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Alberta in Midst of Brewery Boom

albertamapThings are changing in Alberta. For the last few years, the province was a laggard in terms of craft beer. It had among the fewest breweries per capita in the country (see here), existing breweries faced significant hurdles (e.g., privatized retail, open border, unfriendly government policy) and local craft beer simply didn’t have much presence in most pubs and liquor stores.

I have pontificated often about why that was/is. I am not going to repeat that here. Instead, I want to report that things seem to be shifting – and with dizzying speed. I take pride in keeping up on new developments in the industry, and over the past few months I have observed a noted increase in the number of rumours, tips and talk I was hearing about new breweries in some stage of development. To be frank it has started to become a bit overwhelming.

A couple weeks ago I decided I need to get on top of it – or at least closer to it. I contacted the AGLC and a number of industry-connected people I know and coordinated a list of existing and planned breweries in the province.

This is what I learned. The number of breweries with active production licenses in Alberta now sits at 32 (the AGLC officially lists it at 39, but we have slightly different methodologies – they count brewing locations while I count coherent operations – e.g., Brewsters has two licenses, I count that as one). That number is up by 11 since the beginning of 2016 – less than six months!

Some of the newbies I have written about here, including (links are to my profiles) Bent Stick, Boiling Oar, Cold Garden, Coulee Creek (formerly Wild Craft – that profile needs an update), GP Brewing, Grain Bin, Half Hitch, Situation and Theoretically Brewing. (Note, not all are yet selling their product, but all have permission to brew beer). Two others are on the list and I hope to have profiles of them in the coming weeks – King of Springs Brewery in Didsbury and Lakeland Brewing in St. Paul.

Okay, that is pretty impressive and suggests things are finally looking up. But when I add to that list the not-yet-licensed breweries currently actively working toward that goal, things get downright dizzy. At this point I have compiled a list of 25 planned breweries at various stages and doubt I have captured them all. We will see some opening this calendar year, while others may still be a couple years away.

albertaflagI will not list all of their names yet, as some are not yet ready to go public. However, you know of many of them already (either due to me or other sources). Some are contract brewing while building their brewery, including Six Corners, Braurei Fahr and Goat Locker (profile of them coming soon). Others are previously announced, but not yet ready, such as Polar Park, Trolley 5 and The Well. Other publicly known projects include the high profile Mill Street Brewpub in Calgary and the recently announced Medicine Hat Brewing (profile coming later this summer).

I have business cards for a handful of others and the names of the rest, but as the owners have not yet indicated (to me, at any rate) that they are ready to go public, I will refrain from listing them.

I will still endeavour to offer profiles of new and up-and-coming breweries in Alberta (as well as Saskatchewan and Manitoba), as I think it is important to tell the story behind the brewery in a addition to talking about the beer. That said, you can likely appreciate keeping up with a couple dozen or more new operations (with rumours of new ones every week), is no easy task (this isn’t my full time job, after all), and so the profiles will be a bit more happenstance for a while.

That said, if you are a brewery-to-be and want to make my life a little easier – drop me a line a beerguy [at] telus.net and let me know you exist and want to chat.

But I digress. The timing of this explosion is not surprising. The most obvious reason is the policy changes in 2013 (read here) which opened the door to new breweries, but I actually think this had been simmering for a long time and we finally hit a moment when it came together. I could sense a growing interest in beer consumers for both interesting craft beer and in exploring local beer. I think there has been pent-up demand for a few years. Much like in other areas of culture, politics and outlook, Alberta is changing. The space is there for small, innovative craft breweries to take a stab at it. Will all succeed? Maybe not, but early signs suggest to me there is plenty of room to grow the local craft beer market in the province. In that context, most are likely to be just fine.

So, loyal onbeer.org readers, hold on to your hats if you live in Alberta. That big boom you are about to hear is local craft beer exploding around you. Fun times a-comin’, fun times a-comin’.

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