I recently read a great article on “The Coming BC Craft Beer Correction” by Rick Green. The piece is well researched and written and I suggest taking a read before continuing. However I believe there is room to add nuance.
Green notes the number of Craft Breweries currently sits at over 130, which is a large number indeed, however this number is debatable as some exist as two facilities owned by the same parent or some other similar organization. I believe Joe Weibe counts around 100 independent breweries. Regardless this is secondary to how much beer is produced by said breweries and how much is consumed. Rick points out the from the Beer Me BC survey (which is self reported) that craft beer drinkers:
“are predominantly males between the ages of 27 and 42 living in the Lower Mainland and Greater Victoria. They drink, in ranking order of preference, India pale ale, stout, pale ale, sour ale, or saison from a bomber 3-5 days per week, mostly at home. Their beer is chosen foremost for its style, then by brewery and reputation.”
More importantly Green states these craft beer drinkers are about 25% of the available market. With this statistical foundation Green argues (and I agree fully with his assertion) that for new breweries to thrive they will have to grab hold of the 75% of the market who aren’t already drinking craft beer. Green suggests this might be difficult pointing to the near failure of R & B brewing. Finally Green suggests that for those 75% not yet drinking craft beer that we must educate them on its merits in order to make them consumers of it. Green suggests this might be difficult considering a recent outing at PoCo dinner theatre and musing on their apparent attitudes and beliefs regarding craft beer. This is where our opinions diverge.
Whereas it seems Green is suggesting the areas outside of Vancouver are uneducated about craft beer and maybe not ready to be educated about craft beer I wholeheartedly disagree. Living on #BREWardInlet I have seen first hand how semi-peripheral and peripheral communities have flocked to craft beer and have in fact happily become educated in craft beer academia. I think what Green is missing here (and what many from the Vancouver core miss about suburban breweries) is that breweries here act primarily as meeting places and community hubs, in many cases acting as a sort of cafe-pub hybrid. This is contrast to the brewery-tasting room model of Vancouver-core Breweries. Through this community hub model brewers now have a platform from which to educate would-be craft beer drinkers on craft beer. In fact we have seen evidence of this community hub model being the de-facto model for suburban breweries, take for instance Ridge Brewing and their stated goal of building community in Maple Ridge.
Green specifically notes an anecdotal experience in a PoCo comedy club to provide evidence of the periphery’s non-understanding of Craft Beer. Although I agree for the most part with his understanding of the venue in question it hardly provides enough evidence to argue that many or most establishments in the suburban periphery don’t have the demand required to educate staff and thereby consumers in craft beer. Anecdotally I can name several places in the downtown core which don’t offer draught beer let alone craft beer, of course this doesn’t lend any evidence to the argument that people in the downtown core don’t know craft beer, it just means this place in particular doesn’t sell craft beer. Conversely I’d like to point Mr. Green into one of approximately 5-10 craft beer bars (not to mention the even greater number of craft beer friendly restaurants) within minutes of the venue he sat at.
Now listen I’m not stupid, I know there is point where this stops, where we hit “peak craft”. I simply think that rather than the suburban-periphery being the wall where craft beer expansion stops that it is the new west for craft beer expansion.
First of all can I just mention that the suburban-periphery is home to some of BC’s best breweries, Yellow Dog, Four Winds and Central City among them. Not to mention the 3 “Best brewery in Canada awards” present between those breweries (when is the last time a Vancouver Brewery won the best brewery in Canada award?). Beyond silly little awards lets consider the numbers:
Number of breweries opened in Metro Vancouver in 2015:
Vancouver Proper- 4 (1 an Alberta based branch plant)
Vancouver Periphery (incl. Abbotsford)-5.
Granted its a fairly useless comparison, but what it does show is there is equal to greater growth from outside Vancouver than there is inside. Add to this a much larger population outside of Vancouver proper, cheaper rents, and less competition and you clearly have much an easier path from idea to brick and mortar brewery.
Now the easy thing to do here is to point out that I have only shown that those who visit the Suburban-Periphery Breweries will have the opportunity to be educated and thus become new consumers of craft beer. You might say that that is a limited market relative to 600,000 sardines in Vancouver proper, to which I say “you do realize people can move in the suburbs and small towns?” The suburban-periphery is well known for its use of cars and these cars allow the people of the suburban-periphery to check things out like breweries because they are community hubs. More over these breweries are often located at or near well known transit nodes, and community population centres, allowing easy access for those who use transit to use transit to get to breweries. Finally the BC model of private liquor stores allow small craft brewers to get their beer to market relatively easily. These bottle shops and liquor store very aware of market trends have been ceding Budweiser and Molson shelf space to craft just like they have in the city and there exists a certain amount of brand loyalty when you are THE brewery in town rather than 32nd with another kettle souring program starting real soon.
So whats my point. Rick Green is right, we are getting to a point where some of these breweries are going to fail, but I think its more likely to happen in East Van than it is in Port Moody.