A Case For Drinking Local: Giving Thanks

Before I get attacked, I want to state that craft alcohol in Alberta would not have ever got to where we are today without a group of strong independent stores willing to hand sell our wares and educate their customer base as proxies of the producers. For that I am thankful, these independent stores are some of my favorite for selection and staff. I love going into a small store, knowing the staff, talking shop and then asking for what they are into at moment. The downside to these stores is there are only so many of them and space is limited resulting in well curated often rotating shelf space. Great model that works well but there is something to be said for finding your go-to beer consistently regardless of where you are. For this I am thankful for the buy into Alberta made products from some of the larger chains in our province.

 

Liquor Depot recently ran out their Alberta Beer Door program which has a list of Alberta beers curated by their beer director. This program has been rolled out to most of their stores in the province and now those same beers can be found all over regardless of the store you visit. Consistency is convenient and it is amazing exposure for us in the beer business in Alberta.

 

Sobeys Liquor features a local brewery in each of their weekly flyers and has recently released an Alberta beer full page flyer with products from all over the province on sale and featured. Bonus: Air Miles are awesome. These flyer programs offer that same product availability as the beer door. Consistently having Alberta craft beer available at all their stores around the province gives the industry piles of exposure and a great avenue for growth.

 

Co-op Liquor Stores around the province have also been early adopters of local product on the chain level. There is a little more variance from store to store as there are different Co-op groups but rest assured you can get fresh Alberta beer at any Co-op Liquor Store you go to in Alberta. Co-op often also has one of the most competitive price points consistently across the chain and membership dividends on craft beer are great.

 

I make a point of highlighting major chains because they do not have to promote our products. Large agencies and macro breweries offer them promo items, large elaborate displays, massive limited time offer sales and other swag consistently. Yet these chains still make a point of highlighting product made here and giving us shelf space to sell our wares on. This is also great because it shows that the craft beer movement is real. When the large companies buy in like this it goes to show this isn’t a fad. As more and more shelf space is taken by great local breweries and the market share grows hopefully we take the shelf space of the 6, 8, 12, 15, 18, 24, 24+ pack of a handful of macro breweries. I look forward to the day when macro beer has as few format offerings as Alberta beer does on store shelves because it’s relevance has eroded and the province learns that beer is not just yellow and fizzy. This is a great step in that direction and for this, I’m thankful.

 

Xoxoxo

Cole @ABCraftbev

A Case For Drinking Local: The Tax Man Cometh

Taxes seem like an odd reason to drink local.  In reality, it’s not the reasoning at all but there is a bit of confusion and vitriol flying around the internet after the AGLC was mandated by the minister of finance to change the tax structure on beer sales in Alberta once again.  The last change cut small producers tax from $0.20/liter to $0.10/liter for craft brewers in Alberta as well as British Columbia and Saskatchewan as part of the New West Partnership.  There was then a progressive increase based on capacity to a maximum of $1.25 once you produced over 200 000 hL.  Anyone above that mark or outside of BC, AB and SK paid at the $1.25/L rate.  Now with the new changes announced every producer of beer regardless of scale or location will be taxed at that $1.25 rate. 

A major reason for the change in policy is due to the injunction Steam Whistle, an Ontario-based brewer filed claiming that the regional tax structure violated interprovincial free trade laws.  In reality, Alberta is the only province in the country that is in fact a truly open system.  So long as an importer plays by the AGLC rules regarding product listing, storage and distribution via Alberta Liquor Connect anyone producing alcohol legal for sale in Canada can get distribution in Alberta.  Every other province requires you to be approved by their provincial buyers to be listed in government controlled liquor stores.  This is an issue for small Alberta brewers in that they face far more competition from outside their province than any other provinces breweries.  Alberta breweries have to carve out whatever market they can from the macro breweries, then vie within that space with established craft brewers and upstarts from all around the country.  For beer drinkers in Alberta the system is fantastic, even with the higher taxes we still have some of the cheapest beer in the country and the widest selection.  Brewers here have taken an interesting approach to being very collegial about how business is approached with one another.  Events like Alberta Beer week, Alberta Beer Festivals and the rally around the local movement at the Calgary Stampede show that AB Craft Brewers want to work together to build the market for one another. 

There has not been a push to bar outside breweries because you know what, brewers love beer, but because of the increased competition the tax break was very helpful.  It was helpful for breweries in the New West Partnership as well. There was a swell of new beer from BC and Saskatchewan that may actually be stemmed or pulled back now.  The recently deceased system approached beer marketing like the Field of Dreams, “Brew it, and they will drink.” If you were selling good beer in Alberta people would pay the mark up much like people pay for good wine or spirits. We rewarded our neighbors while allowing our craft brewing industry a leg up on the still present outside competition providing Alberta breweries a chance to grow out of it’s infancy. The system was working too, but some breweries like Muskoka and Steam Whistle that do not have to deal with near as many non-Ontario Canadian breweries at home cried that they were not getting a good enough deal with the opportunity to make money in Alberta.  Muskoka took their ball and went home while Steam Whistle went forth with legal action. Now with the case about to go before courts, new tax structures have been announced and guess what, it is the same for everyone.  Your Poor Sport Pilsner is not singled out any more.  What’s more I bet the breweries in BC and Saskatchewan are a little upset you rained on their parade because you didn’t get your cake and eat it too.  The beer drinkers of our fine province will be upset as well if breweries we were growing accustomed to that are fantastic pull out now because the results of this law suit. 

Early word is that to ease the pressures on the Alberta breweries there will be a grant that offsets the tax increase to levels just passed.  For the great breweries Albertans got used to from our neighbors keep up the good work and we will still enjoy it.  Alberta brewers will have to continue to push one another and the industry giving us phenomenal quality and selection.  Ultimately the Alberta government is doing what it has to to avoid a law suit while still providing essentially start up capital to this fledgling industry. The increase in new breweries has provided not only fresh beer but hundreds of jobs in the province. The new taxes still have Alberta as one of the least expensive provinces to grab a beverage in, while paying for many of the services we enjoy.  It is just too bad that some people were not happy enough just being here; they had to have more. Hopefully all this runaround and rigamarole results in a look at how alcohol is distributed nation wide.  Yes, Alberta changed the rules so that western beer was favored. Locally made mead and spirits are still taxed as mass produced wine and spirits respectively which hopefully is adjusted in this grant structure. Other provinces still benefit from beer produced there and sold here.  Maybe through all this beer becomes a borderless thing with the best beers available to anyone nation wide. Even if that is the case swing by the local brewery wherever you are and snag a pint or a growler.  It is a better story and always nice and fresh.

That’s all for now.  XOXOXO ABCraft.

A Case For Drinking Local: Troubled Monk Brewery

Over the course of this blog, I hope to write a brewery profile on all of the craft breweries in Alberta that I know and love.  I was lucky enough to be invited to Troubled Monk a few weeks ago and got to talk with Charlie Bredo about what has Red Deer so troubled lately.

A year ago on June 12, 2015, the first pint of Golden Gaetz was poured at the Troubled Monk Brewery in Red Deer, Alberta.  The tap room is now a hub for the community coming in to grab fresh beer for the evening in either growler fills or six pack form.  People coming in span over all age ranges and backgrounds.  The tap room has a very warm inviting ambiance and the patio begs you to enjoy pints in the sun.  The bartender is busy between guests playing around with various beer-inspired cocktails and the brewers are working on the breweries first Berliner Weisse.  I visited at 1:00 on a Wednesday afternoon and there was always someone new coming into the store or for a patio pint.  The demographics and number of guests show that Troubled Monk is right in the thick of the Alberta craft beverage renaissance that is bringing community and beer back together. 

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Silky head on the Bourbon aged Golden Gaetz on nitro

 

Troubled Monk has four core beers to their line up. Golden Gaetz Blonde Ale is a well crafted approachable blonde.  It is full of flavor and not too intimidating, a great gateway beer for the uninitiated among us.  Pesky Pig Pale Ale is an American pale ale with a balanced malt profile and a delicious hop quality that people love in an IPA but toned down in both IBU and ABV.  It is quite possibly the benchmark for American pales in Alberta.  Homesteader Saison is an off dry very drinkable take on the classic Saison style.  It comes across with a little bit of spice and a great nose, it is one of the few modern style Saisons that I tend to want back to back.  Lastly is Open Road American Brown Ale winner of the silver medal for brown ales at the World Beer Cup this year.  Piles of roasted malt give off great chocolate and coffee flavor with just a touch of sweetness.  It is a fantastic well rounded brown worth every bit of the medal it just won.  That medal was the first won by an Alberta brewery in twenty years and part of just the three percent of Canadian entries to medal.  These beers are available throughout the province but the unique brews are usually only available locally.  It is these brews that tend to push the envelope.

The Brewmaster at Troubled Monk is Garret Haynes; A talented brewer out of the Olds College program with a pension for the details that go into brewing.  Brewing beer in the fine print is what takes a beer from good to great. It seems that Garret and the crew at Troubled Monk live in the fine print.  Their Insomniac IPA may never be made again due to the twenty-four hour (!) brew day that they had to put in.  It was parti gile brewed which means they brewed a barley wine to be later released and then excess wort was spun into a second beer the same day.  That second beer is Insomniac a well-balanced recipe built using Red Shed Malting’s biscuit malt.  It is in line with the new wave North East style IPA, not crazy high in IBU with a big fruity citrus late hop which makes sense given the myriad of fun hops used.  One of the breweries owners Charlie Bredo told me, “Garret always says the yeast is the hardest worker in the brewery, but I actually think it is him.”  He was quick to point out that all of the workers at the brewery work incredibly hard as well.  But this hard work from their brewer is evident in the quality of beer being turned out here. In brewing their first Berliner Weisse, Garret and other members of the brew team would need to be up at various points in the night to make sure that  the pH levels in the brew were where they needed them.  In their tap room was also a very crisp and cleverly named Jagomir Lagr czech pilsner and their Golden Gaetz on nitro after it had been aged in a bourbon barrel. It is rare to see a blonde aged in bourbon barrels but as someone who enjoys the spirit it was a great way to showcase the bourbon flavors along the smooth nitro finish on the ale.

Like many of the newly minted breweries in Alberta, the venture started with an extract home brew kit, progressed to all grain brewing and then a whim turned into a dream which then became Troubled Monk.  This is where the story behind Troubled Monk is rooted.  The story of a monk who fell in love with the science of brewing the perfect pint to the point of near obsession.  His friends and fellow monks saw this passionate pursuit as him being “Troubled.” Crafting great beer at home and sharing the product became a passion of the Bredos (specifically Graeme) that they now share with the whole province. The work they are doing in Red Deer is helping bridge craft brewing gap along the QE2 between Calgary and Edmonton.  Troubled Monk along with Blindman Brewery out of Lacombe can be observed in a friendly cask war, or side by side in taprooms around the area.  It is all part of the amazing collaborative approach that the Alberta craft beer industry has taken to building the market. The passion and fervor that Troubled Monk started with is definitely starting to catch on and the rest of the province is sure to be a litte bit Troubled as well because of it.

XOXO Cole @ABCraft

A Case for Drinking Local: Spirit of the Industry

In previous posts, I have talked a lot about the economic and “moral” reasons behind drinking locally made beverages. After a recent trip through, Red Deer-Troubled Monk, Lacombe-Blindman Brewing and Camrose-Norsemen Brewing (with a short stop south of Gwynn-”Watershed Brewing”) I was drawn to a bit of an abstract concept; the spirit of the industry. The trip included myself (sales for Fallentimber/Ribstone Creek), Adam Seguin(Brewery Office & Sales Manager for Last Best Brewing and Distilling), Brett Hopper (Oak and Vine, Freelance media guru) and Ian Cameron (Production Manager at Last Best). Along the way we picked up Garret Haynes, the head brewer at Troubled Monk and Kurt Pearson (homebrew champ and recently discovered cousin). The trip started as a side project for Brett and Adam but spun into a string of brewery tours and exploration of smaller communities and brewing centers.

A few of us were meeting for the first time but there was a common enthusiasm for the brewing culture in Alberta. It amazes me looking back how different this industry is from others. It is experiencing rapid growth, an immediate limited market, but all are working towards a common goal. Everyone wants to build awareness and market share for local brewers. The ride up wasn’t people probing for tricks or leads it was excitement around what was going on in this province. Brett’s involvement with Aleberta: Our Beer History, the Fallentimber/Dandy/Wildrose collaboration on a new sour, patio brews at Last Best and the 27 hour parti gyle brew at Troubled Monk were all topics that were celebrated. Everyone in the car had done some form of beer tourism and we were happy to be experiencing it in our back yard.

This excitement permeates everyone in the local brewing industry. It seems a little silly, people getting excited about beverages, but I think it has more to do with the community. The craft alcohol movement in Alberta directly coincides with the local/slow food movement. In an increasingly digital disconnected world people are doing what they can to make real ties back to people. Beer is one of the few things you cannot digitize. Craft beverages in particular are built to share and socialize with. Bomber bottles are more than a pint, four and six packs are meant to share. More cocktail bars, beer halls and restaurants are opening and getting back to featuring people. Fewer televisions in the lounge and more conversation. The craft movement is no different, it is getting back to featuring people. The brewers get to have fun making beer as it was intended; artfully. People getting to make what locals want to drink. Going to Red Deer, Lacombe and Camrose it was incredible seeing the community uptake. Tasting rooms full of people excited to try the new product and proud that it was made at home.

It is fun looking around at different producers in the province and seeing the various collaborations and events put on together. Edmonton Beer Geeks has events like Freeze Your Cask Off where local breweries put together a cask of something completely unique that may never be made again. Patrons get to try these one of a kind concoctions and catch up over a couple pints. Last Best has their monthly social clubs for both beer and spirits. In these they could show off what they make but are often bringing in products from colleagues to show off a specific malt, hop or style. It brings people together and educates them, all built around conversation. Alberta Beer Festivals are as much fun for the breweries as it is for the patrons. When the show wraps up for the evening

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The Fort Saskatchewan community comes out to help Two Sergeants with labelling

and everyone gets together over a pint they talk about successes and trials. Despite how tired everyone is after a long day of these shows, when they get a chance to sit down there is a palpable excitement about what is happening around them.

 

The community is just as excited to have the breweries back in their towns. When calls for help are put into the twittersphere they are often answered with amazing numbers. Fallentimber needed help bottling and we had so many people offer to drive out to the remote meadery that we had more hands to help than jobs to do! Two Sergeants in Fort Saskatchewan recently had a post about their community coming out to help label the new batch of bottles. The list goes on and as new breweries pop up around our wonderful province the ties between brewer, beer and community will only get tighter.

 

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People came from all over to Water Valley to help Fallentimber bottle Saskatoon Mead

Beer culture is expanding to other aspects as well. Out of the craft brewing industry has spawned craft maltsters, two new craft distillers and rapid growth in the provinces meaderies have all been a result of the roots set in the industry. There is a stat that every dollar spent on beer produces $1.12 of residual GDP. As brewers move towards using products from Hobo or Red Shed Malting, new hop farms being developed like Northern Girls, the residual growth will only increase. On top of that, you get to have a beverage made by your neighbor from field to glass. It is increasingly more difficult to find a reason to not drink local.

 

 

A Case for Drinking Local: Removing the Crutch

Alright bar and restaurant owners, this one is for you.  I went to a bar with my father a few months ago and they did not have any macro brew on tap at all.  I waited nervously as my dear dad processed what to do next, he settles on a Wildrose Electric Avenue and was happy with the selection.  It was revolutionary! My dad, bless him, is notoriously hard on restaurants and the beer selection was not something he picked at when we were done our meal.  I marvelled at this for a while and then got to thinking how common this experience could be.  I spend a lot of times in bars all around the province both professionally and because I just love craft alcohol.  Everywhere I go there is a critical eye towards tap lines, beer lists and general ambiance.  It is amazing how often bars carry 3-4 macro lagers and a light beer. Some may get adventurous and add a Rickards Red, Keith’s White or they bandwagon jump onto Honker’s Pale or IPA in place of one of those lagers but you know that’s the script.  This is totally unecessary and when looking at the cost of local beer vs macro imports actually could be harming the bottom line of restaurants.  However many will tell you that they need those beers to keep people coming in.  It is a crutch that is too often leaned on that I would love to kick out. 

The new tax laws in Alberta for alcohol were met with mixed reviews depending where in the industry you sat.  They did do a really good job of leveling the playing field for the local producers to make it to market.  That being said people outside the local circle can still sell in AB, its just at a higher price point and if their beer is good enough it will continue to sell.  Some breweries have decided to take their ball and go home, while others have adapted and will continue to thrive.  That is some background but an article for another day.  Looking at the costs of kegs it makes quick sense to support local. 

Cost per pint- 29.57ml/fl oz average pint at 20oz because this is an beer article and everyone knows thats a true pint.

Wildrose Brewery Electric Avenue 58L- $274.25 = $2.80/pint

Ribstone Creek Lager 50L- $202.07 = $2.41/pint

Toolshed People Skills 50L- $226.32 = $2.69/pint

Alley Kat Scona Gold- $232.07 = $2.76/pint

Coor Banquet 58L- $274.45 = $2.80/pint

Stella Artois 50L- $288.04 = $3.42/pint

Premium macro lagers taste worse and cost more than the locally made products while not supporting a local economy.

Side note for bar goers who have not been exposed to the business side: the mark up at the table has to account for refrigeration, maintenance, staffing, etc as well as a profit.  Margins on food are pretty tight so keep drinking at your local wattering hole.

These are all classic super crushable Alberta brewed beers.  Ribstone Creek Lager has won best light lager (based on colour not ABV or caloric content) at the Alberta Beer Awards.  Alley Kat Scona Gold was the 2015 winner of beer of the year as a Kolsch.  If a bar feels the need to have four lager/ales on tap go for four local ones! Even if it is an experiment to see which goes over best with your current customer base.  A tap takeover to determine your customers favorite local lager or ale could be a fun experiment and way to expose your regulars to the wonders of local beer.  Then try it again with your favorite IPA, Porter and Red Ale etc until you have a differentiated beer list of glorious local beers. 

OK, maybe after this your customers still prefer to have their favorite macro beer on hand, it is what grandpa drank; at least leave the fun stuff to us.

Honkers Pale (started in Chicago, owned by MolsonCoors) 58L- $268.36 = $2.73/pint

Granville Island Winter (Vancouver, owned by MolsonCoors) 50L- $235.77 = $2.80/pint

Stanley Park Sunsetter (Vancouver, owned by Marc Anthony) 50L- $241.06 = $2.87/pint

Ribstone Creek Old Man Winter (Edgerton, AB) 50L- $222.07 = $2.64/pint

Toolshed Red Rage (Calgary, AB) 50L- $226.32 = $2.69/pint

Ribstone Creek Lone Bison IPA (Edgerton, AB)  50L- $222.07 = $2.64/pint

These are only some beers available in kegs via Connect.  Talk to your local brewery, the SixCorners, Dandy, Troubled Monk, Blindman, Bench Creek breweries of the province and see what they have to offer!  Don’t relegate the craft to a single tap that needs to be shared among the industry either.  Start weening yourself off of macro beer that is supporting sales with hats and baubles rather than focusing that money on the beer itself.  Go big, support only AB beer, advertise your Aleberta, Allberta, Albeerta tap program and show customers you support your local brewing culture.  These breweries live in your communities, coach kids sports teams, volunteer in your towns and cities and employ full teams of people who do the same.  The brewers are there making delicious beer art for your customers consumption, and if customers have to pay six to eight bucks for pint why not make it a delicious AB beer?  Change is uncomfortable for people. I get it, but if you remove the option of a customer picking what is comfortable they will often pick something new and enjoy it.  This supports local breweries and could increase margin for you.  There is world class beer being made in Alberta, we just need the people to drink it.

XOXO ABCraft…

A Case for Drinking Local

I am biased but you should drink Albertan made beer. 

Too often I hear, “My dad and grandfather drank (beer X) and so do I.” Ultimately what I want you to get from this blog is yes, a Ribstone Creek is not the beer your dad and grandfather drank, but they did not have the options that you do.

Lagers are a great style of beer, perfect for after or while doing things. However we have been tricked into thinking a beverage having beer ingredients (but being as close to water as possible) is good beer. Good beer is packed with flavor, has body and comes in dozens of styles other than lager. There are great Ales in a variety of styles: Pale, India Pale, Session and Cream. Great big Reds, Stouts and Porters waiting to be explored! All being made here in AB breweries that are built in and support your communities.

The Alberta craft beer scene is packed with stories of the avid home brewer following their dream and going big. These stories are real, inspiring and right in your back yard. As Canadians, we spend over two billion dollars importing beer, much of which is inferior to what is being made in our own country. Imagine spending even half of that on our own local microbrew culture. It would blow the doors off, making it viable for more brewers to take the leap to local supplier. Imagine a world where every large town has its own brewer making beer to the tastes of the population. You could travel the province and experience the local beer culture as it changes even thirty minutes away.

With current taxation changes many local beers are comparable in price to the macro breweries that control much of the market (Budweiser, Kokanee, Canadian, Coors, etc).  When you buy a craft beer, you are buying delicious beer art.  There may be a premium attached to that, but you are getting a taste at how the brewer looks at that particular style of beer and interprets it. There are some beers that I need in a six-pack and take them to a party, while others that I only want a bomber of and enjoy it like wine with friends. Part of craft beer that I find most fun is that the rules are always being pushed and explored.  The market ends up dictating what is acceptable which the economist in me loves. 

I am also forever impressed with the culture of the Alberta craft brewers. It is collaborative rather than competitive. It is a society building the market for great, locally made beer. I have seen sales reps in meetings with pubs be offered another AB craft brewers tap line and turn it down in favour of getting a macro tap’s spot. If you go to events like Alberta Beer Festivals (@ABBEERFESTIVALS), you will see all the local brewers getting together and they genuinely like being together. They talk about beer they made, are making and the successes and trials of being a small brewer in AB.  It is more of a community than a standard industry and that warms my heart.

The AB craft scene is on a precipice, new laws have made it more viable for brewers, distillers and meaderies to build and explore and push the boundaries of flavour and style. Ultimately what I am trying to get at is there is amazing products made right here in Alberta and not just beer. Distillers like Eau Claire in Turner Valley and Fallentimber Meadery in Water Valley are showing the entire craft alcohol industry is making great stuff, now it is just time to get people drinking it.