'Plenty of room for growth' in P.E.I.'s craft beer industry, brewers say

With news of a second brewery planned for the Town of Montague bringing the number of existing or planned breweries on P.E.I. to six, one might be forgiven for asking — just how many local beer operations can an Island of 145,000 people sustain?

'Craft beer on P.E.I. is still in some ways in its infancy'

'Every new brewery helps to increase beer education and draw people away from larger corporate brands,' says Mitch Cobb of Upstreet Brewing in Charlottetown. (CBC)

With news of a second brewery planned for the Town of Montague bringing the number of existing or planned breweries on P.E.I. to six, one might be forgiven for asking — just how many local beer operations can an Island of 145,000 people sustain? 

This week, Copper Bottom Brewing Company announced it's renovating the Eastern Graphic building in Montague. It'll join Upstreet and P.E.I. Brewing Co. in Charlottetown, Barnone in Rose Valley and Moth Lane, which just opened near Tyne Valley, P.E.I. 

David McGuire plans to launch Montague Brewing Co. in late summer 2017 with a brewery, taproom, restaurant and retail at 9 Brook St., saying it'll feature "German and Austrian style beer with a local twist."

"Fantastic to see the growth in the market," said Jeff Squires at P.E.I. Brewing Company, the senior company in the Island beer game at seven years old.  

'Very early days'

Squires points out the appetite for craft beer continues to grow across North America, with more than 7,000 microbreweries now in the U.S., so it's "still very early days in Eastern Canada." 

'Craft beer fans don't tend to be brand loyal,' says Ashley Condon, who hopes it won't be hard to get customers to try Copper Bottom brews. (Submitted by Copper Bottom Brewing Co. )

"I was in Vancouver in October, and visited 28 breweries in five days," Squires said, noting craft beer has taken 23 per cent of the B.C. beer market.

Craft beer takes only six to eight per cent of the Atlantic Canadian market, said Shawn Meek, one of the three men behind the Atlantic Canada Beer Blog, which means "there's a lot of people out there that craft breweries can still win over."

"Realistically, we're probably a good five years or more behind the United States when it comes to craft beer, but we're growing at a very fast pace. For example, just a few years ago in Fredericton, there were only two breweries — now, there are nine," Meek said via email. 

If you look at the number of residents per brewery, P.E.I. is actually in step with New Brunswick (about 30) and Nova Scotia (about 36), Meek said — roughly one brewery for every 26,000 people. At least eight to 10 more breweries are poised to open soon in N.S. and N.B., he said.  

'In its infancy'

"There is still plenty of room for growth," adds Mitch Cobb at Upstreet Craft Brewing in Charlottetown. "Craft beer on P.E.I. is still in some ways in its infancy."

The more craft breweries there are, the more people will try it, believes Shawn Meek of the Atlantic Canada Beer Blog. (Submitted by Shawn Meek)

"It's difficult to say what the breaking point is, because every new brewery helps to increase beer education and draw people away from larger corporate brands." 

Craft beer is more than just a passing trend, Cobb maintains. He believes it's a much broader shift in consumer taste that will continue. 

Meek agrees.

"Having more craft beer on the shelf at liquor stores, on tap at local bars and restaurants ultimately should mean that even more people will start trying it," he said. "Eating and buying local are, as you know, extremely important to a lot of consumers right now, and beer is just as big a part of that as anything else."

Collaborative and supportive

Ashley Condon, who with her husband Ken Spears announced their Copper Bottom beer business will open in a few short months, is optimistic they'll succeed, for a couple of reasons.

I think that every little town or village on P.E.I could have its own microbrewery.— Ashley Condon, Copper Bottom Brewing

"Craft beer fans don't tend to be brand loyal and love to try many different kinds of beer from many different breweries, which doesn't present a threat of competition," Condon points out. 

And, she said, P.E.I.'s brewing community has a very collaborative and supportive nature. Other brewers have also expressed a willingness to work together, sharing expertise. 

Upstreet's Cobb said, "Having a strong industry helps to set standards and make positive change."

Beer-cations?

Not only that — a lot of beer lovers out there plan their vacations around, well, drinking beer. Having a brewery in Montague will definitely lead to an increase in tourism in the area, Meek said. 

'Microbreweries of all sizes are becoming the heart of our cities and small towns,' says Ashley Condon of Copper Bottom Brewing in Montague. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

They're also a gathering place for locals, asserts Condon.

"Microbreweries of all sizes are becoming the heart of our cities and small towns," she said. 

"I think that every little town or village on P.E.I could have its own microbrewery and it would still serve the whole of the industry in a positive way. That's the way it used to be 'back in the day' to quote my grandmother." 

About the Author

Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara is a P.E.I. native who graduated from the University of King's College in Halifax. N.S., with a Bachelor of Journalism (Honours) degree. She's worked with CBC Radio and Television since 1988, moving to the CBC P.E.I. web team in 2015, focusing on weekend features. email sara.fraser@cbc.ca