At first glance, Manitoba seems to have a pretty good foot in the craft-beer-industry-door: we have two great local breweries, Half Pints and Fort Garry, the annual Flatlanders beer festival is held in June, and Barley Brothers, Winnipeg’s only craft beer pub, was an instant success. The truth is, while the craft beer industry is reaching its peak in popularity and production in other provinces - most notably in British Columbia, Ontario, and Québec - Manitoba’s craft beer industry is still struggling to establish itself.
Colin Enquist is the Manitoba representative for the 49th Parallel Group, an agency that markets and promotes craft beer breweries in Western Canada.
“Manitoba is definitely behind when it comes to craft beer sales," he says. "The support from Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries is very minor, and is something that needs to be improved upon. I can't speak for all provinces, but our selection pales in comparison to others…but it doesn't come down to just MBLL support though, market support from customers need to grow as well.”
Susan Harrison is the Senior Communications Coordinator for MBLL, and she sheds some light on what it takes for a beer to make it onto the Liquor Mart shelves.
“The decision on whether to list a given product is based on a number of factors - product quality and taste, customer demand, sales statistics from other markets, shipping logistics, packaging details, and whether it meets our social responsibility mandate,” Harrison says. “Another key factor is repeated customer requests for specific products. We are always looking for new producers and products that are generating buzz and excitement with our customers – we are listening and taking notes!”
“We can offer many new products to MBLL, but our biggest issue for getting new products on the shelves comes down to approval from MBLL," Enquist says. "Without their approval we can't bring in products customers are asking for.”
The shortcomings in Manitoba’s craft beer market start cropping up when you look at what we don’t have here that other provinces do: brewpubs (restaurants attached to a microbrewery), privately owned specialty craft beer stores, and a wide selection of craft beer products available on Liquor Mart shelves.
“We have an archaic system that is detrimental to start up microbreweries," says Rajesh Maniar, Bar Manager at Barley Brothers." For the craft beer culture to grow in this city we need more breweries to open up, and for more breweries to open up, we need less red tape. The rules and laws are put in place for a reason obviously, but they were laid out in 1923. Even with them re-doing the book, I don’t think we’ve taken enough of a step forward.”
When it comes down to it, the future of the craft beer industry in Manitoba is dictated by the decisions made, and policies enacted, by Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries.
“There’s definitely a market in Manitoba for craft beer…it’s in it’s infancy, but it’s growing," Maniar says. "We couldn’t have done what we are doing with the 72 taps here if there wasn’t.”