Minimum brewery production laws removed in Alberta and people are talking. On the 80th anniversary of the repeal of US prohibition, Alberta repeals their own microbrewery prohibition. The craft beer movement in Alberta is growing and Albertans have been wanting more options and have been looking to neighboring British Columbia and the US for those options. Sure there are breweries in Alberta but we are talking about 8 or 10 only. Two of which do not brew beer at their own facility because of laws that prohibited them from doing so or now I can say used to prevent them from doing so. As of December 5th, 2013 the Alberta Liquor & Gaming Commission has removed the restriction on the minimum brewery capacity which used to be 2,500 hectolitres or 250,000 litres, which equals roughly 66,000 US gallons or 2,100 barrels of beer. As the law read it was to have a capacity to brew 5000 hectolitres and actually brew at least 2,500 hectolitres. Also, all fermentation, brite and storage tanks had to have a capacity of 10 hectolitres each. There was also a weekly minimum capacity of 50 hectolitres of beer with enough space available to expand to accommodate the 5,000 hectolitre per year mark. Now perhaps that sounds reasonable to you, but there are big costs associated with a set up like this. The cost of the equipment, a building big enough for all of it, taxes on such a large building, etc. As a start-up brewery, how would you know if you would ever reach those numbers? Why would you invest millions to make beer that may never really take off? You can read the actual document that outlines the changes to the Alberta laws here.
Let’s say that you wanted to open a restaurant and the government told you that you could as long as you sold at least 5,000 hamburgers a week and you had to have the capacity to sell 10,000 per week. You also had to have at least 500 seats in your restaurant with the ability to expand to 1200 seats. Would this make any sense? Would you risk all of that money in a huge place? How many fridges and freezers would you need? You would have to buy several grills and prep stations too. But what if you really just wanted to make a couple hundred gourmet burgers every week for people who seek out burgers with only the best ingredients and some innovation? Well, my guess is that no one would want to bother and people would be severely limited in their choices in burgers and that most burgers you ate would not be very exciting. Now imagine that a small gourmet restaurant in another province or state can ship their gourmet burgers, from their tiny place into your city or province and sell them in any restaurant they please. Would this make sense to you? I hope not!
Now, perhaps you are thinking that is a goofy analogy but I think it is fitting. If you read those restaurant restrictions you would probably wonder why anyone in their right mind would ever bother. Well, this is the way that the beer production laws worked in Alberta. This is why start-up breweries in Alberta actually make beer at another brewery in order to skirt the laws. This actually sends a decent amount of money out of the province and does nothing to promote tourism or grab tax dollars in the province. That’s why this is huge news, all of the minimums have been removed and some language added to help protect the consumer and to ensure that the beer is safe for human consumption. The government really listened and let the people’s passion for craft beer speak. I have to say that I am very surprised and excited that this actually happened.
When you look at many US states they have made these changes long ago. Breweries may come and breweries may go, but if the product is good and priced right – they stick around. They hire locally, the buy product locally, they rent vacant spaces and they make a product that people pay tax on. As much as we may all dislike taxes, they are what keeps our governments going. The one big off spin of brewing beer is beer tourism. Beer tourism is real and it is big. There are plenty of states in the US with Beer Trails to go out and discover new beer and places. People that travel to go and visit their favourite brewery spend money on hotels, taxis, restaurants and everything else that goes along with it.
With the minimum brewery production laws removed in Alberta, the beer culture has now changed forever and we have so much to look forward to the months and years to come. I look forward to the day that we can go out and do the Alberta brewery trail. If you are an Albertan and a purveyor of craft beer you know that you just witnessed a historic event. While it may take a year or so to see several new brewers in the province, it’s coming and I couldn’t be happier! I actually get goosebumps thinking about this, I can hardly wait to see how the new beer landscape in Alberta develops. Now go out and support your local craft brewery, enjoy it and think of all of the new beer to come. It’s worth while noting that the minimums have also been removed from liquor production. Perhaps some craft distilleries are on the horizon as well?
Are you thinking about starting a brewery now that the laws have changed? Do you think this is a good thing for Alberta? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.