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What’s Going On with the BC Craft Beer Industry?

Welcome to the Track & Food podcast. Host Jamie Mah is a writer, bartender and sommelier in beautiful Vancouver, BC. Join him as he takes a deep dive into everything food and culture happening in the city and around the globe.

If you had asked me what I thought ‘craft beer’ was when I first moved to Vancouver, back in 2009, my answer would have been something vague about its ‘higher quality’. Fast forward to today, and layers of experiences, flavours and perspectives add nuance and understanding to what the beer sector signifies.

Market capitalization and interest usually peak when something new captures the scene, with entrepreneurs racing to make their mark and carve out their niches. In BC, R&B, Storm, Red Truck, Phillips, and Driftwood are a handful of the early success stories; then came 33 Acres, Strange Fellows, Parkside, and Brassneck (to name a few), who shepherded an exciting crew of businesses with exceptional beers and inviting tasting rooms. The people came, and a new way of socializing formed: fewer corner pubs and more family affairs. Kids and dogs littered patios as parents sipped on unique IPA styles.

Soon, there were upwards of over 200 craft breweries in the province. Craft beer seemed here to stay… Then came a pandemic, rising interest rates, changing consumer habits, and the rise of non-alcoholics and RTDs – each a new challenge for breweries. As of late 2023, the news wasn’t good: some are closing, and others may follow suit; reports from the CBC and Global News paint a possible stark environment for 2024.

To gain a better comprehension of the situation from the inside, I’ve rounded up three friends and prominent brewery owners – Sam Payne (co-owner and operator of Parkside and Rewind ), Nick Black (co-owner and operator of Strange Fellows), and Adam Henderson (owner of Superflux) – to share their knowledge and personal narratives, and discuss the state of the craft brewery market today, how they see it evolving, and the challenges ahead…

There are 7 comments

  1. Only part way thru the episode, so maybe they address this … but why does it seem the breweries have not increased pricing as costs of production, serving and operations in general have increased?

  2. OK I get it the “boom” has been perhaps around 2015 but Old Yale, Russell, Deadfrog, Old Abbey, Howe Sound and many manynothers are circa late 1990s and early 2000.

  3. I ran the original “Micro-brewery” Horseshoe Bay Brewery back in 1989-1990. At the time there were only a handful of micro’s in BC and a couple closed down due to either overextending themselves financially or poor quality product. I then had a contract with Shaftebury Brewery as their Delivery/Sales rep on the Sunshine Coast. This contract ended in 1999 when Shaftebury was purchased by Sleeman’s who had just bought Okanagan Springs. While Shaftebury was closing its doors R & B was coming on to the scene with their quality product and great service and their were only 40 micro-breweries in all of BC. Fast forward to to 20 years and now there are 5 times that number. Back in the early days of the Micro-Brewery industry the start-up costs were quite low with most companies using old dairy equipment to get their businesses off the ground. These days 1/2 a million dollars is pretty standard as a minimal entry figure into getting the first pint of beer out the door. Bottom line is too many players fighting for the shrinking sleeve of beer, higher overhead costs and a constantly changing consumer market is what will cause even more closures in the next few years.

  4. One of the only business in BC where there is proper competition and the winner is the customer. Thanks for the nice price point.

  5. The reality is the novelty has worn off. Far too many people have jumped on the gimmick bandwagon and for the most part produced product is undrinkable. Not even a home made beer quality. Cute names will only take you so far. Best ones will survive like most other things in life.

  6. Sadly, I believe that half or even more micro brewing companies will disappear over the next few years ..higher costs of production. labor, taxes and all the rest ..the cost to the consumer/customer, especially in pubs and restaurants are paying for a 12oz glass ..in some places varies between 9 to $12 , which is not always the brewing companies fault but the pubs/restaurants pricing..and like myself., people just can’t afford it as well as the rising cost of meals ..soon brewing companies..eateries..pubs will also be gone

    I hope that BC business can figure out a solution..good luck

  7. I work in a small brewery in the east Kootenays and we’re really struggling. We’re considering not even bothering to can our product anymore as we’re literally losing money on them due to the cost of aluminum and the wages to pay the person canning the beer.

    For whatever reason more micros have been popping up in this area of late and the industry appears to be cannibalizing itself.

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