By Jordan St. John
The beer scene in Canada continues to get more and more complex, and that’s the hallmark of expansion. Of course breweries want to open in additional locations. Whether it’s a tied house without a bottle shop meant to make them fit into the neighbourhood (in the case of Amsterdam) or a production brewery in another province (in the case of Big Rock), the easiest way to sell more beer is to appeal to a new market. One need only look at the internationally sought after breweries now producing beer under contract in Ontario to get a sense of how the scale of the game is changing; Brunswick Bierworks is producing La Trappe and Omnipollo. That’s something I would have considered an impossibility a decade ago.
That being said, it’s important to remember that these foreign contract brewers have to come from somewhere and that craft beer in other countries tends to be parallel in development to our experiences in Canada.
In the case of Brazil, the government’s treatment of beer is even more regressive than ours, featuring a 54.8% tax. A locally produced craft beer can be three times as expensive as a mass produced product, meaning that a can of IPA might be fifteen dollars Canadian. Despite that, the sector is growing at nearly 40% a year. Impressive, but still less than a single percent of the third largest beer market in the world.
The secret to this expansion is the same as it is everywhere else: Collaboration, community, and cooperation. In order for craft beer to succeed, it must feel special and brewers partner with restaurants and clubs in order to break into the market.
Overhop Cervejaria is a good example of this phenomenon; it managed to break right through the market and into Canada. Head brewer, Rodrigo Barrufaldi, has spent nearly half a decade as a homebrewer travelling the United States to try some of the best breweries going. Within the first year of Overhop’s existence, their Vermont style IPA and Black IPA managed to win gold medals at the Mondial de la Biere in Rio de Janeiro. Because of the affiliation with the Montreal branch of the festival, Overhop partnered with Brasserie Harricana in Quebec and found themselves with an unlikely international collaboration beer: an oatmeal stout featuring acai and raspberry. According to Canadian representative Patricia Rios, “the acai berries pair well with the hops because they both add bitterness.”
Community is so integral a part of Overhop’s success that international relocation does not deter expansion. “Canada is so open, if we can promote that exchange between Canada and Brazil, it’s a perfect fit.” Two members of the company, Tatiana Fulton and Patricia Rios have moved to Ontario. While Tatiana came to study in Ontario and stayed, for Rios the decision to move her family came during the founding of the business, “We were planning to move to Canada. We wanted a safer and better place to raise our kids.”
The Canadian beer market must look different from the outside, especially when coming from a country with such draconian taxes. Rather than attempt to create a single base of operations, Overhop is brewing on a contract basis in both Quebec and Ontario, at Oshlag Brewing and Distilling and Common Good Beer Company respectively. Contract brewing is a natural fit for Overhop because the Brazilian craft beer market has evolved into that model as a natural result of the heavy front end taxes on beer sales which make the jump from homebrewing to a professional setup nearly unattainable. From some points of view, it’s a natural solution to the problem of interprovincial sales and also allows the fledging brand to establish itself with two audiences at once, doubling the potential to gain traction. Their first beer was poured in Quebec on October 6th.
The majority of Overhop’s beers are in the extremely bitter range, with the Brazilian arm of the company producing a series of single hop IPAs. Expect that to change somewhat in Canada with Rios and Fulton set to take charge of recipe development. “In Brazil beer is run by boys. We’re so happy to be here in Canada and to be treated with equity.” With three to four years of homebrewing experience and international resources to draw on, Overhop should be a formidable addition to Canada’s brewing scene.
Is the market clamouring for an additional Vermont style IPA at this point, even if it reflects a Brazilian sensibility? With their eye catching branding and a sensibility that relies on outreach to customers and participation, they will almost certainly have great success. In fact, I guarantee they’ll sell a Brazilian.
Photo credits: Paty Rios