A year in Alberta's hot political topic: beer

Wondering why you’re paying more for beer in Alberta? It's complicated. It all started when Alberta’s NDP hiked the markup on some breweries in 2015.

From one court injunction to another, try to keep up with the story behind rising beer prices

Wondering why you're paying more for beer?

5 years ago
Albertans are now paying between $1.50 and $3.00 more for most six-packs of brew made outside of the province. 1:09

Of all the touchy political subjects concerning the current state of Alberta's economy, beer seems like the most unlikely issue. 

Yet within just one year, the Alberta government made two changes to the beer markup schedule, and two court injunctions were filed by out-of-province brewers against Alberta. The changes also sparked an argument between two premiers. 

Meanwhile, many Alberta craft brewers rejoiced. 

Let's top you off by taking it back to the beginning.

One year, two tax changes, two lawsuits and still no resolution. Alberta's beer regulations have been anything but smooth. 6:09

When the NDP government announced their budget in October 2015, they announced they'd be hiking the tax on liquor by five per cent, or up to $1.25 per litre.

Not all breweries were affected — Alberta brewers producing less than 200,000 hectolitres per year were charged a graduated markup that ranged from 10 cents to 55 cents a litre as were similarly-sized breweries in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, which were covered under the New West Parternship.

Beer in Alberta has been a hot political topic over the past year. (CBC)

The decision was praised by the owner of Calgary's Tool Shed Brewing Co. because it also created a new tax regime for breweries that raised taxes incrementally as production totals rise, making it easier for new, small breweries to get in the game.

Alberta Small Import Agencies, however, said the beer tax threatened to put several small importing companies out of business.

That's when brewers to the east began to get involved, with Ontario-based Muskoka Brewery saying new taxes would force it to pull its beer from Alberta shelves. Quebec's Dieu du Ciel also temporarily halted imports into Alberta.

In January 2016, Toronto-based Steam Whistle was granted a temporary court injunction that suspended the markup, after arguing the new rules unfairly favoured Alberta beer. 

Craft breweries like Steam Whistle in Toronto have gradually been carving their niche in Canada's beer industry. (Steam Whistle)

Fast forward to July 2016 when the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission took another stab at the matter, announcing that all breweries, regardless of location, would have a $1.25 per litre markup applied to their products.

Premiers bickered.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley had some advice for Saskatchewan's next leader, to handle the economy differently than Premier Brad Wall has done. (Canadian Press)

The Wildrose Party chimed in.

Later that month, the Alberta Small Brewers Development Program was announced. The program provides a monthly grant to smaller Alberta breweries that produce and sell up to 300,000 hectolitres of beer each year. 

That made micro-brewers in Alberta happy, but left brewers in B.C. and Saskatchewan, who had previously been given a break as part of the New West Partnership, out in the cold.

Changes to beer mark-up are spilling into Saskatchewan and the provincial government says it will cost brewers like Saskatoon's Great Western. (CBC)

In October 2016, Saskatoon-based Great Western Brewing Company became the second brewer to file a court challenge to to Alberta's beer markup calling it unconstitutional.

So where has this left Albertan beer-drinkers?

The good news: Alberta currently has more small breweries than ever before.

The bad news: Albertans are now paying between $1.50 and $3.00 more for most craft beers that coming in from out of province.

To be continued ...

With files from CBC's Ariel Fournier