Alberta Breweries Serving Up Pints
Alberta Breweries Serving Up Pints? This doesn’t sound right, does it? Of course there are a few that are able to do it already because they went through the trouble and expense of putting in a kitchen and now have to manage an extra food business on top of a brewery. Well, today I received a phone call from a very enthusiastic and ecstatic Graham Sherman, co-founder of Tool Shed Brewing Company based in Calgary, Alberta. Graham told me that they just received some huge news from the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC). The AGLC governs liquor licenses in the province also controls permits and regulations of breweries and distilleries. In the last year or so they have relaxed laws and removed barriers that once made entry into Alberta’s brewing and distilling scene cost prohibitive for most, due to the huge minimum production laws. With those minimum production laws now gone it makes it much easier for Calgary’s newest breweries to not only start; but to thrive.
According to Sherman, the AGLC has been extremely interested in hearing what brewers want in the industry and what is holding them back. Recently, Sherman and his co-founder Jeff Orr were invited to sit down with the AGLC and they had a very frank discussion about what laws made sense and what laws were simply holding them back. With only about one week to go before their licence to brew at their new North East Calgary brewery and tasting room is issued, they were looking forward to those who wanted to come out for a tour and some samples. Due to the old laws, a Class E brewery, like Tool Shed, would not be able to serve pints but only dole out samples of their brew unless they were to install a full kitchen and take on a very unfamiliar business of running a restaurant inside their brewery. With the new business of running a brand new brewery already on their plate, there was never a chance of them getting into the food business. This, of course, was a little upsetting to the guys since they, like many Albertans, make a pilgrimage south of the border to states like Montana and Idaho where breweries often have taprooms inside their breweries without any food offered at all. You can hang out in a brewery, drink the beer made on site and enjoy yourself. I think most people would agree that a huge part of beer tourism, which is huge part of the economy in the USA, is being able to visit a brewery for a tour and to have a couple of pints on site too. Like most beer geeks, I can say that is one thing that I certainly enjoy doing!
Now here’s where Santa comes early…the guys at Tool Shed just found out some very good news for their business and for all Alberta breweries. The AGLC just informed them that their brewery and all Class E breweries in the province can now serve up full pints at their soon to be taproom and they will not be required to have a kitchen whatsoever. This is huge news and other start-ups in the province will no doubt be just as thrilled with this news.
I reached out to the Executive Director of the Alberta Small Brewers Association, Greg Zeschuck and he had the following to say regarding the AGLC’s latest move; “The recent rule change allowing Alberta breweries to operate taprooms where they make beer is a big and exciting change for local breweries. Not only will you be able to go and pick up a growler of your favorite Alberta beer, but if they choose to do so, local breweries will now be able to sell you pints of their beer on site, where you can even talk to the people that made it!”
In a memo to Class E licensees (manufacturers) the AGLC announces that they may now obtain a Class B (Tourist Facility) Licence. In the memo it says, “This change will permit manufacturers to sell their products in the hospitality areas of their manufacturing sites to patrons for on-site consumption.” They go on to say that the new policies are in the Licensee Handbook and are located under Subsections 3.3.7 and 188.8.131.52 and they can be found online here, skip to page two.
Understandably, Jeff and Graham are excited to be able to do much more business at the brewery and the soon to be beer tourists who will visit for a brewery tour will also be very happy to be able to enjoy a full pint of their favourite Tool Shed brew right inside the brewery. Locals will also be very happy to stop by for a very fresh pint as well. Perhaps we can look forward to food trucks and some pints of Tool Shed at the brewery sometime too? My mouth is watering already. Of course other start-ups like The Dandy Brewing Company here in Calgary could benefit from this as I am sure Alberta’s fourth oldest micro-brewery, Alley Kat Brewing in Edmonton could as well. In reality, what brewery won’t want to be able to serve up some of their very own craft beer right at the brewery? I hope to see every brewery get on board and promote beer tourism within the province. Even breweries that currently have taprooms that serve food could potentially close the kitchen down during the slower times and keep the taproom open, all dependent on the licence conditions and the AGLC of course. This move is sure to improve the bottom line at your local Alberta craft brewery and this can only mean more great beer and certainly even more great craft breweries coming on to the scene.
The folks over at the AGLC have not only been asking what they can do to help our beer community here in Alberta, they have actually acted on those requests and recommendations from brewers. “Over the last year we’ve been working with the industry to implement the recommendations from the Class E Manufacturing review, while continuing to look for opportunities for procedural improvements. This latest policy change is a minor modification and we’re excited that it will allow small brewers to pursue new opportunities.” – Alain Maisonneuve, VP, Liquor Services for the AGLC told us today. It’s not often that you can say that any government body acts quickly or listens to reasonable requests from industry people. I hope the AGLC can continue to work with the Alberta brewers and continue to make some common sense changes and adjustments to laws to reflect our modern society. Beer and beer tourism dollars are real and there is some major dollars at stake here for both the brewers and the province. Let’s hope that common sense can continue it’s comeback at the AGLC. Things are looking up in Alberta!