Every few weeks, Sophie writes about Beer, Brewing and Bites. Her stories are witty, educational and worth a read!
May 10, 2018 - Tapping Into The Local Economy
When it comes to craft brewing, Nova Scotia waves the flag proudly. This province is home to more craft breweries per capita than any other province in Canada, with more than half located in small, rural communities. These businesses are increasingly serving as powerful drivers of local economic development and neighborhood vitality. They are the “canary in the coal mine” for neighborhood change, serving as a magnet for new businesses while creating increased foot traffic for existing ones. It’s something to be mindful of - every time you buy from your local craft brewer, you’re giving the local economy a boost.
Amid all my discussions of hops and malt, beer styles and flavour profiles, it’s easy to forget that starting up a small brewery requires a significant capital investment. Brewing equipment and storage facilities take up a lot of space, which is why many craft brewing operations are initially drawn to depressed or low-traffic areas with abandoned or excess real estate. Retrofitting the space and installing brewery equipment requires skilled local craftsmen and laborers. And as that brewery becomes operational, it starts to create more jobs – not just inside the brewery, but in the local industries that support it. On average, just one job at a craft brewery will create an additional 45 jobs in other industries, such as packaging, distribution and agriculture (think hops and barley crops). The broad variety of craft beer styles use between three and seven times as much malted barley per barrel as a mass market beer like Molson. And the desire to use locally planted hops creates flavors become unique to a region just as much as wine grapes do.
Small brewery owners become personally invested in their communities. Their beer is their brand, and their brand tends to reflect the local culture. It creates a sense of place for the people who live there. And that becomes a huge draw for the increasingly lucrative world of craft-beer tourism. Recent Brewers Association data shows that 1.6 percent of craft-beer drinkers take 10-plus trips annually to breweries more than two hours from their home. These people spend nights in our bed and breakfasts, eat in our local restaurants, and shop in our local stores.
When you stand in front of the ever-growing selection of beer chilling in your liquor store, think about where your beer dollars are going. “Big beer” brands, those owned and produced by large multinational corporations, are desperately scrambling for your money. Belgian Moon? Boddingtons? Goose Island? You might think these are craft beers, but all are produced by one of two super-brewers: Anheuser-Busch InBev and Molson Coors. A-B InBev is a Belgian-Brazilian company headquartered in Leuven, Belgium. Molson Coors is a U.S. company based in Denver, Colorado. Every time you buy a beer these multinationals produce, your dollars are being sent to corporate headquarters outside of your own country. And research has shown that large corporate conglomerates like these prefer efficiency over innovation – which negatively impacts brewing creativity and workers’ long-term job prospects.
But craft beer is expensive, you say. Why pay $18 for a four pack of craft beer, when you can get a six pack of Sleeman for $14? It’s Canadian, isn’t it? Sorry, Sleeman Brewing is owned by Sapporo Brewing Co. in Japan. But let’s put aside the fact that the craft beer is made locally, most often with local ingredients, has more flavour, and usually comes in a bigger can (473 ml) vs. a bottle (341 ml). If you do the math, the craft beer costs less than three/tenths of a penny more per milliliter. That’s a pretty minimal difference in price for a rather significant difference in taste and variety. But that pricing difference falls away completely when you consider the local suppliers of ingredients, equipment and services who benefit from working with the local brewery and the local employment that it provides. Add back the savings that come from lower transportation costs, and the fact that you can actually see where your beer is produced and talk to the people who made it. All of these business relationships are cultivated when you buy locally from people you know.
We know Canadians love their beer. Beer made up over 40% of total alcohol sales through liquor boards and other retail outlets, including wine and spirits, last year. So, when you’re making your next purchase, remember that exploring a love of craft beer can translate into a better life for your local community. As the folks at Salt Box like to say, “Think social, drink local”.