Saskatoon

Great Western Brewing planning $40M brewery expansion after Saskatoon city council approval

The CEO of Great Western Brewing Company is hoping an ambitious new project will pay off for the long-standing Saskatoon-based beer maker.

Construction expected to begin later this year

An architect's drawing of Great Western Brewing's proposed expansion. (Great Western Brewing)

The CEO of Great Western Brewing Company is hoping an ambitious new project will pay off for the long-standing Saskatoon-based beer maker.

Last week, Saskatoon city council unanimously approved a change in zoning that allowed Great Western to expand its brewery on Second Avenue. 

The approval now means that the brewery will begin a multi-year process to modernize and expand production. In total, Great Western plans to spend just under $40 million on the project.

"We're certainly hoping to grow," said company CEO and president Michael Brennan. 

"We believe that having more modern equipment will give us opportunities to produce more beer and sell it in more places."

The money will be spent on constructing a new brewing building and facility on the site's current location on Second Avenue.

A drawing from the City of Saskatoon shows where the new expansion will be. (City of Saskatoon)

The new facility is expected to be much more energy and water efficient than its current incarnation, city council heard last week. The new equipment is expected to use half as much water as the current equipment to brew beer, saving approximately 45 million litres per year.

Brennan said the company had considered moving the brewery from its original location but ultimately decided on staying at its present headquarters. Originally opened in 1927 as the Hub City Brewing Company, the brewery has gone through many owners and titles, becoming a landmark in the city.

The brewery needed city approval to expand as its current location is not zoned as a heavy industrial area, and was only allowed to stay in its current location as it was grandfathered in and existed before commercial and residential areas grew up around it.

The new brewery building will have a modern design with glass walls, allowing people on the street to see workers making beer. The new building will also feature angles that look like a grain elevator, in recognition of the Saskatchewan barley used in the beer.

"To make it a bit of a showpiece, as you come into downtown Saskatoon, you'll definitely notice our brewery on your way when you're heading into town," Brennan said.

He hopes to begin construction on the project later this year and to begin brewing by the end of 2023.

Brewing battle

However, there are signs of challenges for the brewing industry as a whole. According to the industry group Beer Canada, per capita consumption has dropped in recent years

Canadians consumed an average of 69.7 litres of beer per capita in 2020, a decrease of 2.7 per cent from 71.2 litres the year before, and down from 79.3 litres in 2015.

Still, Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University, believes that regional breweries like Great Western may have a bright future ahead.

Charlebois said that beer consumers generally want the consistent quality that a larger brewer provides. At the same time, he says people are also looking for something unique to take home.

"I find many of the well-known brands to be somewhat boring now," said Charlebois. 

"Which is why Great Western can actually capitalize on a more educated marketplace when it comes to beers in general."

Meanwhile, Andreas Schotter, an associate professor of international business at the Ivey Business School at Western University, agrees with Charlebois, saying regional breweries have a place in the market.

Great Western's push to modernize could be helpful in winning government grants.

"I like the whole environmental piece that they're putting in," he said.

"It's a smart strategy. If you want to expand, take as much money as you can get from grants."

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