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Is Prairie Beer Coming of Age?

beer101logoThe prairie beer scene is changing rapidly, of that there is no question. Plenty of new breweries opening. But also new craft beer bars, improving beer selection in restaurants and just generally a higher profile happening.

Me being me, I have been reflecting on what this means and what we can expect next. The prairies are still under-developed beer markets, although slowly getting there. However, we still pale when compared to B.C., Quebec or some of the beer meccas of the U.S. What should we be aiming for? What is the best way to keep developing our region’s beer thirst?

In other words, what are the elements of a mature beer market? I start to answer that question in my latest Beer 101, which you can read here.

I identify 4 pillars to a mature beer market. The first, and likely most important, is a healthy cluster of local breweries. Having a lot of local breweries raises the profile of beer in general and, importantly, the breweries push each other to be better. I believe that vibrant, active, diverse local breweries are the catalyst to building a model beer culture.

However, one pillar doesn’t hold up a building. A thriving beer market also needs a healthy selection of imports. Consumers need to be able to sample some of the best the world has to offer, both to see what is possible and, interestingly, to see that their local breweries hold their own in comparison (which they will if there is are vibrant local breweries). Third, local bars and restaurants (and liquor stores) make carrying quality craft beer a priority. They pay attention to their beer lists and ensure their customers don’t have to put up with the same old, same old.

The final pillar, and I think this is the last one to take shape, is a wide range of styles, flavours, interpretations and innovations in the beer itself. A dizzying array of beer options is a sign of a consumer base that understands beer, appreciates beer and wants to try new flavours and new offerings. I am not talking about sours and wild beer (although they are a part of that), but instead that the range is both broader and more thickly populated than less mature people. This may seem like a tautology – that a mature beer market appreciates a wide range of beer – but I think it is the crucial final step. If I think of other locations who are also on their way they may have elements of the first three pillars, but the fourth is not fully developed. Most of them fall into the standard pale ale/IPA/stout/pale lager/fruit beer package of offerings. A truly mature market both fills in the gaps and stretches the boundaries in multiple directions.

To many of you none of this is Man Bites Dog stuff – you already get it. However, I think it is useful to sometimes stop to think about it and write this stuff down, just to clarify in our heads what is going on. I also think it serves a second purpose these days. I grow tired of the import vs. local beer debate. Each side argues they are more important in developing beer culture. The issue is we need both of them. So, let’s just all try to get along.


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