What Happens When A Beer Market Matures?
I live in Alberta. Which means over the last few months there has been a lot of discussion about beer policy. And I mean A LOT!
This column is not about that debate (there are many places you can go to read that, including my website, onbeer.org). Instead, I want to talk about what the Alberta government is going for – a mature local beer industry. What does a mature beer industry look like?
I could just say “Portland” and end the column now, but that wouldn’t be useful. Instead allow me to consider what a market that has embraced local craft beer looks like, and what it exhibits along the way.
I will say that all the prairie provinces have under-developed beer industries. What that means is very few breweries, tap lists at pubs that offer a fairly generic line-up and it can be hard to find great beer, no matter where brewed. But that is changing. Which is the point of the column.
The prairies are in the midst of a craft beer explosion. Lots of new breweries, new import beer entering the market. In general, tons of things going on. All that says to me, however, is contraindicaciones del viagra that things are moving.
The first step in growing the beer community is to get more breweries. The anchor of any strong beer scene is a sizeable cluster of local breweries making beer for the people in their neighbourhoods. Every vibrant beer culture has a significant number of breweries. There is no hard-and-fast number of how many breweries is necessary to reach that state, but I can safely say it is more than any community in Western Canada currently has.
Local breweries matter because they have the ability to create a multi-faceted connection. They feed into the desire for small-scale, local food production. They are, in a way imports and corporate beer cannot, legitimately part of the community. The owner or the brewmaster will regularly be at local events or, even, your local pub. Many consumers will have a direct connection to the brewery and its operators.
The other reason a good number of breweries is important is that they push each other to be better and they increase the overall quality level in the beer scene. The more breweries there are, the greater the diversity in approaches and styles, meaning consumers get to choose, pushing all of them to try to be better. It is a key reason why local breweries drive beer market maturation.
A good supply of import beer is also important. Getting quality beer from around the world helps educate consumers about what should be expected. When you try a world-class porter or IPA, you start to expect a bit more from the one you try locally. And, once again, that pushes everyone to be better.
The third pillar is local pubs and restaurants who make carrying quality beer a priority. Lots of places have great food cultures with restaurants creating amazing dishes. Many (if not most) of those restaurants have impressive wine lists. The beer list – not so much. Similarly, every city has pubs with great atmosphere and friendly vibe. Again, often the beer list itself is rather pedestrian.
Mature beer scenes combine great locations with great beer lists. In the most mature markets a pub doesn’t dare not carry some local taps because they know they will lose customers. As a quick anecdote I remember walking into a random sports bar in Portland, replete with Bud signage and Coors posters, and noticing that of the 18 taps, 14 were local, including 4 different IPAs. That is what I am talking about. In a mature beer market local pubs carry local beer.
Finally, in a mature beer market there is a wide range of beer styles, flavours and interpretations. This is one of the biggest things that marks Western Canada as less-mature. Until recently, there was only one model to build a successful brewery. Be mid-sized and offer a range of flavours, including something darker, something hoppier, something lighter and (often) something fruity. Admittedly that model has recently been supplemented by a number of other options, but we are not yet at a place where breweries can do what they feel passionate about. And that is the final sign of a mature market.
There are lots of things that exemplify a mature beer market. And there are many pathways to get there. What I can report is that Western Canada is not there yet but, from all reports, we are moving in the right direction. And that encourages me.
It is a good time to follow beer in Western Canada.
Jason Foster is an Alberta-based beer writer, educator and certified beer judge. He is the beer columnist for CBC Radio’s Radioactive, Edmonton’s Vue Weekly, Saskatoon’s Planet S Magazine and writes regularly for a variety of magazines. He is also the creator of onbeer.org, a website devoted to craft beer on the prairies and beyond.