The exponential growth of craft beer, malting and distilling in Alberta...It used to be you’d order a Bud or a Blue. But Alberta drinkers have a plethora of choices now as craft breweries, maltsters and distillers grow across the province like dandelions in spring.
The provincial government modified some regulations and tax breaks a few years ago, changes that have opened a flood gate of beer in Alberta. “Regulation, in the past, was a major impediment to the introduction, growth and development of new breweries and maltsters,” says Ed Knash, ATB’s VP – Agriculture. “We have seen a very rapid—perhaps exponential —increase in the number of craft brewers and it’s a trend we would expect to continue for some time.”
To help quench the thirst for craft brews, Olds College offers a two-year Brewmaster Program that graduates 25 students a year and furthers the industry with research, development and teaching. Our beer sales are increasing by more than 5 per cent a year and we’re buying double the craft beers we used to. “When you’re talking the Alberta industry, we are probably fourth in Canada in developing but we’re probably amongst the fastest developing in the last couple of years,” says Dave Nuttall, Alberta’s ‘Professor of Beer. Nuttall estimates Alberta’s industry is 20 years behind craft brewing in the U.S. “We are playing catch up.” But better late than never, right? Alberta’s burgeoning industry is benefitting more than beer-lovers. It’s also helping our economy. Historically, the agriculture industry has produced top quality products—like malting barley—exported them and then we turn around and import the value-added goods. “Now we add value locally with brewing, malting and distilling,” says Knash. “That means jobs, successful local businesses and local economic benefit.”
“Canadian craft beer sales are about 10 per cent of total beer sales, about double what they were five years ago in Alberta.” – David Nutall, the Professor of Beer
So the next time you raise your glass to enjoy a craft beer or spirit made here in Alberta, as well as appreciating the complex flavours and superior quality, toast the farmers who grew the barley and other grains and toast yourself for helping build the economy.
Antler Valley Farm Currently we grow Copeland Barley because it yields well and has low protein, which is what the maltsters like. It’s an exciting time for malt growers. In my 40 years of growing malt, this has probably been the most exciting time. Canola was always the focused cash crop, now there is a market for our barley, which is very exciting. These opportunities wouldn’t be happening if the Canadian Wheat Board still existed. The craft breweries wouldn’t have been able to have these relationships with the grower. And for us, we have been able to market our own malt at a premium price. – Wade, Scott & Wayne McAllister
Syngenta Two years ago, Syngenta began selling a malt barley variety and since then has been building relationships within the craft brewing community in Alberta. The first beer brewed with Synergy malt was a pale ale from Banff Brewing Co. The malt for that beer, which was served at FarmTech 2014 came from one farmers field—the value chain doesn’t get much smaller than that! We are currently evaluating malt barley varieties from our business in northern Europe and we received interim registration on the first of these varieties this year. These European varieties have a profile favorable to the craft beer brewer and are well adapted to our Alberta climate. We look forward to growing the link between farmers, maltsters and brewers as we move ahead! – Christine Spasoff
Red Shed Malting As a small malthouse, with connections to local farmers and across the barley value chain, we are able to play a role in accelerating the timeline of when a new barley variety shows potential and when sensory testing can be done on beer brewed with that variety, from 10-15 years down to under five. Alberta needs to be really proud of its farmers who produce some of the best barley in the world. Hamill Farms, the family farm, will be supplying a large portion of the barley and we have received several calls from farmers who are interested in growing for us, who wanted to tour our facility (public tours will start this summer) or just wanted to provide encouragement. – Matt Hamill
Bench Creek Brewing People are a lot more interested in craft ‘everything.’ They love that connection between what they’re drinking and who made it for them especially if it’s in their backyard. We have had great support around Edson and across Alberta for our product. We’re not necessarily taking away market share from each other. It’s macro beer, the big breweries, that we’re pulling those numbers from. Everybody is switching they want something more flavourful and something that they can say ‘This is part of our community these are people I know.’ – Andrew Kulynych
Red Cup Distillery Red Cup Distillery is Canada’s only Canadian Made licensed moonshine still. Although we are doing something that was very common 100 years ago we are rediscovering the process. Our grain is Hard Red Wheat seed and we soak and malt on site. Our germination is great and our farmers in the Vegreville area produce lots. George Olinek has been a great resource. His family has farmed in the area for over a century and his advice and knowledge has helped us.The ingenuity of farmers is something that is invaluable. Prairie moonshine will grow exponentially as the flavour of our grains and the traditional equipment has a natural flavour that leaves people speechless. – Rob De Groot
Rahr Malting Rahr has a reputation for quality among brewers and we tell them that one of the biggest reasons is that our farmer partners grow some of the best barley in the world.We used to ship more than two thirds of our production offshore. This year, more than 75% will ship to craft brewers across North America.The growth of North American craft beer has been on a double digit pace for the last five years. Some of our customers are even experiencing triple digit growth and the best part of craft beer growth is that they use two to three times as much malt per bottle of beer as some of the large, mainstream brewers and three to four times as much as some of the offshore brewers. Alberta brewers are all making really great beers and the variety that is available now makes me feel like a kid in a candy store! – Bob Sutton
Green Leaf Farms I’ve sold 11 Clydesdales to Budweiser over about 35 years. Bud finds out who raises quality animals and then they’ll go look at your stock and if they pick one and it turns out good it could be a sure deal they’ll be coming back. I tell everyone, if they buy from me I’ll buy from them! The Busch family started buying Clydesdales to celebrate the end of the prohibition. They are a very classy and a dressy horse and they lend themselves to being made look good. They’re very stylish. My dad and his brother showed them in the 40s and 50s and there was a period of time when there wasn’t any on the farm but when I got older and took over, I went back to them. I judge shows all over the world, Australia Scotland all over North America. – Roger Le Clair