Thirsting to start a microbrewery?

Category: Entrepreneurship Operations Startup

If you’re a beer lover, you’ve probably noticed the beer fridge at your local liquor store becoming increasingly crowded. Big name brands now compete for shelf space with up-and-coming craft beers – including a growing number of local brews. Data from the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) shows that the number of breweries and brew pubs in Alberta doubled in size – from 19 to 40 – between the start of 2014 and the first half of 2016.

Maybe you’re thinking of taking advantage of the craft beer boom and making the leap into entrepreneurship. Be aware that while the market may be growing, establishing a microbrewery isn’t simply a matter of scaling up the home brewery in your basement. There’s a lot involved in establishing a microbrewery, particularly when it comes to meeting the AGLC’s licensing requirements.

Set yourself up for success by taking care of the fine details – and the paperwork – long before you put that business plan into action. Here are a few things you need to know to get your craft brews into the hands of beer drinkers in Alberta.

Beer is a highly regulated industry

Before you start brewing, make sure you comply with regulations concerning: 

  • How your brewery is built – Microbreweries must adhere to federal and provincial construction standards as well as zoning restrictions set by municipal governments. Until a few years ago, the minimum production capacity for would-be brewers was 5,000 hectolitres, which made startup costs prohibitive for many individuals looking to get into the brewing business. As of December 2013, Alberta’s minimum brewery production laws were removed in an effort to open up the marketplace and ease the startup process for entrepreneurs. 

  • How your beer is brewed, bottled, and labeled  If you make beer in Alberta, you need a Class E license from the AGLC. Beer must be manufactured on site and follow Canadian food and drug regulations in regards to alcohol content, bottling, and product labelling. The federal government sets out specific guidelines about what constitutes each type of beer (lager, spiced beer, low-alcohol beer, etc.) and how you list ingredients (including allergens).

  • The price of your product  AGLC sets the rate of mark-up for liquor products in Alberta, including beer. In August 2016, Alberta began applying its standard markup of $1.25/L to all beers, including microbreweries.

Looking to expand your microbrewery?

Great news: a new program offered by Alberta Agriculture and Forestry may ease some of the financial challenges for entrepreneurs looking to grow. Launched earlier this year, the Alberta Small Brewers Development Program provides grants to Alberta brewers who sell no more than 300,000 hectoliters a year. The money is meant to give existing small brewers the flexibility to invest in their businesses and do things like increase production capacity, create new products, find new markets, and hire staff.

Connect with industry advisors

There are a number of supports for budding brew masters in Alberta. Connect to those with extensive sector knowledge via the Alberta Small Brewers Association or Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development’s New Ventures Team.

 

Still thirsty for knowledge?

With so many steps involved in launching a microbrewery, you may need some extra help. We’re here to point you in the right direction. Give us a call at 1-800-272-9675 or email us at askus@businesslink.ca.

About the Author

Headshot of Meredith Perich

Meredith Perich

Business Link

Meredith loves to see thriving communities, and believes small business to be at the heart of them. At Business Link, she excitedly works to support entrepreneurs, as a ‘go-to’ in helping them navigate the landscape of regulatory and licensing requirements, and providing market research support to clients. She is happy to be involved on a micro level, getting to know individuals and their own personal experiences in self-employment. Usual weekend activities for Meredith include visiting the Farmers’ Market or taking off to enjoy the mountains. She owns a guitar, but is regrettably still really bad at playing it.

More by this Author