. First, he is unhappy that the government retained the threshold for the lowest mark-up rate at 5,000 Hl, which is a VERY small amount. Second, he grumbles about lethargy at the Special Order desk of the SLGA – the section responsible for bringing in one-time beer. The article does seem to suggest that Bushwakker and others in the Saskatchewan beer industry don’t necessarily see eye to eye on the policy. I will avoid picking sides, as I simply don’t have enough information about the situation. However, the article is an interesting glimpse into how Saskatchewan handles beer policy.
Bev is a bit unclear about what the rules are, so I tried to research what the provisions are – unfortunately without a whole lot of success (man, that SLGA site is user unfriendly). This is what I think the rules are. For breweries producing less than 5,000 Hl, the rate is 95 cents per litre for bottles and 64 cents per litre for kegs. The middle rate is $1.35/litre and the highest rate paid by the big boys is $1.65. I could not find the threshold for the second level, but assume it is in he 100 to 200 thousand Hl range. For brewpubs (and I think direct sales by breweries) the keg rate is 17.15 cents per litre, but I could be wrong about this one as the regulation is very unclear. Maybe someone in Saskatchewan can clarify the rates.
Regardless of whether I am right on the details, two things jump out at me. First, in comparison to Alberta, the mark-up rates are quite high and, particularly, the reduction for small breweries relatively small. Second, the threshold for the first tier of mark-up is surprisingly low – 5000 Hl is not a lot of beer in anyone’s books.
Speaking only for myself, this revelation helps me understand better why Saskatchewan may lag behind other provinces in terms of craft breweries. Of course, its small population is also a barrier, but combine a small market with fairly onerous mark-up rates (at least compared to neighbouring Alberta) and you have a fairly steep hill to climb to get a brewery off the ground in that province.
Since the review is recently completed, we can also anticipate that changes will not be soon coming to the flat province. In the meantime, try to drink some Paddock Wood and if in Regina stop by for a pint at Bushwakker.