The renaissance of the YEG Drinks industry

Our final Green Drinks event of the Winter 2018 season tackled a theme we haven’t attempted before, and perhaps the most self-referential of all—YEG drinks. We’ve explored local food and local businesses, but never drinks—and now may be the most on-point time to do so.

Edmonton is experiencing a renaissance in the business of beverages. Several factors have come together to foster growing industries of craft beer, craft spirits, and locally-roasted coffee, among others. In 2013, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) relaxed its prohibitively high regulations on how much beer and spirits a brewery or distillery had to produce in a year to be allowed in the Alberta market. The government also reduced restrictions on alcohol mark-ups shortly afterwards. Without this enforced minimum, it makes it easier for a smaller brewery or distillery to get up and running. And this has launched a strong entrepreneurial spirit and collaborative community in the province— in 2012, there were only 12 breweries in the province. Today, there are 80 and counting.

Albertans are beginning to recognize that one of the only ways to maintain a sustainable lifestyle and economy is to buy local, sell local and support local. This has led to a demand for food that’s grown or made here, for beer or spirits that are made here, for coffee that was freshly roasted just down the street, and for products that were crafted by hand and with love. Not only that, but supporting local is also about hiring people locally and creating jobs locally. This momentum for local has not only led to a boom in independently-owned restaurants in Edmonton over the past few years, but it’s reflected in the drinks we’re serving in them.

If there ever was a time to get into beverage making, be it beer, spirits, coffee, cider, kombucha, horchata, you name it—the time is now.

But will craft drinks reach a tipping point with an oversaturated market? Most people in the industry say no. Craft beer, spirits and coffee, along with other locally-made drinks, take up a fairly small percentage of the overall market share in Alberta (Alberta breweries, for example, take up six percent of the overall beer market share in the province, and five percent of that is Big Rock). The more of the little craft guys there are, the better, because it gives them a stronger and louder voice up against the huge corporations who are more dominant by volume of production alone.

This mighty voice will be what continues to encourage the government to make things easier for the little guy, so Albertans can continue to make the choice to support local and drink craft.