As far as the drinking community is concerned, we have it pretty damn good here in Alberta. We have a greater range of products at better pricing than any province in the country. And while we should be grateful that the world’s finest beer and spirits are available to us, there remains a significant part of the market in which Alberta has lagged behind: locally made craft beer and small batch spirits.
Why hasn’t the revolution taken hold here in Alberta like it has elsewhere in Canada? We are an industrious people and we certainly like our drink. We are extremely supportive of local businesses and pride ourselves on our sense of community. It would appear on the surface that this province would be the perfect place to launch a small brewery or distillery. So why do we not have more of them?
The answer is simple. Regulations.
Until recently the province’s governing body responsible for liquor, the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission (AGLC), has required that producers of beer and spirits meet a minimum capacity requirement to legally sell product here. For example, to open a brewery in this province, you were required to have the capacity to produce 5,000 hectolitres of beer a year, no matter what your desired output. This cumbersome law made opening a brewery or distillery cost prohibitive and prevented the “start small and build organically” business model from flourishing.
After a lengthy study, these prohibitive regulations were finally removed by the AGLC in late 2013. What this means to Alberta will be left to the market to determine. However, the desired effect is a boom to the Alberta micro-brew and micro-distill market that will result in hundreds of jobs and a greater range of product for Albertans.
This imbiber* for one, is ecstatic! (*“imbiber” is journo for “degenerate booze hound”)
These new regulations will allow craft producers to start small, experiment and take greater risks in the production and marketing of their products, which means better beer and spirits for all of us. The new wave of breweries and distilleries that results from these changes will not be guaranteed success, but they will at long last, be on an even playing field with their contemporaries from neighbouring provinces.
Keep an eye out for these new players that will be entering our marketplace. Support them if you enjoy their product. The choices we all make in our purchases and support will determine how this new world pans out.
No one knows what the next few years will look like for the small batch distillers and micro-brews in this province but if we can take a few steps forward toward the types of craft production communities we see in places like Montreal, Seattle, Denver or Portland, Oregon, then we are on the verge of something special. And delicious.
By Jeff Jamieson