Sunday, April 21, 2013

The mystique of beer in Canada

The mystique of beer in Canada

November 20, 2028

Weekly Report Posted: December 04, 2012 09:08

Beer in Canada was introduced by European settlers in the seventeenth century, and a number of commercial brewers thrived until Prohibition in Canada. Though short-lived, very few brewers survived, and it was only in the late twentieth century that new breweries opened up. The Canadian Beer industry now plays an important role in Canadian identity, though globalization of the brewing industry has seen the major players in Canada acquired by or merged with foreign companies, notably its three largest beer producers, Labatt, Molson and Sleeman. The result is that Moosehead has become the largest fully Canadian-owned brewer.

Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in Canada, in terms of both volume and dollar value. In 2009 beer claimed 46% of the dollar value of alcoholic beverages sold in Canada. This compares to 29% for wine. Statistics Canada figures show that liquor sales in Canada amounted to $19.4 billion worth of alcoholic beverages, up 3.3 per cent from the year before. Beer sales totalled $8.8 billion, wine $5.7 billion and spirits $4.9 billion. 2.3 billion litres of beer were sold in 2009, a 0.9 per cent increase from the previous year. Per-capita beer sales have dropped 28 per cent from their peak of 115.2 litres in 1976 to 83.5 litres in 2009. By volume, imported beer has more than doubled its market share in the last decade. In 2009, imported beer had captured 13% of the beer market in Canada, up from six per cent in 1999. The top selling style of beer in Canada, by far, is the pale lager.

Beer was first introduced to Canada by European settlers in the seventeenth century, as Canada had an ideal climate for making beer before refrigeration was introduced. The first commercial brewery was built by Jean Talon in Quebec City, in the year 1668. Over a century later a number of commercial brewers thrived, including some that became the staple of the Canadian industry: John Molson founded a brewery in Montreal in 1786, Alexander Keith in Halifax in 1820, Thomas Carling in London in 1840, John Kinder Labatt in 1847, also in London, Susannah Oland in Halifax in 1867, and Eugene O'Keefe in Toronto in 1891. The very first patent to be issued by the Canadian government on July 6, 1842, was to one G. Riley for "an improved method of brewing ale, beer, porter, and other maltliquors."

Prohibition in Canada did not last as long as in the U.S. and was largely over by the mid 1920s (apart from Prince Edward Island, where it ran from 1901 to 1948), although the sale of beverage alcohol products remained heavily controlled by liquor boards and publicly owned stores in each of the provinces afterwards. Nevertheless, it had a similar effect of leaving very few brewers, and it was only in the late twentieth century that there has been a revival and microbreweries have started. Brewpubs are still illegal in some provinces, however.

The brewing had become extremely concentrated in Canada by the 1970s, being dominated by just three companies (Molson, Labatt, and Carling-O'Keefe). The revival of craft brewing dates from the early 1980s, according to Ian Coutts, in his book Brew North: How Canadians Made Beer and Beer Made Canada as a result of disparate and random factors. The factors included an article in May/June 1978 issue of Harrowsmith magazine by a former O'Keefe employee decrying the state of the business, the creation of the Campaign for Real Ale in the United Kingdom, the revival of smaller brewers in the United States beginning with Anchor Brewing in 1965, the 1981 deregulation of beer prices in British Columbia by minister Peter Hynd­man and the resulting price hikes by the incumbents. In June 1982, the Horseshoe Bay Brewery in West Vancouver opened, creating one of Canada's first microbreweries.

Canada's largest brewing companies were traditionally Labatt's and Molson. Labatt's was purchased in 1995 by the Belgian company Interbrew (now part of Brazilian-Belgian Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest brewing company) and Molson merged with US company Coors in 2005 to create Molson Coors, now the world's fifth largest brewing company. With the purchase of Sleeman Breweries, the largest remaining Canadian brewer, in 2006 by the Japanese owned Sapporo Brewery, Canada’s beer production has been mainly under the control of foreign multinationals. By the end of 2006, nearly 90% of beer sales was of product brewed domestically under license from non-domestic corporations. American beers brewed under license dominate much of the market, and as of 2008 Budweiser was the top selling brand with 13% of the market, followed by Coors Light with 12%. Molson Canadian and Labatt Blue, for decades the top-selling brands, now hold third and fourth place. The market in Canada for domestic beer is dominated by Labatt, Molson and Sleeman, all foreign-owned companies. The largest Canadian-owned brewer, Moosehead Brewery, controls about 5.5% of the Canadian market.

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