Despite flat economy, craft brewers are bubbling with enthusiasm

Ontarians might just drink their way out of the recession. And the beer they drink might not have a major corporate label attached.

According to the Ontario Craft Brewers, consumption of locally brewed beers is substantial, making approximately five per cent of the Ontario beer market. The industry also reports sales growth averaging 10 per cent each of the past few years.

Lisa Dunbar, a member of Ontario Craft Brewers, explained one main reason for the success is the brewers’ kinship – an uncommon aspect in most other industries.

“There’s great camaraderie amongst brewers,” she said. “There’s a unified quest to make the industry grow.”

Mirella Amato, beer writer and founder, said despite escalating costs everywhere, local craft brewers have kept pace.
“The price of beer production has really, really increased,” she said.

“I’ve noticed it’s mostly the bigger brands that are suffering and are having to raise their prices, and the smaller brewers – I’m sure they’re suffering as well – but they’re doing their best to keep the prices fairly stable.”

Dunbar explained one reason these brewers can keep their prices low has to do with the tax incentives they receive from the federal government.

“For sure, the tax breaks help our guys,” she said. “Some (craft brewers) are able to invest in canning lines and increase capacity for brewing. Others were able to hire someone to help with distribution.”

Michael Hancock, Brewmaster of Cool Beer and Denison’s brewing companies in Toronto, explained European countries have a ‘sliding scale’ for taxes on alcohol, so Canada’s implementation of a similar system makes it easier to compete with the large beer companies. “It’s really just getting in line with the rest of the world,” he said. “It’s good that there’s a break in the excise tax.”

Having tax breaks on their side is a plus for craft brewers. They also have home-field advantage. Hancock said Denison’s Weissbier is the top-rated German Hefeweizen in the world, beating out all of the German brewers on the popular website He noted that success is due to the fact his beer is only available locally.

“That (number one rating) is, I think, due to the fact that freshness is really important. They (German beers) might have 500 ratings, but 300 or 400 of them might be by North Americans and maybe half of those the beer wasn’t in great condition,” he said. “Freshness is a great advantage that we have. Beer is always better when it’s fresh.”

Amato noted the freshness advantage among local brewers as well. “When I’m drinking craft beer, I’m supporting local industry,” she said. “Supporting the local economy is always a good idea.”

As for whether craft beer is just seeing a rise because of the economy, Dunbar is confident it isn’t a fluke. She believes craft beer is only going to get bigger and better.

“It’s here to stay for sure. It isn’t anywhere near its peak,” she said. “Beer is great in good times and even better in bad times.”

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Posted: Apr 1 2009 9:33 am
Filed under: Arts & Life Features