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Aurora Hopes to Light Up the Alberta Beer Scene

aurora canMatt Knight really appreciates a quality craft beer. Porters and other dark styles are his favourite. But he knows he can’t brew them – he doesn’t know enough. His strength is business development. He works with small companies to improve their productivity and increase their market penetration. Recently, he has turned his attention to craft beer in Alberta and how to increase its impact in the market.

Knight is a man of many ideas and he is pursuing a variety of projects to advance craft beer in the province. One of them is an initiative that may not seem, on the surface, part of that goal. He is part of a group of six partners who have invested in creating a new beer brand. They have called it Aurora, and their plan is to link it to local. The company behind the beer is being called Provincial Brand Ltd. to remind everyone where they come from.

“70% of Albertans drink lager” says Knight. “Our goal is a more approachable craft beer”. The difference in the beer will be its marketing. “No one has ever branded Canada as a consumer product. We need to say this is Canadian, you are a proud Canadian, so let’s drink Canadian craft beer”.

Knight says this because he is well aware that, despite his appreciation of craft beer, he doesn’t know how to brew it. ” Our craft is marketing, design and advertising”. As a result, the partners have contracted with Grizzly Paw to make their beer. It was designed by Grizzly Paw’s former brewmaster and Knight and his partners leave the technical details to the professionals.

The end result is Aurora, a blonde ale with lager qualities. Knight’s aim is to compete in the premium lager segment. “Our competition is Stella Artois and Heineken”, says Knight. He knows the style won’t be for the hardcore craft consumer, but he has a grander plan. “Our goal is a more approachable craft beer where people who don’t drink craft beer taste it and say ‘hey! I actually like craft beer!”. The intention is to then set that consumer loose on the other craft products available.

The reason they went for a blonde ale vs. an actual lager is economic. “We went for an ale due to aging times”. They didn’t want to tie up Grizzly Paw’s tanks long enough to lager a beer. Still, Knight thinks the beer can compete for hearts and minds. Their plan anchors around canning, which they have arranged through West Coast Canning, a travelling canning line company.

Their hope is to have Aurora in a a wide range of locations, enough to give big boy drinkers a local option. “People want to drink local”, says Knight.

Aurora soft launched a few weeks ago and Knight hopes that it will have a growing presence over the next few months. He knows their first beer will not satisfy beer aficionados but knows that there is a large market for pale lagers.

One thing that Knight doesn’t mention during our conversation but I notice on their website is that they have international aspirations. That may be marketing hype, but the site lists Vancouver, Toronto, L.A., San Francisco and Bombay, India as future locations where their beer will be available. At least that is what I think the site is saying.

Aurora is engaging in a difficult project –  they plan on challenging the big boys in their wheelhouse (pale lager). It is hard to know how that will work, but Albertans can be certain they have one more, very local, option in the pale lager market.

And maybe, given their name, they should become a sponsor of the Edmonton Homebrewers’ Guild annual Aurora Brewing Challenge competition!



13 comments to Aurora Hopes to Light Up the Alberta Beer Scene

  • Jordan St.John

    Right. No one has ever branded Canada.

    Someone didn’t own a TV in the 90’s, apparently.

  • Owen

    Yeah. “Canada” has never really been used to market a mass market beer before. Don’t let the boys at Molson hear about this, or they might steal the idea.

  • Don Eglinski

    Thanks for the write-up, Jason. I remember meeting you when I started this, sitting at the wood at Sugarbowl years ago. I met Matt Knight thereafter and, as you know, he is quite savvy. He has really helped out with this project and we’d never have gotten to market without him!

    I would add that, personally, working in the foodservice and bar industry for the better part of 20 years was the inspiration for starting Provincial Brand Ltd. When not bartending, I was working as a designer. That became the starting point for Aurora. Growing out of conversations with a brand strategy friend of mine formerly with CBC’s the fifth estate, and fellow designer John James, who splits her time between us and brands such as Nike, we went to work.

    I spent years flying around Western Canada, meeting and interviewing potential partner breweries. In Canmore, we found a brand new facility that was environmentally responsible and equipped with cutting-edge technology. Bingo! Then we spent 18 more months conducting research and investigation into what was missing from the market, from the perspective of beer drinkers in an era of trending IPAs.

    An ale guy, myself, I have issues with gassiness, bloat, and discomfort after a night of enjoying them. I was biased in appeasing my own wellbeing if I was going to commit myself to this.

    These were the characteristics we took to our brewing partner, with the intent to create something made from ingredients and process that would both be easy on the drinkers’ system and still compete against foreign premium brands. We know that hardcore IPA fans don’t be swayed by the easy-drinking profile and citrus finish that characterizes Aurora—but we have won over quite a few beer aficionados, hopefully yourself considered among them?

    We are proud of the product, and the added benefit is that, now that all of our national brands are foreign-owned, we can commit to building something by and for Canadians, once again!


  • Mark

    No offense, but most people I speak to around

    • Mark

      Sorry, my initial post got cut off.

      Wishing you the best of luck, but havent seen too many marketing firms succeed at dipping their toe into something just above light lager land.

      • Don Eglinski

        Thanks, Mark! We are a marketing firm as far as staying committed to research is concerned: Years of observation and investigation informed the crafting of Aurora. We were tasked with solving for more than just the beer—from eschewing the prevalence of retro aesthetics on behalf of Canadians wanting more from their brands to the actual experience people endure drinking the liquid itself. After 18 months of quietly taste-testing it in and around Edmonton, we bare our heart and souls in what has cumulated in the 473 mℓ can you now see on shelves.

        Beer veterans enjoy complex and experienced palates, but as da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication.” I know we’ve done our job well every time I see another person’s eyes light up and they put down their Bud, Coors, or Stella in favour of Aurora. I’ve personally heard from too many people intimidated by beer. I put my heart into Provincial Brand Ltd in service to them.

        You don’t have to personally prefer Aurora’s character to support our mission to convert more people—not just Canadians—to drinking quality Canadian-owned and -crafted beers. Regardless of whether its an Aurora or a fine brew from Grizzly Paw, Yukon Brewing, or my own personal favourites from Québec’s Les Trois Mousquetaires…

  • Peter

    Ugh. Seriously, ugh. Much blather about creating a “brand” and next to nothing about brewing a beer.

  • Chad

    Maybe… this is a gateway beer for the RIS and DIPA drinkers to get into the lighter side of the market.
    I’ve had this beer, and it’s really good. Please don’t paint me with the “IPA drinkers won’t like this beer” brush… rather, support for Grizzly Paw and the brewer’s craft should be on order. Focusing on marketing and design might be your impetus, but in the end: it’s the beer in the can that will crush you or carry you across the finish line.

    • Don Eglinski

      That is a really cool thing to say, Chad! Thanks, I hadn’t thought of it as a gateway for drinkers of dark beer into lighter beers, but I have had discussions lately that point that direction. Cheers!

  • Brady

    My issue is the thorough lack of this (late-arriving, and obviously overwrought – and I know purple prose) information on the product itself. Jason, you are so kind in your description of their website’s ‘marketing hype’ – at first glance to me, a much different sentiment came to mind! At any rate, I was the first so-called ‘beer veteran’ to review this, look it up on Beer Advocate if you wish, as I found it to be a bit too close to Grizzly Paw’s oh-so-quiet rebranding and re-brewing of their Powder Hound Pilsner.

    • Don Eglinski

      Hi Brady,

      A rising tide lifts all ships…

      Canada has become inextricably linked to its commodities at the expense of the value-add of intangible assets, the kind of value that design provides. Criticisms of Canada’s inability to develop both tangible and intangibles to produce competitors are exposed by the likes of Andrea Mandel-Campbell’s Why Mexicans Don’t Drink Molson, Amanda Lang’s The Power of Why, ATB Chief Economist Todd Hirsch’s The Boiling Frog Dilemma, numerous papers from the Rotman School of Management, and national audits by FutureBrand and the Reputation Institute. The point is, we produce quality and when the brands become successful, often in spite of themselves, they are bought for a song because we lack the experience to capitalize on the intangible value. And those Canadians who do excel at facilitating the conversation between brands and their communities are often the first to leave, characterizing the brain drain this country is known for. They are hired by strong brands the world over, often refining and creating value with those same base commodities we are known for exporting.

      Craft beer in Alberta commands less than one per cent of the market. A simple idea was enough to unite brewing talent and expat designers to build something using the best of both worlds—tangible and intangible value—and appeal to that remaining 99 per cent.

      Design thinking, as process, facilitates an ongoing iterative process of both improving one’s products and services while empathizing with one’s customers. That our partner’s recipes have evolved over time, as has their “oh-so-quiet” branding is the mark of a company dedicated to better serving beer drinkers. I have exchanged wisdoms and experience with their heads, as well as friends with various other breweries across Western Canada, who’ve put my insights to good use to better serve their customers. Likewise, their commitment to quality, embrace of cutting-edge technology and practicers, and philosophies have come to inform us as their brewing partners.

      After years of working with these various industries, I am convinced that “choice paralysis” is a major hurdle preventing everyday Canadians from connecting with the quality Canadian-owned and -produced beers available here. By using best practices, from both the brewing and design industries, we look to provide for the 99 per cent as best we can. As Walter Landor, once said: “Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind.” Provincial Brand Ltd is in the business of making choosing-Canadian as appealing as possible. For us, and many of those intimidated by the variety of beer available, that starts with Aurora. That starts by acknowledging that there is as much value in providing the best product possible as there is in the reasons why and the experience one has with all aspects of our offering.

      Aurora has been shaped by our partners in Canmore, and like all good partnerships we, too, left our mark.

      Our mission is concerned with preventing the hundreds of millions of dollars—billions over time—from draining from Canada’s economy through the consumption of conglomerate brands. To do that, we must empathize with everyone and not just the refined palates of the craft fans. We do not make a beer solely because we love it. (Trust us, we do love it). We make a beer in service of Canadians who buy domestic because they don’t know they’re foreign-owned and reduced recipes. We make a beer in service of Canadians who trust the premium imports they buy are actually premium imports, even if they’re really brewed in their own backyards using artificial fillers. We make a beer for Canadians who know what they like, but might have to pick up a case to appeal to their family or friends when heading to the beach that day. We convey the promise of the real brewers, of quality ingredients, and reinvesting in talent at home. We make a beer designed to produce an experience demanded to us by the many people we spoke to in our years of research, seeking less bloat and discomfort.

      All of these values aren’t contained anywhere in the tangible liquid itself, but they’re every bit as important. Without conveying them, we do both ourselves and fans of beer a disservice.


  • […] slick, but in a corporate marketing, design and advertising kind of way (see Jason Foster’s story – and in particular the comments by partner Don Eglinski, for […]

  • Brady

    I know that is a bit late-coming in its relevance, but in no way could I actually read your bullshit, marketing-bro response here, after only a few lines. At any rate, watching you pander your rapidly expiring stock to the staff at the Garneau location of Original Joe’s just a few weeks ago only solidified my ‘craft beer’ opinion of your weasel-esque operation. Go off and go away, already.

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