Recently we wrote about the rise of online beer shopping and how it promises to revolutionize the retail space. The benefits of online access are far-reaching, especially in regions without the private retailers where variety can be limited. E-commerce allows breweries to ship their products to addresses that they had no hope of reaching under more traditional retail models, and it also allows them to offer an extensive selection of products. Online shopping has experienced phenomenal growth, and with Canada’s biggest alcohol retailers onboard – the SAQ and LCBO – there can be no doubt it will rise in prominence and volume in 2018.
Big Fish Eating Little Fish
The acquisition of 2017 was Trou du Diable – a highly touted Quebec brewery that joined the Molson stable. The move made sense for Molson: the microbrewery share of the market has doubled in the past 10 years, while big brewers have seen stagnation and decline. But it is raising concerns for drinkers and brewers nationally, who fear what this means for competition, selection and integrity. As large brewers buy up small producers, they take over shelf space and taps, and their resources enable them to flood the marketplace with their own ‘craft’ products. The draft market in particular is very aggressive, and the ability to provide incentives to bar owners can make all the difference. Unfortunately, microbreweries are at a disadvantage to large multinationals.
High Commodity Craft
The Canadian beer scene is maturing rapidly – producers and purveyors have multiplied at a staggering rate, and year over year sales of good beer have made everyone sit up and take notice. With an increased audience comes increased demand, and this is transforming some beers from a simple tipple to a highly sought after commodity. Big beers and barrel-aged sours are often produced in small volumes, partly because of cost, space and time limitations. This has led to a simple lesson in economics: small numbers + high demand = high prices. Say hello to the $18 stout and release dates that become events in their own right. Expect more as time goes by.
Sours here to Stay
It was not so long ago that a sour beer would be synonymous with a drain pour. Canadian brewers did not intentionally make sours, and there weren’t many brewers outside Belgium who dabbled in the craft. Traditional sours (think Cantillon) have long maturation processes so that they can develop their trademark funk and character. This wasn’t exactly prohibitive to other brewers, but it did tie up a lot of money in something that wouldn’t be ready for a long period of time. Throw in the risk of a spoiled batch or cross-contamination, and the idea becomes a difficult sell. Enter kettle souring. Now all you need to produce a quick sour is a kettle with a temperature control and a pitch of lactobacillus yeast. With reduced risk of contaminating the brewery and no lengthy production process, sours transformed into a product that could be easily produced in large volumes in very short order. The ball began rolling in 2015, but the market has really come of age in the past 12 months.