We make great beer in British Columbia (B.C.), which only seems right as B.C. is the birthplace of Canadian craft beer.
In 1982, Horseshoe Bay Brewing served B.C.’s first craft brew and became Canada’s first microbrewery (a new term denoting a small, independent brewery). While Horseshoe Bay Brewing closed its doors in 1999, its proprietors, John Mitchell and Frank Appleton had opened Spinnakers’ Gastro Brewpub in 1984 in Victoria, B.C. Spinnakers was the first brewpub to open in Canada, and was among the first in North America. In fact, just a few months before Spinnakers opened for business, Canada’s federal regulation had made it illegal to brew beer and serve beer in the same building.
Now, nearly 40 years later, British Columbia has established a reputation for offering a variety of premium quality, full-flavoured craft beers. The trajectory of B.C. craft beer is golden, with this great tasting product having 30% market share of B.C.’s total beer sales – the strongest market share in Canada.
More and more hopheads (craft beer lovers) are discovering B.C. craft beer. Over the past four years, domestic sales of craft beer have doubled. Revenues have increased from $240 million (2016) to $319 million (2020), and the total number of craft breweries in B.C. has grown from 54 to 204, with more scheduled to open, even during the global pandemic.
Many markets in Asia appreciate the variety and enjoy pairing beer with different foods and even other alcoholic drinks like Soju. Many markets that appreciate high-quality beer seek the prestige of limited production, bespoke and seasonal blend craft beers imported from B.C.
For noobs (a little beer slang for someone new to craft beer), craft beer is brewed in small batches by licensed manufacturers. A Craft Brewmaster favours full-flavoured, premium craft beer made from pure water and locally sourced ingredients of the highest quality. This contrasts mass-produced, competitively priced, commodity beer brand recipes such as commodity lagers, made with minimal hops and up to 50% corn or rice to lighten beer’s traditional barley base.
The regulations to maintain a craft brewery are specific. While the rules can make B.C. craft beer more difficult to access, it may have also contributed to the sector’s success (but more on that later). First, annual production is limited to less than 200,000 hL (20,000,000 L) worldwide, including affiliated and associated companies. Second, the yearly output of contract-brewed beer, whether manufactured on-site for third parties, associates, or affiliates, or brewed off-site by one of these parties for the brewery, can not constitute more than 50% of the brewery’s annual production. And finally, ownership must remain 51% in B.C.
Craft brewers offer quality, pure ingredients and water, bespoke brands, historical recipes, modern adaptations, and seasonal blends that attract more consumers and beer connoisseurs each year. Labels and packaging of each beer a craft brewer produces are generally unique and customized to depict the flavour story of each beer. Craft beer is priced higher than mass-produced brands. In part, the price reflects quality ingredients and small production runs. The premium price also reflects the product’s scarcity. B.C. craft breweries strike the right balance for consumers between demand and cost. Even though there are more than 200 craft breweries in B.C., the industry’s production cap of 200,000 hL per brewery, a principle of craft beer, can make popular brands hard to find and give the brand lasting exclusivity.
B.C. craft breweries create more than 4,500 jobs in British Columbia, including people employed in breweries and brewpubs, and support partner industries such as grain, hop and fruit farmers, mechanical production, tourism and hospitality. Canada produces some of the finest raw ingredients used in beer, and they are in demand worldwide. Canada exports nearly sixty-five percent of the malted barley it grows. Canada is also responsible for breeding three of the most common barley varieties used in North American beer. New barley varieties produced explicitly for craft brewers are emerging from Canada’s public breeding programs.
British Columbia has internationally respected graduates and brewmasters from Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) programs. It is the first brewery program in Canada to be internationally recognized by Master Brewer Associations. It is one of the top Teaching Breweries in North America. KPU’s two-year Brewing and Brewery Operations program boasts its state-of-the-art teaching brewery. In 2021, KPU students were awarded four U.S. Open College Grand National Championship medals in competition with universities from Canada and the United States.
Canadian and British Columbia breweries are gaining an international reputation for their beer quality and innovation, with the best ingredients, people, and packaging. They are winning medals at some of the world’s largest competitions for beers in classic styles. They are also creating new flavour combinations sought by beer lovers from around the world.
Entering a new international market is challenging, even for seasoned exporters. Getting ready to export requires extensive knowledge and research to identify the right market, find customers, understand the brand’s fit and consumer preferences, adapt products, and market labelling and market regulations. Even once that work is complete, exporters must navigate customs, foreign exchange risks and protect intellectual property. Working with intermediaries, such as distributors, can be beneficial for small B.C. company enter a new international market.
Depending on the nature of a product, many organizations prefer to export through a direct or indirect distribution channel. Smaller exporters who work with distributors offering similar products have the opportunity to engage new customer bases and expand their businesses.
Interested in buying British Columbia craft beer or investing in B.C.’s growing craft beer market? Contact Trade and Invest BC.
Learn about B.C. Craft Brewers Guild
What to know more about the history of B.C. Craft Beer? Enjoy related stories from the BC Rail Trail.
Looking for B.C. craft beer trade and investment opportunities? Connect with an export. Trade and Investment Representatives can help you establish the right connections.
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