EDMONTON, Alta. — When Shane Groendahl goes to a party, he likes to slap down a growler of his Blindman Brewing beer and announce that it is what beer should taste like.
It’s that passion for brewing beer, the taste of craft beer and the enthusiasm that has Albertans switching from drinking traditional beers to craft beer, said Groendahl, one of the five owners of Lacombe’s Blindman Brewing.
“We have had a profound response from the community,” he said during the FarmTech event this week in Edmonton.
Blindman Brewing began brewing in September, opened in December and are already thinking of expanding to meet demand.
Alberta now has 20 craft breweries and another eight will be opening soon say industry participants.
Ribstone Creek Brewery, of Edgerton, started in 2012 with four friends, has expanded to 80 investors.
It was a way to boost the tax base in the small village and have fun brewing beer.
“We are not going to brew beers that are boring and bland. We wanted to brew something that push people’s palette,” said Aaron Hogarth, head brewer.
The company brews with pure barley beers and use 50 to 200 percent more barley per litre than typical beer brands. Most of the beer is from Alberta.
Graham Sherman of Calgary’s Tool Shed Brewing Company, and partner Jeff Orr, were technology geeks with a love of good food and beer before they opened their brewery.
“Making beer is one of the most incredibly fun, pleasing thing ever,” said Sherman at the FarmTech event.
The rules have changed dramatically since Tool Shed began brewing its beer. Until 2013, breweries in Alberta had to produce a minimum 500,000 litres of beer. To get around the rules, Tool Shed brewed its beer in B.C. and imported it back to Alberta.
In December 2013, Alberta dropped the minimum litre rule and craft breweries took off in Alberta.
Sherman believes Alberta is one of the best places to brew beer in Canada with its fresh water, plentiful barley and world-class maltsters.
Competing against giant brands like Molson and Labatt’s isn’t easy, but Sherman leaves a lot of the marketing to their customers who demand their local bars and liquor stores stock Tool Shed beer.
Groendahl said recent changes to taxes and pricing structure to favour local beers has also helped get their beer into liquor stores and bars.
Enthusiasm for good beer can launch a product, but it takes cash to keep it going, he said.
“It’s not insurmountable,” said Groendahl.
The partners took out a government loan to buy their equipment, but water, natural gas, electricity and other expenses add up.
“It’s a very viable business and now doable without the minimum production cap,” he said
It cost Tool Shed $40,000 to buy canning machine. With both credit cards maxed out and money from family, they launched their brewery with $300,000. They now have $4 million invested.
With 80 equity investors, Ribstone started their brewery debt free, which has helped keep costs low.
The potential for craft breweries across the provinces is “mind blowing,” said Hogarth.
“I can’t wait to see where we are in two or three years. I hope to see local brewers across every town in Alberta.”