Alberta brewers push for open beer borders between provinces
'They managed to keep us on a string, so to speak, for about a year,' Alley Kat Brewing owner says
The wine war between Alberta and British Columbia may be over, but Alberta craft beer makers are now ready to tackle a long-standing trade issue in Canada: exporting to other provinces.
With 75 brewers, craft beer now makes up 15 per cent of the market in Alberta.
Terry Rock, executive director of the Alberta Small Brewers Association, said brewers feel they're being blocked by other provinces and the reasons and motivations aren't clear.
The obstacles are familiar to Neil Herbst, co-owner of Edmonton's popular Alley Kat Brewing company. Herbst said he applied to get listed in B.C. several years ago.
"They managed to keep us on a string, so to speak, for about a year before we even got anywhere," Herbst told CBC News. "By that time, we were sort of exhausted."
In 23 years of brewing, Herbst has only sold across the Alberta border to a special-interest buyer in neighbouring Saskatchewan.
Compared to other provinces, Alberta has a completely open listing system. The province doesn't get involved in deciding what products stores can sell. Over 5,000 beer products are on Alberta shelves.
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"Alberta has a more simple registration process compared to other jurisdictions," the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission said in an email.
Most other provinces require manufacturers to meet certain criteria before they are listed, a process not clearly explained to out-of-province applicants, the AGLC said.
"When you're in a province that is completely open and anyone can come in and compete as hard as they want, it's hard to take when another province doesn't reciprocate."
"If we have 20, 30, 40, 50 B.C. beers here, then B.C. should create space for that many Alberta beers."
Rock said Alberta companies have the potential to compete with the big commercial giants, but exporting is key.
"We'll never build companies with national reach out of a place like Alberta because our home market is too small to really get the initial volume you need to get the momentum to go across the country."
ASBA is currently looking at legal options to help open up provincial borders to trade in beer. We’re tired of being the only province with open listings, and want to grow our industry to national scale. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/AlbertaBeer?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#AlbertaBeer</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/FreeTheBeer?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#FreeTheBeer</a> <a href="https://t.co/ePUwugYPMz">https://t.co/ePUwugYPMz</a>—@AltaBrewers
Herbst is hopeful people are becoming more aware of the barriers and will demand change around the country.
"How ridiculous it is that there isn't really free trade in Canada while we're trying to argue to have free trade with other countries," he said. "It doesn't make any sense."
Alberta's treasury and finance ministry said it is participating in the Alcoholic Beverages Working Group and is keeping an eye on what happens with inter-provincial alcohol sales.