Beer Notes

The Increase in Alberta's Craft Breweries

You have undoubtedly noticed an enormous increase in demand for craft beer all over North America. In Alberta, this demand was historically being satisfied by a small number of local breweries and, thanks to our free market access for imports, by famous breweries from all over the world. Recently, a regulation change led to Alberta seeing an unprecedented number of local brewery openings.

In December 2013 the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission made what initially appeared to be a very small change in its regulations: Alberta breweries would no longer be required to have capacity to brew 5,000hl (or 500,000 litres) of beer per year to get a manufacturing license. In the world of brewing that’s actually not an enormous amount, but what it did do was prevent the establishment and growth of nano and microbrewers that often transform into larger breweries. Throughout North America many famous international breweries started as nano operations (with New Belgium being one famous example). That wasn’t possible in Alberta until December 2013.

In Alberta, there was a bit of a delay before people started taking advantage of this change. In early 2014 we had 12 independent, local breweries in Alberta, but very quickly new breweries started popping up both in the big cities and in smaller towns across the province. Now, in mid-2016, there are 28 breweries operating in the province, with another 20 either in the process of opening or under construction. There will be more than 50 local and independent breweries operating in Alberta within a couple of years. Think about that for a moment! Very soon the local brewing industry will have four times as many breweries as it did just a few years ago.

What does this mean to liquor retailers? One thing you may not have considered is that you’re now going to have access to more fresh, local beer. Beer is a perishable product that is best kept refrigerated. While some beers can tolerate being aged (particularly darker, high alcohol beers, and Belgian-style beers bottled with live yeast still in the beer), most beer, as soon as it’s packaged, immediately begins suffering the effects of oxidation, which reduces flavour and eventually gives beer a cardboard-like character. Refrigeration slows oxidation and keeps beer fresh longer. Local beer is guaranteed to be fresher than beer that’s traveled across the globe. In the rare case that a problem arises, with local beer, the people that can solve issues are nearby.

The next benefit of having so many breweries in the province is that Alberta breweries now provide beers of almost every style and will have something for almost every consumer. Most of Alberta’s breweries will provide three or more standard styles of beer (e.g. a lager, a pale ale, and a fruit beer) that are always available, but many local breweries also offer even more variety, or commonly have special seasonal offerings available for a limited time throughout the year. If you’ve got customers that are looking for a good beer they can purchase regularly, or if your craft-beer geeks are always looking for something different, Alberta’s breweries have you covered.

In terms of quality, Alberta breweries have also recently been flexing their creative muscles and demonstrating that we’re making some of the best beer in Canada here in the province. Last year’s overall winner at the Canadian Brewing Awards was an Albertan Kölsch (a light, drinkable beer that sits somewhere between a lager and an ale). This year at the Canadian Brewing Awards, Alberta brewers received accolades for a Porter, a Blond Ale, two American Sours, a Session Ale, and a Barrel-Aged Barley Wine. At the recent World Beer Cup competition (arguably the most prestigious competition in the world), an Alberta brewery won a silver medal for its American Brown Ale. With even more breweries operating in the future, we should see even more awards for the province’s breweries.

Given the incredible growth we’re seeing in beer brewed locally here in Alberta, we’re exceptionally excited about the future. No matter where you are in the province, you should be able to visit a local brewery. Take the time to meet your local brewer, you won’t be disappointed!

Greg Zeschuk is Executive Director at the Alberta Small Brewers Association. He can be reached at