At last count, there are more than 50 craft breweries in Calgary, compared with a relative handful five years ago. Admittedly, not every brewery on this list seems to actually be making beer yet.
But still, it’s a heck of a lot. By comparison, the apparently less thirsty folks of Edmonton only have about 15 local craft breweries to choose from. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of a bunch of Calgary operations—Goat Locker Brewing, New Level Brewing, Born Colorado Brewing, O.T. Brewing Company, etc.—despite making a reasonable effort to keep track of what’s brewing in Calgary.
It’s great to see this beer boom in Calgary. But the question is this: How do you stand out sufficiently from the crowd to create a viable business and start paying off all that expensive beer-making equipment? (One entrepreneur I talked to recently said his partnership was spending $1.3 million to build a brewery outside of Vancouver.) Given this increasingly crowded Calgary beer market, it would seem not everyone is going to survive. This interview with Steve Carlton, co-owner of the recently closed Red Bison Brewery, illustrates the challenges facing local craft brewers.
There are a few essential ingredients to success. Good beer, obviously. Some standards in one’s beer lineup: an India pale ale (IPA), a pale ale, maybe a stout or porter and, increasingly, a sour. Maybe a unique brew—exotic ingredients include marshmallows, bacon, Chile peppers, doughnuts, you name it.
You also need a comfortable, convivial taproom. It certainly helps to have good food options such as a local chuck burger, fried chicken, barbecue, house-made snacks or hand-crafted pizza.
Location is also important, to some extent. There are emerging collections of craft breweries in Calgary, such as five in Inglewood and half a dozen in the Manchester area, which encourage things like beer “hops”. And if you can establish a neighbourhood brewery/pub that attracts nearby residents, so much the better.
But no doubt because of the cost and amount of real estate needed to make beer and build an attached taproom, many Calgary craft breweries are popping up in industrial areas around the city. Which means convincing patrons to a) find you and b) make the trek to your premises (here’s a map showing the locations of most Calgary craft breweries). You also might need hooks to get people in the door: arcade games, military history theme, board games, live music nights, no-tip policies.
Marketing plays a huge part in creating a successful craft brewery. This includes getting your beer into pubs and restaurants and onto liquor-store shelves. Let’s face it, even beer-dedicated places like National and Craft Beer Market aren’t going to put offerings from 50 Calgary breweries on tap.
There’s a myriad other things to consider, like whether to primarily sell your product in kegs, bottles (12-ounce or 22-ounce “bombers”), cans (tall or regular) or growlers. Keeping abreast of provincial regulations and taxes governing Alberta craft breweries is another factor.
So, best of luck to all the brewers trying to make a go of it in Calgary.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be highlighting some of Calgary’s craft breweries, focusing on what makes them stand out. I’ll randomly start with Ol’ Beautiful.
Location: In the heart of Inglewood’s craft beer scene. Indeed, it’s a 20-second stroll across Ol Beautiful’s patio to the colourful Cold Garden. The only intermingling they don’t encourage is carrying drink/food from one location to the other.
Ambience: Comfortable, relaxed
Signature beer: Okami Kasu, a Japanese-style, easy-drinking ale that includes rice, plus the leftover rice from sake production, giving the beer “a subtle hint of boozy, creamy funk in the finish.”
Food: Mostly packaged snacks
Beer availability: Tall bottles and growler fills at select drinking establishments and liquor outlets
1103 12 Street SE, Calgary
Tuesday to Thursday noon-10 pm, Friday-Saturday noon to midnight, Sunday noon to 8 pm. Closed Monday
Hey, use the “leave a reply” link in the upper left to promote your favourite local craft brewery and what makes it special; it doesn’t have to be in Calgary.