Masters of Their Craft

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“We can’t make enough beer right now.” BRENT BABYAK, PILE O’BONES


CRAFT THE MAKING OF A ROBUST BEER INDUSTRY IN THE GREATER REGINA AREA REGINA CRAFT BREWING ADVANTAGE: . Total economic output from the craft brewing in the Greater Regina Area was $10.7 million in 2017 . 103 direct full-time employees (FTE) in the industry and another 40.5 FTE that are supported . The industry is expecting an average growth of 30 per cent in sales in 2018 . Perfectly situated in heart of the prairies and the world’s breadbasket providing brewers world-class malt barley

BIRTH OF AN INDUSTRY Recently, there has been a definite shift in the taste palates of beer drinkers. Much like those who appreciate a fine wine, beer drinkers have begun to notice many of the subtle nuances in the flavor, aroma and texture that some beers have to offer. Turning away from the traditional brands, they have sought more refined drinking options. This, in turn, has led to the rise of the craft beer industry. Craft breweries are characterized by their emphasis on quality, flavour and brewing technique to create beer that has a distinctive taste. Since they produce on a smaller scale than corporate breweries, they are very much focused on quality of the beer over the quantity. In the Greater Regina Area (GRA), you don’t have to go far to find a craft beer that will make your taste buds sing. And as the local brewers will tell you, it’s all thanks to one visionary: Bev Robertson, founder of Bushwakker Brewpub.

After spending a year in Germany, Robertson decided not to let his beer taste buds deteriorate to the point that he could enjoy Canadian industrial beer. Since he couldn’t bring German craft beer home, he decided to make it. It was the beginning craft brewing industry in the GRA. “If Bev Robertson didn’t live in this province, this industry wouldn’t exist. That man is the grandfather of Saskatchewan brewing – period,” said Glenn Valgardson, CEO and General Manager of the Pile O’ Bones Brewing Company. “He was really centered around the all-for-one attitude. Bushwakker literally just fostered the industry.”

“ The opportunity to create and grow is just phenomenal.” HOME


COMMUNITY Robertson’s interest in home craft beer led to the creation of a new community of beer enthusiasts. Robertson was soon joined by Keith Wolbaum and Dr. Lynn Mihichuk, who he knew through a group that went for weekly skiing trips. This ski group called themselves “The Bushwhackers”, meaning those who ski making their own trails. In a tribute to that, the brewing enthusiasts called themselves the “Bushwhacker Brewers”. Taking this homemade brew from the basement to a business, however, was a difficult process. Brewpubs were not allowed in Saskatchewan in the early 1980s. Robertson played a major role in negotiating with the government and Saskatchewan Liquor Gaming Authority (SLGA) to bring upon changes. Legislation that would allow for the creation of brewpubs was crafted between 1988 to 1991. The first breakthrough occurred when two brewpubs were granted to both Saskatoon and Regina. Eventually more were permitted and Robertson got permission to proceed with his own business, The Bushwakker Brewpub, which opened on Jan. 25, 1991.

Soon after opening his brewpub, Robertson and his fellow home brewers formed the Ale and Lager Enthusiasts of Saskatchewan (ALES) with the aim of educating people on making craft beer and furthering the industry as a whole in Regina. This group, which still exists today, has led to several members launching their own business. The four owners of Pile O’Bones, for example, all met at the ALES club. Valgardson noted that most breweries in the GRA started at and learned to brew at the ALES Club. “You go down there and it’s super welcoming. Everyone just wants to help you make better beer. The ALES Club isn’t really a beer appreciation club; it’s like a brewing club. You are there to learn how to brew beer,” he said. “We have a very healthy culture with each other.” It’s a similar story for Rebellion Brewing Co., which started from the beer community and the ALES club. President Mark Heise said three of the four owners are former club presidents. “We all met through and we all worked through the ALES club,” he said. “We all loved beer.”

From the beginning, craft beer enthusiasts saw the GRA as a great destination to launch a business. As Malty National Brewing Corp owner Adam Smith explained, one of the reasons was supply and demand. “Any craft beer we were getting in the province was from places such as California and Colorado. By the time it got here, it had been sitting warm, traveled a long distance and wasn’t as fresh,” Smith said. “People in the industry thought they made a good product at home and could take it to market in a way that is different than what beer had looked like in Saskatchewan.” Heise echoed a similar thought. “Rather than just the romantic idea of ‘I’m going to spend my life brewing’, there seemed to be a definite opportunity in the Saskatchewan industry,” he said. Kelly Monette, general manager of Bushwakker Brewpub, said there’s a sense of heritage and home in Regina. Smith has a similar feeling and said that the emergence of brewpubs in the GRA have added to this sense of community, while having some added safety benefits. “We’re in a neighborhood where people can walk, bike, bring their dog, and bring their kids, which is what we’ve always wanted,” she said. “We had to fight for a few of those things. We had to change the idea that going for a beer, and having your kids come and have a hot chocolate is not a weird thing.”

ECONOMIC IMPACT The economic impact of the craft beer industry is extremely positive. The total economic output from the craft brewing in the GRA was $10.7 million in 2017. This includes a direct economic output of $ 6.2 million and $4.5 million in indirect and induced economic output. “All of these breweries are literally killing it right now,” Valgardson said. There are approximately 103 direct full-time employees (FTE) in the industry and another 40.5 FTE that are supported. This is primarily made up of employment related to food services attached to the brewery, as well an estimated 24 FTE resulting from employment in liquor stores. Direct employment is expected to increase by 17.75 per cent in 2019. Reported direct employment income is $2.1 million, while total income generated by the industry is $3.65 million. The total taxes generated by the industry in 2017 was $791,219 provincially and $ 811,813 federally. The current production in hectolitres was 21,908 in 2017. The industry currently has the potential capacity

to expand production to 29,000 hectolitres within the next three to 10 years. Currently, craft beer from the GRA can be found in 200 different wholesalers, restaurants, off-sales and liquor stores across Saskatchewan and producers are now making inroads in Manitoba. The industry is expecting an average growth of 30 per cent in sales in 2018. The total investment in the craft beer industry over the last five year is $4.85 million. It is reported that another $1.65 million will be invested in the industry over the next two to three years. “The biggest thing is because we are such a small part of the beer sales in the entire province, we know that we’re not competition against each other. We’re competing against the big beer sales,” Smith said. “Another reason we’re not competing against each other is that no one drinks one type of craft beer.”

Jay Cooke, Brewmaster at District Brewing said some other important factors are that Regina is in close proximity to malt barley and there is some great transportation infrastructure in place for the industry. Entrepreneurs have found that smaller centres outside Regina can also support the craft beer industry. Jeff Allport is the owner of Nokomis Craft Ales in Nokomis and said there was plenty of incentive to open up shop in an area with a population of just over 400. “Nokomis has really good water for brewing. The cost of living here is really low. When you’re a new business, just starting, and putting all your savings into the business, if you own a house that costs very little, it makes things a lot easier,” he said. Cooke said managing a start-up like the District comes with risks. “Realizing that a start-up that size would have half a million dollars in trade which could make or break a company, I had to be around people I could trust,” he said. “You know you’re going to be managing a lot of the start-up fees yourself, so trust is a big part in taking on that liability.”



Craft brewing is often described as an art and a science, and new brewers must work diligently if they hope to become masters of their craft. “The brewers must have a passion for the beer they’re making,” Monette said.

Based on recent financial trends, hard-working brewers and an ever expanding marketplace, there are some exciting times brewing for the craft beer industry in the GRA. Put simply the GRA is the ideal place to start and grow a brewery thanks to the region’s unique advantages.

“You have to know the art of actually designing the beer – the recipe and the flavours you’re looking for. And then you need to know the science to hit that,” said Pile O’Bones director Brent Babyak. “We take the water chemistry as serious as we take our beer recipes. Every one of our beers has water specially designed for how we want it to taste.” Naturally, this process takes some specific technology. Rebellion, for example, has an arsenal that includes a centrifuge, hop torpedo, canning line, shrink sleeve label, automated grain silo and other high end automated lab equipment for quality control and assurance. Ultimately, behind the process is the person. Brewers agree it takes a special person to make a go of a business in the craft brewing industry. “If you’re not a brewer, if you don’t love beer, there are way better places to invest your money,” Allport said. “The most successful breweries are started by those that are passionate.” “Talk to the other breweries. Definitely go and do your research. Everyone will be happy to talk to you about it,” Babyak said.

“The opportunity to create and grow is just phenomenal,” Heise said. “The cool thing about Regina and Saskatchewan is that you can have that voice. You can’t get that in most other cities.” “We can’t make enough beer right now,” Babyak said. The government is continuing to be supportive of the industry. Heise said that the Ministry of Agriculture understands craft brewing as its Saskatchewan Agri-value Initiative and Saskatchewan LEAN Improvements in Manufacturing are invaluable tools for growth. Local restaurants are making an increased push for craft beer while Sobey’s is helping to grow the industry on the retail side by putting local beer taps into their ever-growing liquor stores around the province.

“Craft brewing is huge everywhere else and it’s getting big here now too,” said Joel Lanigan, regional manager of Brewsters. “Look at the number of breweries we have compared to five years ago.” And as Cooke explains, more customers are continuing to enter the market and develop a taste for certain kinds of craft beers. “As an entrepreneur, I’ve told people that Saskatchewan has a big advantage because often trends are a little bit late compared to other places,” he said. “We don’t always adopt the same trends, but you can actually take ideas from elsewhere and still have time to set yourself up as a business with enough time before the trend takes off.” Truly, the sky is the limit and that’s something members of the craft beer industry can drink to. “There’s so much untapped potential and opportunity here,” Heise said. “There are a few things to change, but we are just getting started as a craft brewing province.” “It’s a feel good story. Everyone wants to support local and it has a ripple effect. You’re growing the economy in a positive way.”

Learn more about the GRA’s Agri-value sector: Economic Development Regina Inc.

P: 306-789-5099 TF: 1-800-661-5099

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