Tomorrow I take off for Poland to start medical school, but for the past 3 weeks I’ve been in Canada relaxing and preparing for the mental grind to come. Since the day I landed back in Calgary, I’ve been on a hunt for some incredible beers in the area and after three weeks I can finally say: this market needs a champion.
It seems like each brewery is a carbon-copy of the last. In their portfolio, each brewery has this unremarkable IPA, some kind of blasé wheat ale and a random fruit/vegetable beer. I don’t mean to criticize these breweries too harshly; nothing I have had since I’ve been in Calgary has been undrinkable. But there’s been only one beer that’s made me say: “Damn, this beer is absolutely delicious,” and that was There Will Be Porter by Last Best Brewing Co. Walking into a bottle shop in Baltimore was always one of the most exciting parts of my day, but here there are just too many average selections for me to even be partially enthused*. Canadian breweries are still finding their legs, and unfortunately for now, they’re producing beer that would be considered mediocre, at best, in the US.
As for US beers, there are so few that are distributed here in Alberta, and from what I’ve seen, they aren’t shipping diverse styles. The few US brewers I’ve seen on the shelves include Gigantic Brewing and Hopworks Urban Brewery and Ninkasi, but I’ve only seen their IPAs and kolschs (which are good) when they have so much more to offer. And the beers they are sending are only in bombers when there’s no bomber culture here. I’ve seen exactly ZERO saisons or wild ales or even pumpkin beers in any liquor store. I can only think of two stouts that I saw while browsing shelves. Simply put, there is a dearth of styles and creativity sold in Canada.
Right now, instead of competing in difficult markets like Chicago and Denver and New York, an American brewer can export his or her creative offerings into the Canadian market, and absolutely dominate. I’m not suggesting every US brewery can do this – obviously it would cost more to ship into Canada than it would to any US market, but even still they’d be able to compete in price point**, and they would absolutely run the table in quality. Any brewer willing to spend the money to distribute to Canada would stand a good chance of grabbing a SIGNIFICANT market share. Or they can keep flocking to Chicago, and be crowded among thousands of other beers.
And the last thing I want to hear about is “We have to take care of the local market first.” For sure, some breweries prioritize staying local, and that’s fine. But there are so many breweries that are exporting to states far across the country, and I’m not even talking about giants like Boston Brewing or Stone or Lagunitas. You can find Bell’s in Arizona or Terrapin in New Jersey or Avery in Florida, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface small-brewery-with-far-distribution examples.
Canada is ready to drink incredible beer, but Canadian brewers haven’t been able to meet great expectations. It’s time for US breweries to step into this market and teach us how it’s done.
*One regret of mine on this visit home: Not trying anything new by Dieu de Ciel!
**There are 6-packs being sold for $18 CDN, from fairly local breweries