January 21st, 2017

Business Beat: From the ground to the growler


By Medicine Hat News on December 21, 2016.

Last year at this time, Medicine Hat was the only major Alberta city without a craft brewery. With last weekend’s opening of the Medicine Hat Brewing Company, we can now count two.

Both Hell’s Basement Brewery and Medicine Hat Brewing Company invested in this community, creating business opportunities and employment. Along the way, they seized on Medicine Hat’s local lore and have led a resurgence in community pride.

Both groups are excellent examples of spotting a business opportunity and capitalizing on it. In this case, a small change in provincial legislation removed a barrier that made it difficult for microbreweries to operate in Alberta.

Since that barrier was removed, more than 50 new breweries have opened across Alberta. And that presents new business opportunities for the right person.

According to an American report, microbreweries make up 5.7 per cent of that country’s beer production, but consume nearly 18 per cent of the malt, which is derived from barley. It stands to reason that a similar ratio exists in Canada.

Alberta’s barley is well-known for its quality, and currently produces half of Canada’s malt exports.

A malt house in Medicine Hat would certainly be kept busy. It wouldn’t be a capital-intensive business to set up and would give local and provincial microbreweries an alternative to importing malt from elsewhere.

Another opportunity that exists for regional growers is hops. Hopyards are few and far between in the province, even though locally-produced IPAs are plentiful.

There have been rumours of farmers experimenting with growing hops, but a dedicated hopyard would no doubt be welcome by Alberta’s new brewers. In Edmonton, a brewery has sourced hops from a Northern Albertan hops grower — one of the very few currently operating in the province.

With its access to locally-grown malt barley and irrigated farmland, Alberta’s new generation of brewmasters are on the lookout for good ingredients and a way to differentiate their product from a growing provincial crowd.

Breweries are opening their doors to a public thirsty for local beer, and the raw ingredients are plentiful. Instead of exporting malt barley, a Medicine Hat entrepreneur could make malt right here and sell it to the province’s brewmasters.

Small hopyards are popping up as more and more people see the business opportunity in this booming new industry. There’s plenty of room for regional growers to move into the space and provide local hops to Alberta’s brewers.

Across the province, microbreweries are tapping local lore. Yet their primary ingredients are being imported due to a lack of local sources. Alberta has an opportunity to deliver beer from the ground all the way to the growler. Medicine Hat, with its entrepreneurial spirit and existing resources, is just waiting for a few brave people to take up these opportunities. It’s only a matter of time.

Ryan Jackson is the general manager for Invest Medicine Hat, which helps new, expanding and relocating businesses access markets and business resources in Medicine Hat. For more information on investment opportunities, visit http://www.investmedicinehat.ca

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