Another sellout for Powell River Beer Festival provides a strong indication of the state of the craft-beer industry in BC. The fourth annual tasting show takes place from 3-7 pm on Saturday, November 4, at ARC Community Centre and features about 17 breweries.
Those involved in the industry, such as Powell River-resident and Campaign for Real Ale Society BC president Paddy Treavor and Townsite Brewing general manager Chloe Smith, believe the market is continuing to boom with no signs of abating, while others think the public’s taste for niche beer is a bubble ready to burst.
“I would say it's a boom, for sure,” said Treavor, who has been involved with craft beer since the 1990s. “Craft beer probably has, in the city, upwards of 25 per cent of the market; it was two per cent 10 years ago.”
Townsite Brewing opened in 2012 and its sales have steadily increased since then, according to Smith. She said growth has been explosive, but so have expenses.
“The good thing about our position is that we are eight to 10 years behind the growth of craft beer in the United States,” said Smith. “We are able to look at what happens down south and plan accordingly. We've been talking about a bubble in craft beers since the mid-90s and I would suggest that is a myth.”
However, according to mid-2017 figures provided by United States-based Brewers Association, craft beer’s explosive growth could be losing its head. Production volumes have flattened out from 16-per cent mid-year in 2015 to eight per cent for the same period in 2016, and five per cent this year.
Last year, the provincial government announced $10 million in support to breweries through a 25 per cent reduction in the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Branch’s markup for local beer.
“I don't think it's a direct subsidy, but they have set up a taxation system where if you're a smaller brewery you get taxed at a lesser rate than the larger breweries,” said Treavor. “They fought hard to get that taxation advantage to help the smaller breweries get on their feet and grow.”
Craft beer is an artisan culture in the spirit of the Sunshine Coast and part of the branding for tourism to the region, according to Sunshine Coast Tourism executive director Paul Kamon, who is also a member of the BC Ale Trail project team. The potential market goes well beyond the BC Ale Trail and BC-based craft breweries are now exporting to China and Korea, said Kamon.
“Just imagine how much China can take on; they're already starting to catch on to the craft-beer thing,” said Kamon. “We have to think big. The opportunity for our beer to travel and open up into other markets means we are not in a bubble.”
Treavor said 75 per cent of beer drinkers still do not traditionally drink craft beer, but more are being turned on to the option. A small, rural brewery such as Townsite Brewing might have had a harder time keeping taps open if not for government help, he added.
But tax incentives are not enough to make it in the competitive craft-beer world, according to Treavor. The business is not as profitable as people think and brewers are not becoming rich off of it, he said.
“That would be the government that's getting the lion’s share of the profit,” said Treavor. “It's the only industry I know of that once you actually make the product, you don't own it anymore.”
Craft beer is no longer about coming out of the basement with home brew, opening a brewery and living the lifestyle, said Treavor. Making a good beer is not enough, he added.
Treavor said he is seeing another type of craft brewery on the scene where businesspeople who know nothing about making beer are opening breweries. They still need people who know how to make beer, he added.
“Our local brewery is a perfect example of where they had good businesspeople and they had the beer know-how,” said Treavor.
In addition to Townsite Brewing, other breweries taking part in Powell River Beer Festival include Port Moody’s The Parkside Brewery and Moody Ales; New Westminster’s Steel and Oak Brewing Company; Vancouver’s Parallel 49 Brewing Company, Real Cask Brewing, Callister Brewing and Long Table Distillery; Gibson’s Tapworks, The Bricker Cider Company and Persephone Brewing Company from the Sechelt Peninsula; Victoria’s Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub and Driftwood Brewery; Beach Fire Brewing from Campbell River; Courtenay’s Gladstone Brewing; Riot Brewing from Chemanius; Port Alberni’s Twin City Brewing Company; and Cumberland Brewing Company.