NB Liquor’s new rules governing craft breweries are creating an unexpected hardship for a soldier in Riverview who is attempting to open up his own brewery.
Robert Black doesn’t have a fancy brewery at this stage, but he has enough room to dream up and create the beer that he likes.
The idea of creating a brewery came to him when he was in Germany in between his two tours in Afghanistan.
The pursuit of starting up AWOL Brewery has become both his passion and a much needed distraction for Black.
“From everyday life, work, whatever stresses that people have. People always say, ‘Hard times in the Maritimes.’ It's nice to just kick back and enjoy something,” he said.
Black was hoping to open his brewery this fall, but new rules from NB Liquor that are aimed at small, craft breweries could thwart his plan.
The rules came into force this month under a new Brewery Agency Stores (BAS) policy. It requires microbreweries to sell 10,000 litres [or 100 hectolitres] of beer in NB Liquor stores in to obtain a BAS licence.
A BAS licence allows a brewer to sell beer on-site for consumption off-site.
NB Liquor said the policy has been developed internally and was not meant to hurt small businesses trying to set up in the brewing industry.
“We want to do all we can to support industry development to see the microbrewery industry prosper in New Brunswick, while at the same time, ensuring breweries are run professionally, with proper health standards and viable business practices,” according to NB Liquor.
The new rule caused an immediate reaction in the craft brewing community as two other breweries — Fredericton’s Grimross Brewing Company and Florenceville-Bristol’s Railcar Brewing Company — felt their expansion plans could be negatively affected.
The two breweries met with NB Liquor this week to discuss how the new rules would affect their businesses.
Stephen Dixon, the owner of Grimross, said he felt confident that NB Liquor’s new rules will not hinder his plans.
AWOL studying potential impact
But AWOL Brewing’s Black said he’s not sure how the new rules will affect his plans.
He’s worried the rules governing how many litres of beer he will have to sell through NB Liquor is going to force him to spend a lot more money upfront on his business.
“Now I have to relook at my whole plan and start from scratch, which is disheartening,” Black said.
Black said NB Liquor’s new rules will force him to take on more financial risk earlier than he anticipated.
He said his business plan was to scale his brewery slowly but that may no longer be an option due to the thresholds being set by NB Liquor.
"It's pushed me from a small level guy, trying to get to the next level way ahead of the game. And it's not necessary,” he said.
“I believe we should be focused on the craft itself and that is what makes the beer special and the mead. Not pushing, pushing, pushing product immediately."
In order to turn a profit, Black said he will likely have to sell a lot more beer at bars.
Tracy Petukhov, the owner of Moncton’s Plan B Bar, said the majority of the breweries she works with will be hit hard by the new rules being imposed by NB Liquor.
She said most of the beer she sells comes from small breweries that are just starting out.
“We probably have about 25 to 30 different types of craft beer and it's what the customers are looking for,” she said.
One of her customers says he believes he knows where the pressure to change the rules for craft brewers is coming from.
“The big thing that's happening here is that big industry is afraid of the small breweries and the inroads they're making in that market,” he said.
Support for craft brewers
However, Brian Harriman, the president and chief executive officer of NB Liquor, denied this week that larger breweries were behind the new rules.
He said these larger breweries are very supportive of craft breweries because they tend to grow the marketplace for beer drinkers.
“Everybody in the beer industry agrees that the craft beer segment is good for the category and currently big and small are playing in it,” he said.
Harriman also said NB Liquor will work with the craft brewing industry to make sure the new rules do not stifle their progress.
“When we issued the policy our core focus was some of the bigger craft brewers and helping figure out how do we give them a policy that helps them expand their stores,” he said in an interview this week.
“And frankly we were a little caught off guard with how much response we’ve had with the 100 hectolitre threshold.”