Avenue Edmonton has a story this month about “new brews” in the Edmonton area. It’s interesting not for what is said, but rather what isn’t said, about the two new brewing operations they cover.
The first is Bench Creek Brewing, an Edson-based brewery which opened its doors last month to the public (as mentioned in our story). The second is a group of six investors called Provincial Brand Ltd, who have contracted Grizzly Paw Brewing in Canmore to produce a slick-looking new lager-like ale called Aurora.
We’ll say from the outset that we love that both companies have worked so hard to get funding, get themselves established, target the market they want to crack and begin brewing beer. Kudos. It’s what is making the Alberta beer scene so amazing right now.
But we couldn’t help but read the story and note the glaring juxtaposition between two brewing start-ups seemingly at polar ends of the brewing spectrum. The first (Bench Creek) is grassroots-focused, rural-based, and dedicated to brewing a wide range of modern beer styles targeted towards the growing craft beer audience in Alberta. It’s marketing, while slick, has a definite craftsman flavour.
The other (Provincial Brand Ltd) is corporate, urban-based, and focused on one beer and one audience in a bid to capture the money that is flowing out of Canada to multinational brewing giants making easy-drinking beer, and diverting it to a local company making easy-drinking beer. It’s marketing is also slick, but in a corporate marketing, design and advertising kind of way (see Jason Foster’s story – and in particular the comments by partner Don Eglinski, for context)
There has already been eye-rolling and cane-shaking about the merits of another easy-drinking-ale-that-is-like-a-lager hitting the Alberta beer market when there is already so much supply in that area. We are not beer snobs at The Daily Beer, but beer lovers, so have and will drink pretty much anything labelled as beer. Given the choice of Aurora and a mass-produced beer of similar quality from another country, we’ll choose local any day of the week.
But the choice to go bland over flavour definitely bucks current trends. So how will that gamble pay off? As Eglinski points out in his comment, “a rising tide lifts all ships”; that is, rising demand will benefit all in the beer market. According to Beer Canada data, the total beer sales of imported and local beers have steadily increased in Alberta over the past five years, compared to a steady decline across Canada as a whole over the same time. Eglinski also points out that the vast majority of beer consumed in Alberta is not craft beer – which leaves a huge audience to tap in to. With recent changes to beer taxation, Alberta breweries are in an even more competitive position than they have ever been.
We have no doubt there will be a market and demand for both breweries to succeed.