The global beer market is changing, with craft brews becoming more important than ever before. To build a global picture of the beer market, we’ve interviewed some Petainer representatives to find out how the market is developing in their location.
First up is Vice-President of Petainer Canada, Andres Jensen.
Could you give an overview of the Canadian beer market currently?
It’s growing very fast! The North American market in general is growing, at a rapid rate. Both beer and cider are having exponential growth in Canada; the industry is friendly and craft brewers are open to helping each other grow. All these microbreweries are happy to share events and do collaboration brews – it's about the small guys trying to build overall “craft” market share.
What is the most popular type of drink?
Anything craft is popular right now. Cider and beer are growing, so is craft distilling (vodkas, gins, etc.). Small batch brews are popular. Of course, there's still the population that will stay with their traditional brand beers, but probably the majority of liquor store shelves are now taken up with local craft beers and ciders. It's good to see and it shows that the trend for craft is supported locally and nationally.
The big breweries are still trying to come up with their own versions of products to compete with the craft market and they have started to do this by buying up smaller breweries and allowing them to continue to operate as a craft brewery, under the national umbrella.
Talk through the growth of cider.
In Canada, cider has seen some tremendous growth. The amount of cider producers is rising year after year. Four or five years ago in Ontario there may have been four or five cideries, now we're coming up to nearer 45 in the province alone. There are maybe about 150 in Canada in total; they're growing really fast. I have a customer in Vancouver called BC Tree Fruits, they're probably the second largest apple grower and supplier in Canada, and now they're producing their own cider; the sky is the limit for them.
What sort of ciders are people drinking?
Everyone starts with the traditional, hard cider, just like every brewery has their standard lager or pilsner – their “go-to”. But now there's more stone fruit or pear ciders. One thing that's really starting and could catch on is hop cider. People who like beer and cider like hop cider, because it's bringing together two worlds.
Is the trend favouring domestically brewed, or imported? What’s the split?
The biggest trend is definitely domestically brewed Canadian craft beer, as well as some USA craft beer.
What do Canadians want most from their beer? What’s the most important consideration; taste, provenance, ABV, style, something else?
From what I am seeing and hearing, it seems to be that there are a couple of must-haves, which would definitely be flavour and a range of styles, not just the common pilsner or lager (that said, they still need to have the common pilsner or lager). Also, it looks to be that people like a good story. A brewery could make a good beer but have no story showing who they are and how they got there, and it won’t sell as good in comparison to a brewery that makes a good beer and has a good story with some great branding. All these factors must be pulled together into the product.
What Canadian brewing success stories can you share?
There are many, I would say each province has its handful of success stories, as well as success stories in the making (which is fun to watch them unfold). For example we have a brewery here in Ontario, the Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery, and besides them growing rapidly and brewing success on their own, their partnership with Petainer Kegs has helped them reach markets they typically would not dream of, such as Spain, Sweden, Denmark, the Cayman Islands and Asia.
Are there any interesting beers on the Canadian market? Some out-of-the-ordinary flavours or approaches to brewing?
There are two big trends going on right now. In eastern Canada, especially Quebec, the big trend is sour beers. Every brewery is making different and intense sours, with many different flavours. On the west coast, meanwhile, they are very into big west coast IPAs. There are collaborations and variations (some use only Canadian hops, for example) but all are big IPAs. I feel this is great because it gives different provinces an area to define themselves in specialty and it also gives the country as a whole a range of special products to try and experience.
What's your preference?
I'd take a west coast IPA over a sour any day.
Are there frequent questions your customers ask?
Most frequent questions would be things like: Who else in Canada is using your kegs? Are they interchangeable with steel kegs? What’s the cost? What shelf life will I get out of my beer in your keg? What’s the stability and shipping stack-ability? What are the delivery and lead times? It’s nothing out of the ordinary but they’re the right questions to ask.
For the most part, Petainer Kegs are interchangeable with steel kegs. We're the lowest-cost one-way keg in Canada. For me, the biggest value I provide customers is the service. I go out of my way to go that extra step to make sure I can beat our competitors on service. I've been in this industry for as long as I can remember and I've been around the machinery since I was a kid. I love what I do, I brew my own beers, and for me a lot of my customers are like friends. When I go to beer shows it's more fun than work, because I see a lot of good friends.
Where do you see the Canadian beer market going in the next couple of years?
I only see it going up. There's been a real trend for accountants and bankers, having made a lot of money in their day jobs but growing to dislike their jobs because it's too stressful, who think: "I like beer, I'm going to start a brewery."
Some of them get lucky and make good beer, others… not so much! But that’s how it goes.
So if there's two breweries opening up every week, it might mean there's 100 breweries opening up this year – but only 60 of them will survive. However, it's still a net growth. The weak will filter themselves out and the strong will keep working together to brew bigger and better beer.
The way it is now, within the European and Asian markets, North American craft beers are really hot-ticket items. If that continues there's only room to grow. You've got breweries that are only selling locally but, once you get a distributor in Asia, you could be sitting pretty without ever selling a beer in Canada.
There will be the guys that get bought out, but then they open up to a whole new opportunity. They get the money from a buy-out and they have learned from their mistakes, so they can open up a new brewery that's craft, but this time they know what they're doing ten times over - creating a more experienced craft beer..
Will there be more variety in taste as this happens?
I think there will. Last year out in the east there weren't really any sours, the trend was for really high-ABV dark beers. That happened for probably a year and a half then crashed down. There were one or two that were really flavourful which, after the market moved, have now become staples in those breweries. It's the same thing with the sours. Like anything else there'll be the trends that hit large and the few that make it and stick around.