Matt 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!