Category Archives: Beer News

Defining Craft Beer in Canada

Whenever I am talking to people about the virtues of craft beer there is invariably one question that I get asked: What is craft beer?  To answer that question we really need to look at what a craft brewery is.

This is a question that seems very difficult to answer right now.  While there are craft beer associations popping up across Canada (Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, and New Brunswick, Nova Scotia) they do not necessarily represent all of the local breweries in their area nor do they seem to offer a clear definition of what craft beer might be.

Provincial governments, who regulate liquor sales in their respective provinces, have no clear definition of craft beer in their legal frameworks.  Instead, what does exist are terms like “small brewery, microbrewery, macrobrewery and nanobrewery” in which sizes in hectolitres are used to determine the classification mostly for taxation purposes.  Even these definitions vary widely.  In Saskatchewan to be considered a small brewery you need to produce less than 5,000 HL, while in New Brunswick it is 1.5 Million HL.  The British Columbia craft beer association represents breweries that produce less than 160,000 HL each year (Source) while Ontario Crafter Brewers set their limit at 400,000 HL. (Source)

Yet none of this actually defines what craft beer actually is.  The Ontario Craft Brewers association gives a definition, similar to that of the US brewers’ association, to define what craft beer means to their members saying:

Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB) are local and defined as:

SMALL – Most Ontario Craft Brewers are small and many are family-owned. The current maximum size of an Ontario Craft Brewer is 400,000 hectolitres of annual worldwide beer production.

INDEPENDENT – Locally-owned and is not significantly controlled by a beer company who does not qualify as an Ontario Craft Brewer.

TRADITIONAL – Pledge to brew traditional and innovative beers according to the

Ontario Craft Brewers’ Brewing Philosophy. The original Philosophy was signed on

April 12, 2006 and was updated in September 2013. It is set out below.

Ontario Craft Brewers must locate and run their primary breweries in Ontario, close to the markets and the communities they serve. The breweries are open to the public, other brewers and beer enthusiasts.

(Source, p. 2)

U.S. Brewers Association

Small – Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less (approximately 3 percent of U.S. annual sales). Beer production is attributed to the rules of alternating proprietorships.

Independent – Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.

Traditional – A brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation. Flavored malt beverages (FMBs) are not considered beers.

The following are some concepts related to craft beer and craft brewers:

  • Craft brewers are small brewers.
  • The hallmark of craft beer and craft brewers is innovation. Craft brewers interpret historic styles with unique twists and develop new styles that have no precedent.
  • Craft beer is generally made with traditional ingredients like malted barley; interesting and sometimes non-traditional ingredients are often added for distinctiveness.
  • Craft brewers tend to be very involved in their communities through philanthropy, product donations, volunteerism and sponsorship of events.
  • Craft brewers have distinctive, individualistic approaches to connecting with their customers.
  • Craft brewers maintain integrity by what they brew and their general independence, free from a substantial interest by a non-craft brewer.
  • The majority of Americans live within 10 miles of a craft brewer.

(Source)

This definition uses more than just the size of the brewery as a means of defining what craft beer actually is.  The US based brewers’ association lays out some concepts surrounding craft beer as well, which expand and start to develop a definition of craft beer – something I’d like to see replicated in Canada. Craft Brewers must meet these criteria in order to qualify to use the associations’ logo on their beer.

When we think of craft beer though, size isn’t what necessarily comes to mind.  Take Sierra Nevada for example in the United States.  Many would consider them to be a craft brewery, yet, they produce over 900,000 HL and so would not fall into the some of the size restrictions here in Canada.  What is important in respect to size limitation is that it be consistent.

With  Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABinBev) buying SABMiller to become the largest beer company in the world, I think it is important that craft beer be defined in a way that is consistent and recognizable and national.  Even more so, if we want this definition to mean something more and to protect what craft beer means and is, then this definition needs to be put into law.

This is where the conversation comes in.  There is no clear definition of craft beer that can be used Canada wide, yet, there is a great deal of opinion and anyone you ask will likely have their own way of defining craft beer.  www.hoptahouse.ca wrote an article similar to this one and cited a book from 1986 saying:

The term appears to have been coined by Vince Cottone, author of Good Beer Guide: Breweries and Pubs of the Pacific Northwest (Homestead Book Co., Seattle, 1986). Cottone had a very narrow definition in mind, saying that craft beers are produced by “a small brewery using traditional methods and ingredients to produce a handcrafted, uncompromised beer that is marketed locally.” Cottone’s definition was so strict that that he excluded pasteurized beers, as well as brewers that use malt extracts.

While this provides a good starting point for what craft beer is, it is incomplete, so I’d like to offer a definition of my own.  I want to stress that this is my opinion and I know there will be others that disagree or have a different definition.  Part of the problem I suppose, but here we go.

For me, craft beer is a locally owned brewery that produces handcrafted beers.  They are breweries who are making beer for the love of the craft, who are creative, experimental, and willing to try out of the box ideas.  A brewery that is not afraid to make a beer not everyone will like but will make beer that they want to drink.

This is an important conversation to have. With Manitobans buying 76.2 Million Litres of beer between May 2014 and May 2015, this is not a small market.  And yet, 81.5% of this market is dominated by the Macro-breweries represented mostly by ABinBev.  The market for Craft Beer has room to grow.

Yet we have seen craft breweries in Canada and elsewhere purchased by ABinBev as they try to get their foot into the craft beer market in an attempt to halt market share loss.   Canadian micro-breweries now have 4.2% of beer sales but have also grown by 19% in dollars and 12% in litres over the past year (Source). The problem is, does this include Goose Island (owned by ABinBev) and Mill Street (recently bought by ABinBev) and does that even matter?  Is non-craft beer “bad” beer?  Does being craft beer automatically make you good?  We also need to ask those questions when defining craft beer.

While there is great work being done by brewery associations in their respective provinces, and while a definition for craft beer is starting to become clearer in some provinces, without a nationwide definition and laws to support it, it’s hard to know what craft beer really is and whether what you are buying is what you think it is.  At least with the Ontario Craft Brewers and the American Brewers’ Association beers which meet their criteria and are members are identified right on the bottle.  Seeing something like this Canada wide that helps beer drinkers recognize beers as “craft beers” would be great, we just need to make sure the reason we are doing it is sound.

To conclude, I sent out a tweet asking for people to define what craft beer is to them. I didn’t get back many responses but I did get a few.  If you’d like to share how you view craft beer I’d be happy to add.  Still, I’d like to finish by sharing the definitions I did receive with you:

@ThousandThought – Going with: Locally owned and operated, committed to quality ingredients and practices, prioritizing craft before profit.

@colinkoop – Craft beer is brewed by an independently-owned brewery using natural high-quality ingredients. It is an artisanal product that can both adhere to style guidelines and bend them. Craft beer feeds back into its local economy and culture. It focuses on quality over quantity and profit. Craft brewers grow craft beer culture by respecting other craft breweries and embracing a collaborative/cooperative marketplace.

J.M. – Meticulously crafted, small batch beer. Often with particular flavours and themes not found in your typical macrobrewery.

M.S – A passion to explore the flavour and strength of different ingredients and different brewing methods.

@beerideas – Beer Ideas responded on his own blog. Check out his essay about craft beer here.

Interview with Barn Hammer

Barn Hammer

This is a really exciting time for craft beer in Winnipeg.  With changes to the liquor laws making it more appealing for breweries to open, making brew pubs possible, and expansion of the growler bars, craft beer drinkers have a lot to be revved up about.

I spoke with Nicole Barry from Peg Beer Co. last week and this week I had the opportunity to sit down with Tyler Birch and Brian Westcott, the small but mighty team behind the new Winnipeg brewery Barn Hammer.

Tyler and Brian are an excellent team, bringing two important strengths to the brewery – business and craftsmanship.  Tyler owns and operates a fencing company with his father Ted.  TnT Fenceworks has been successfully operating for the past 10 years successful.  While working there, Tyler became interested in home brewing and spotted the low number of breweries in Manitoba compared to other provinces.  With his sincere love of beer and interest in brewing, Tyler wanted to do something to fill that gap and began working through the process to create Barn Hammer Brewin Co.

When the laws began to change, it made it more appealing and helped Tyler get his plan off the ground.

By chance, Brian Westcott, former production manager for Alley Kat Brewing Company in Edmonton, was looking to move to Manitoba.  Brian started brewing in university with about 6 or 7 carboys on the go at any given time.  His first degree was in Biochemistry and when he got a job in Fort St. John he found himself with a lot of time to read about brewing and decided to become a professional brewer.  He was hired by Alley Kat Brewing, but after about 18 months on the job, he wanted to learn more.  So, Brian headed back to school and as a graduate of Scotland’s M.Sc. program in brewery science worked for another 7 years at Alley Kat but was always hoping to move back to Manitoba.  (His wife is a native of northern Manitoba.)

The timing on their move couldn’t have been better.  After meeting with Tyler to discuss the vision of the brewery, Barn Hammer officially had a head brewer and a partner to round out Tyler’s home brewing knowledge.

While Tyler has not been involved in the brewing industry at all, he has a strong business sense from running TnT for the past 10 years.  This combined with Brian’s extensive experience working in all aspects of brewing make for a dynamite combination.  Add the fact Tyler’s wife Sable is an accomplished graphic artist and this three person team has a lot of the bases covered for getting a brewery up and running.

Tyler started planning about a year ago- again, mostly due to the fact Winnipeg is so far behind the rest of the country in the local craft market.  Now he gets to work with Brian to create beer “I want to drink” while using his already honed business skills to get that beer into the hands of Manitobans.

One of the biggest challenges Tyler and Brian faced was finding a good location.  They wanted an industrial site that wouldn’t be so far away people would be hesitant to visit. They also needed a landlord who was willing to lease. Plus there was an extra self-imposed condition:  it had to be close enough Tyler could bike to work.

Luckily they found this location at 595 Wall Street and have begun renovations for their planned opening in December.

When it comes to the actual beers they will be producing, the team at Barn Hammer has some ideas, names and concepts but are really only in the test brewing stage.  With Sable on board, they have a unified label design in mind but still have to finalize their beers.  When they open in December the goal is to have two beers canned with a seasonal on tap at their brewery.  Brian told me he was just getting a Winter Ale test batch underway – a little weird being summer, but something they hope to have ready when they open.  At the brewery opening they plan to give the public an opportunity to try some of their beers on tap – an activity they want to continue as they try new things out and experiment.

Barn Hammer will be running a 15 barrel system and plan to be producing a little over 1000 HLs in the first year with the goal of moving up to 5000 H/L in a few years.  Both Tyler and Brian want to grow to a comfortable size where they can produce beer they like while still experimenting and staying truly small and local.  With their plan of having a couple of mainstays and constant experimentation, I think Winnipeggers and Manitobans will welcome this newcomer and be excited for the new brews as they become available.

As I said before, Tyler and Brian hope to have two beers in cans to start with the rest in the tap room and growler area.  Their focus for the opening will be the brewery itself, but they told me with 100% certainty they’ll have a growler fill area when they open, so we’ll be able to head in and try things out right from the get go.  I was really excited when Brian told me they would be keeping things experimental and “interesting” -Tyler and Brian don’t’ want to get complacent, they want to stay small and focus on the craft of brewing beer.

I am always interested in how those involved in brewing view beer.  It’s something that has come up in a number of my interviews and the answer, I find, is very telling.  Brian reiterated what I’ve heard from those passionate about beer when he told me beer is a “beautiful meld of science and art. Beer is one of those things where you can be as scientific as you like, but at the end of the day there is some art to it”.  Tyler said beer is a “gathering place. Everyone has different tastes but the debate and discussion unifies beer drinkers.”

The name for the brewery comes from Tyler’s experience out at the lake. Their cabin has an old Barn on its land and one summer his father, Ted, decided to try and pull it down using his truck.  The truck was not up to the task and as a joke Tyler started calling it the “Barn Hammer” and the name stuck.

Barn Hammer plans to open in December of this year with two beers ready to be canned with at least one seasonal on tap for growler fills.  Be sure to follow them @barnhammerbeer on Twitter and add them to your list of breweries to visit once they open.  I’m really excited to see what beers they have in store for us.

Manitoba Budget – Money for Craft Beer

Untitled

The Manitoba Government continues to show that it has an interest in expanding the craft brewery market here in Manitoba. With places like Ontario and BC just exploding with new breweries who are not only bringing in revenue for tourism but also through sales and taxation, it’s about time for the government to push further and open up the market to allow for new entries.

As has been noted before on this blog and in conversation with David Rudge of Half Pints, the changes in laws to allow for growler bars, and hopefully soon, tap rooms, will allow for new breweries to come into the market with lower overheads and increased chance of success.  With the government of Manitoba committing some of the $10,191,000 (Page 5) increase in Tourism and Culture to be put towards introducing measures to “boost Manitoba’s craft brewing industry” (Page 8), we see that they are putting sincere efforts into area of business that will hopefully bring about some changes to the way breweries currently operate.

The increase in funding, the promise to introduce new measures and the Craft Breweries Strategy all give me hope that we will see some opening up of the still very restrictive liquor laws here in Manitoba that will allow new breweries to flourish and bring to Manitoba the same sort of creativity and wealth of options that exist.  Not that I don’t like Manitoban beer…I love it, I’d just like to have more!

On a final note, May the fourth be with you.

– Beer Winnipeg

Make Beer and Wine in Store

One of the most difficult parts of brewing beer and wine, even from a kit, is having the time, space and the materials to do so.  Well, those people are in luck!

The Manitoba Government has announced that the Liquor and Gaming authority will now be able to authorize businesses to allow brewing on site!  What does this mean?  It means that places like Brewers Direct, Grape and Grain, and Wine Sense, will be able to provide space for home brewers to mix, ferment, and bottle their kit of choice on site.

According to the Backgrounder “In-store brewing facilities provide customers with the ingredients, instructional advice, and equipment to produce wine and beer for off-site personal consumption in private locations. Customers purchase ingredients on-site, mix their wine or beer, and leave it on the premises for fermentation. After a period of time, customers return to bottle their wine or beer and remove the product from the site.

Anyone who has ever made wine or beer, especially beer from scratch, at home knows that there is more to it than mixing, fermenting and bottling.  There are steps that must be followed along the way.

It is still unclear whether the site will be responsible for racking the beer from primary to secondary fermenter, whether their will be the ability to create a beer wort from scratch on site, or if this will essentially be a full service enterprise where it really will be an “add the yeast and bottle” type process.

At present the government has indicated in their backgrounder that a number of exisiting businesses that sell kits have indicated their interest to provide this service.  They have also recognized the new business potential of such an endeavour.  The government has begun looking at best practices from other jurisdicitions and developing regulations and guidelines to be put in place.

The final regulations are expected to be in place by Spring of 2015 according to Minister Chomiak, at which point business will be able to apply for special authorization to allow on-site brewing.  The Minister did say that the business would need to also meet “federal and municipal regulations” and that it will be based on “training and inspection“.

What is certain is that this initiative opens the doors to a variety of business models where, perhaps, some enterprising home brewer might open a place where you can, with advice and materials, create your very own beer from scratch and learn the ins and outs of full scale home brewing.

-Beer Winnipeg

Manitoba Craft Breweries Stratgey

Well, it seems like there are some things happening here in Manitoba in respect to Craft Beer.

For a long time we have been pretty behind when it comes to craft beer and breweries.  We currently have three breweries in Manitoba.  When you compare that to a small province like New Brunswick which is home to 7 that I can think of off the top of my head (likely more) it’s not really that great.

So, to have the government announce a “Craft Breweries Strategy” is a very promising step that when combined with the Growler system and the work being done on the Liquor laws here may result in some actual change and growth.

According to the press release the Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Sport and Consumer Protection Minister Ron Lemieux announced the first step as the creation of an advisory committee which will be made of of the following people:

MANITOBA CRAFT BREWERIES STRATEGY INDUSTRY ADVISORY COMMITTEE

  • Robert Holmberg, vice-president, liquor operations, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, and chair, Craft Brewery Industry Advisory Committee
  • Jim Baker, president and CEO, Manitoba Hotel Association
  • Noel Bernier, president and CEO, FB Hospitality
  • Bill Gould, president, WETT Sales and Distribution Inc.
  • Orest Horechko, general manager, Fort Garry Brewing Co.
  • Scott Jocelyn, executive director, Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association
  • Dwayne Marling, vice-president, Manitoba–Saskatchewan, Restaurants Canada
  • David Rudge, brewmaster and president, Half Pints Brewing Company
  • Darren R. Wanless, president, Wanless Geo-Point Solutions Inc.
  • Lawrence Warwaruk, owner, Farmery Estate Brewery
  • Kerry Wolfe, senior executive director, strategic gaming and liquor development, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries

Quite a number of people there who, I hope, will bring some good insight to the table.

At the very least this is a start.  We are in a sorry state for craft brewing here in Manitoba in comparison to the rest of Canada and I am hoping that we will begin to see some change in the quality and quantity of craft brewers we have.

I want to finish by saying the breweries we do have are excellent.  I’m always excited by their creativity and their willingness to put out special beers and try new things.  I hope that Fort Garry, Half Pints and Farmery will continue to do this and will help grow, not stifle, the craft beer competition in this province.

-Beer Winnipeg