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A Look at Craft Beer across the Provinces

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Canada’s New Craft Beer Capital?

A little over a year ago I ran a few statistics to compare Canada and the U.S. and the Canadian provinces in terms of their craft brewing scenes. You can read that analysis here. The numbers at the time were a bit surprising, showing that Canada stacks up better than we thought in terms of numbers of craft breweries. The number for the provinces were less surprising, but I think told a good story about the state of each region’s craft beer scene.

2015 was likely a record for new brewery openings across Canada. I have been doing my best to keep track of them all, and felt it might be time to take another look at how each province is doing. The table below outlines the number of craft breweries in each province. Like last time I have excluded breweries not yet open but either announced or in the planning stages (it is just to unreliable a number). However this time I debated adding contract breweries whom I included last time (contract breweries have no production facility of their own and pay other breweries to produce their brands for them). In the end I decided to compromise and offer numbers both including and excluding contract breweries. Brewpub chains count as one, regardless of how many locations they have.

Craft Breweries Contract Breweries Per 100,000 Population Per 100,000 Pop. (w. contract)
B.C. 108 9 2.31 2.50
Alberta 23 4 0.55 0.64
Saskatchewan 15 0 1.32 1.32
Manitoba 2 1 0.15 0.23
Ontario 174 42 1.26 1.57
Quebec 126 14 1.52 1.69
Nova Scotia 30 0 3.18 3.18
New Brunswick 20 1 2.65 2.79
P.E.I. 3 0 2.05 2.05
Newfoundland 3 0 0.57 0.57
Territories 3 0 2.54 2.54

[Edited to correct error in Saskatchewan calculation.]

The big surprise is the top of the table. B.C. is dethroned and actually falls to fourth, behind Nova Scotia – the only province to break the 3 per 100,000 barrier, surging New Brunswick and the Territories (who tripled the number of breweries to three). Manitoba still lags, by quite a distance, followed by Alberta and Newfoundland (the only three provinces with fewer than 1 brewery per 100,000. There then is a cluster of provinces floating between 1 and 2 per 100,000.

In terms of the biggest gains year-over-year, that title goes to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, who had 10 and 8 new breweries, respectively, open in the past 14 months. Manitoba actually lost ground and most provinces either stayed stagnant or saw modest gains in their per population number of breweries.

Now, the numbers only tell part of a story. Population growth is also a factor in these statistics. Populations are stagnant in Atlantic Canada and Alberta’s numbers, in particular, are skewed by large population growth last year. It is also easier for tiny Nova Scotia to post impressive percentages since they have relatively few breweries to begin with. Ontario had almost 50 new breweries open (many of those contract breweries), but that figure translates into more modest increases.

The other factor we need to consider is brewery size. The new breweries in the Atlantic are small. Many are nanobreweries. Many, if not most, of the breweries opening in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta are full scale craft breweries (in the Canadian context) with systems of 25 hl or more. Don’t get me wrong, small breweries can actually be a better indicator of a healthy craft beer scene than a handful of larger players. But, the barriers to opening a nano that serves a town of a couple thousand are lower than trying to open in a metropolitan city.

The final caveat is the exclusion of planned breweries. This decision particularly screwed around Manitoba, who is on the verge of having 3 new breweries open, which would double their numbers overnight. Alberta, to my knowledge, has eight breweries in planning stages, which could also improve their numbers significantly.

Overall, my take is that craft beer continues to be healthy and is in its fastest expansion phase in over 20 years. Plus the diversity of breweries in terms of size, locale, brewing focus, marketing choices and target audiences, is impressive. We have never seen more diversity in beer since prohibition.

But the relatively modest growth in the actual per population statistics tell us two things. First, opening a craft brewery continues to be a difficult, challenging thing to do that a rare few have the determination to accomplish. Second, craft beer continues to struggle to become an anchor of the beer industry in the country. It may be easier to open a brewery than 10 years ago, but it remains a tough slog to make it successful.

While we are making great strides, and Canadians should be very happy for all the new local choices they have, we still have a long way to go before Canada, or even parts of it, look like Portland, Denver or Boston.

13 comments to A Look at Craft Beer across the Provinces

  • Awesome article! Thank you for doing this up.

    and yes.. we have about 8.. but more are on the way for Alberta!

    One brewery is not fully set up here (6 corners) They are brewing out of Paddock Wood in Sask for the time being until they get their brewery up and running in the fall. So I’m not sure if they count or not πŸ™‚

    Cheers!

    • beerguy

      Yes, Six Corners is listed as an Alberta contract brewer. That is one of the challenges of contract brewers – where do you place them geographically?

      Things are coming. Slowly, but coming.

      Thanks for reading!

  • Casey

    21st st brewery just Brewer it’s first batch, in Saskatoon, attached to Wonstons pub

  • Kevin

    Really curious what the 14 are that you have counted in SK. We have a few brewpubs that only operate so they can have an offsale license and don’t put out anything worth anyone’s time (I know this is subjective, but if you’re counting bargain basement brewpubs you might actually be a little low). Who is in your list for SK?

    • beerguy

      Kevin,

      Thanks for your question. I am well aware of the issue of the faux brewpubs that do extract brewing. It can be a hard dividing line but I have tried over the years to differentiate and exclude those who are not real brewpubs. I may have made errors along the line.

      Here is my list of Saskie breweries:
      9 Mile Legacy
      Black Bridge
      Churchill Brewing
      District Brewing
      Great Western
      Paddock Wood
      Nokomis Ales
      Prairie Sun
      Prince Albert
      Rebellion

      And the brewpubs are:
      Bushwakker
      Brewsters (counted as one)
      BSide Brewery
      Malt House Brewpub chain (counted as one)
      Saskatoon Brewery

      This gets us to 15, which makes me realize I had an error in my database (I still had District as a contract brewer, although they do have their own brewery now). I have corrected that in the post.

  • Mike

    Brewpubs in sk, original joes

  • Mike

    Earls saskatoon has one in tge back as well

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