Written by Deirdre E. Lanigan
Alberta’s beer industry has expanded at a rapid pace over the past several years, and it isn’t hard to notice the new breweries and brewpubs that have been opening all over the province of late.
As both a lawyer and co-owner of Brewsters Brewing Company & Restaurant and Beer Revolution, and a current board member on the Alberta Small Brewers Association (“ASBA”), I work and practice in the Alberta beer industry alongside my family and have seen a number of ups and downs in this industry over the past several years.
1. The Good
I’m proud to be part of the Alberta beer industry, which is truly a community. The culture of the brewing community here is inclusive and welcoming and we want to see all brewers, both established and new, succeed. As a whole, the Alberta beer industry is more collaborative than competitive, and we work together on industry initiatives that will benefit all breweries and brewpubs.
One of the most promising developments for the Alberta brewing industry is the increase in both the number of breweries operating across the province and the number of Alberta brewery products being sold here. According to the ASBA, there are 123 breweries operating in Alberta as of January 2020, an increase from just 30 in October 2015. Additionally, there are over 4000 Alberta-made beer products being sold across the province.
The Alberta beer industry also contributes to Alberta’s economy in a number of ways. Alberta’s breweries are generally small-scale and locally-owned, and the ASBA estimates that Alberta beer employs over 3000 Albertans directly. In addition to direct employment, Alberta beer also contributes to indirect employment for Albertans in a range of industries including the agricultural sector (local farmers who provide the malt and barley), the brewing sector (maltsters and then the brewing/bottling of the product), packaging, transportation, and the retail sector for licensed retailers selling the product (retail stores, restaurants and bars). The beer economy involves a number of different aspects such as malting, grain handling, bottling or canning, packaging, warehousing, transportation, and marketing and promotion. Alberta beer also supports economic diversification in the province, as well as supporting Alberta’s hardworking farmers and Alberta’s agriculture industry.
We also expect positive effects from Alberta breweries on Alberta tourism, with excursions such as Alberta Brewery Tours, Alberta Craft Tours, Calgary’s Pedal Pub and Edmonton’s Hops Crossing Passport taking visitors on tours of different breweries in Edmonton and Calgary. Alberta breweries are also well-positioned to capitalize on “beer tourism” with Alberta Beer Week, which typically runs in October each year, Calgary’s International Beerfest, and the Alberta Craft Beer Awards. Both the Calgary Stampede and Edmonton K Days have also featured Alberta craft beer at their exhibitions. This trend is not only limited to Edmonton and Calgary: you can now find breweries and brewpubs in every corner of Alberta, both rural and urban.
I’m also encouraged by the fact that Albertans are largely opting for local beer in their consumption of beer products. Based on AGLC's 2019 survey of Albertans, 63% of Albertans who purchased liquor felt that it is important to be able to find Alberta-made liquor products, an increase of 11% from the previous year. The majority of Alberta beer drinkers are choosing local, which both supports our local industry and keeps their hard-earned money in our provincial economy - something we can all benefit from.
We have also seen the acquisition of two Alberta breweries in the past year - Wild Rose Brewery and Banded Peak Brewing. This signals to me that the multinational, “big beer” corporations see the success of smaller, local breweries and want “in” to the Alberta craft beer segment. This is an encouraging sign for the rest of the Alberta Beer community and an indicator of its growth.
2. The Bad
The legal and regulatory environment, both in Alberta and for interprovincial trade, makes it challenging for small-scale brewers here to compete in the national market. 2019 saw the closure of five breweries in Alberta.
Notably, the provincial government’s Alberta’s Small Brewers Development Program, which benefitted small-scale craft brewers in the form of grants and tax incentives, was repealed last year. The program applied to small-scale brewers selling their products in Alberta, and helped make their products in the Alberta market more competitive with those of producers from outside of the province.
There are also significant restrictive interprovincial trade barriers for Alberta brewers selling their products outside of the province, and in particular in Ontario. Although Ontario is the largest liquor market in Canada, it imposes onerous restrictions that prevent our local brewing industry from selling Alberta products there. As an industry, we continue to advocate for opening provincial markets outside of Alberta, and in particular the Ontario market, to Alberta beer.
For more information about Alberta beer, please go to http://alberta.beer.
If you have any legal or regulatory questions about the Alberta beer industry, please contact Deirdre Lanigan.
*This update is intended for general information only on the subject matter and is not to be taken as legal advice.
 The Conference Board of Canada: “Brewing Up Benefits. The Economic Footprint of Canada’s Beer Economy” at p 2.
 For example, see this article on the Travel Alberta website promoting Alberta’s beer scene: https://www.travelalberta.com/ca/articles/2017/11/graham-sherman-maverick/.