Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Time to brew up Manitoba craft beer biz

  • Print

The American brewing industry has changed dramatically since 1978, when U.S. president Jimmy Carter legalized home brewing. This spawned a generation of hobbyists turned artisans that have revolutionized the beer market. The number of breweries in the United States has grown from under 100 to well over 3,000.

The majority of Americans live within 15 kilometres of a local brewery. Craft beer now accounts for nearly 15 per cent of beer consumed in the United States, with much higher percentages in trendy cities like Portland, where there are 56 breweries in city limits and craft beer has a 36.6 per cent market share. Craft beer is gradually filling the cultural role in American life played by wine in France.

The Canadian craft brewing industry has burgeoned in a few cities, though it has a lot of catching up to do. Vancouver and Montreal have strong craft beer scenes, and Toronto brewers are multiplying despite the government sanctioned beer monopoly their competitors enjoy. Winnipeg remains stubbornly behind in large part due to archaic regulations.

Manitoba's provincial government has tepidly reformed liquor laws to bring them more in line with the rest of the world. But there is much work to be done. While off-sale vendors exist, specialty beer stores aren't allowed to operate in the province (though specialty wine stores are permitted). Beer aficionados are left to choose from either the small selection at Liquor Mart stores, or buying their beer in North Dakota (which has many times the selection despite the small population).

The government monopoly liquor distribution model has not only made it challenging for breweries to open, but also for specialty craft beer bars to open up. Indeed, Winnipeg's first specialty craft beer bar only opened last year. Few bars have the resources to jump through the hoops of getting special orders through the liquor commission.

The province's most recent liquor reform proposal would legalize growler sales. Growlers are re-sealable jugs for beer that have become popular stateside. Since bottling and canning isn't always practical for breweries, growlers have materialized as an efficient way to distribute beer. That is market-driven innovation at its finest.

The province's proposal would allow people to fill up growlers at certain Liquor Mart outlets, as well as at craft breweries. While this is a sensible measure, change will be gradual since there are so few breweries currently in operation or planned for Manitoba. That is largely since the province has historically had exceptionally prohibitive liquor policies (brew pubs were illegal until recently, and none have opened to date). Legalizing growlers is a welcome step, but further reforms are necessary to ensure most people have a place to fill them. Growlers are most popular in neighbourhoods like Nordeast in Minneapolis, where people can use growlers to collect novel brews from several breweries within walking distance.

While some might worry about the prospect of having several breweries in such close proximity, craft breweries tend to be good neighbours. They typically attract people looking to quietly sample novel beers. Their presence can also help revitalize neighbourhoods, as has been the case in Nordeast.

Since the province isn't about to give up its monopoly on liquor sales, a reasonable half-step would be allowing specialty beer stores to set up shop and allowing Manitoba breweries to open their own off-site retail locations. Since not everyone can conveniently get to Half Pints, allowing them and other breweries to open satellite locations would make craft beer much more accessible.

Allowing Manitoba brewers and specialty stores to sell products from other craft breweries could transform Manitoba into a leader in the Canadian craft beer market, particularly since Ontario and Saskatchewan breweries often have difficulty getting shelf space in their provinces. International brewing conglomerates such as Molson-Coors and Anheuser-Busch-InBev (which owns Labatt) would cry foul, but current regulations are tilted heavily in their favour; they could use some local competition.

Craft brewers have turned cities as small and remote as Duluth, Minn., into tourism destinations. Manitoba too could become a craft beer destination, under the right conditions. Hopefully one day in the near future Manitobans will be able look back on our current regulations and have a chuckle, while sampling many fine new Manitoba ales.

 

Steve Lafleur is a public policy analyst with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 30, 2014 A9

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Sanders gives other candidates a reality check

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A nesting goose sits on the roof of GoodLife Fitness at 143 Nature Way near Kenaston as the morning sun comes up Wednesday morning- See Bryksa’s Goose a Day Photo- Day 07- Web crop-May 09, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • An American White Pelican takes flight from the banks of the Red River in Lockport, MB. A group of pelicans is referred to as a ‘pod’ and the American White Pelican is the only pelican species to have a horn on its bill. May 16, 2012. SARAH O. SWENSON / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Are you worried Ebola might make its way to Canada?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google