Canadians may not be quite the beer connoisseurs we make ourselves out to be. The most popular place to sample some of the tastiest new ales? America (former land of the watery beer). The craft beer market has been growing steadily in Canada and the U.S., but south of the border is where it’s really booming. According to the Brewers Association, 1,595 craft breweries were in operation last year in the U.S., the highest total since before Prohibition.
“In terms of flavour, Canadian beer is not as avant-garde as the States,” says Ian Coutts, author of Brew North, a new book chronicling Canada’s beer history. Coutts says that Americans are more daring with the flavours they use and their production processes. However, he says the adoption of American craft beer isn’t just about the taste. Population density is another factor that favours U.S. microbrewers. “If you have a micro in a place like California, you have 35 million people within a day’s truck ride of your brewery,” says Coutts.
But John Bowden, executive director of the first annual Toronto Beer Week, says that population aside, there have been two other factors that have stunted the industry’s growth in Canada. First, there are more restrictive distribution channels compared to the United States, and, second, provinces didn’t give special tax cuts or grants to help fund the industry until recently. Yet things are changing now that consumers are demanding more local products. Bowden, who also works in sales and marketing at the Great Lakes Brewery in Toronto, says that craft beer is “by far the fastest-growing alcohol beverage segment.” In the last year, Great Lakes’ sales shot up 40 per cent, he says.
As for the first Toronto Beer Week—to be held late September—Bowden says, “I don’t think even a couple of years ago we would have been able to pull something like this off.” Successful craft beer festivals have also been held in Montreal and Vancouver. The only question is, will Canadians be able to swallow the fact that American brew is the real winner?