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OPINION: Relaxation of Alberta beer production limits could go down as subtlest rule change with biggest impact… ever

It’s a different kind of trickle-down economics.

This is the kind of subtle government decision making that has little to no downside, but an enormous upside.

It’s not carbon tax nor is it minimum wage. It’s not that big picture. Not even close. It’s not as divisive, nor are there substantial pros and cons columns for to advocates push.

In fact, it’s the kind of government action that really brings people of all stripes together instead of forcing them apart.


When the AGLC decided back in 2013 to remove the barrier to entry for small craft breweries by eliminating the production minimums, it instantly opened up an entire industry that, in five years, has literally popped its top like a poorly-poured pint.  Allowing taprooms in breweries added fuel to the engine that was already running full steam a-head. Add in relaxed serving times for World Cups, Stampede and other events and you’ve unleashed the power of small business that had been fermenting for some time.

(I’d mention the provincial subsidies, but that’s been ruled in violation of inter-provincial trade rules. There. I mentioned it.)

It didn’t take much. This came as a result of government recommendations at the time. So, poof! Change made. Industry thrives. Easy peasy. Few, aside from eager brewers, bat an eyelash.

That’s only the first chapter in the growing epic of craft brewing’s impact in Alberta.

I just produced this story on tourism connected with craft brewing. How many times have you been in a Calgary taproom only to see a van or bus pull up and unload a crowd of suds-seeking folks? How about that big bike with 15 people pedalling to each pint?

More and more tour operators are booking trips to Alberta’s craft breweries. People are coming from the UK, US, Ireland and beyond to taste what this province has to offer.

This is happening all over Alberta.

Again, only one facet of this trickle-down effect.

In talking with a number of Calgary’s craft brewers, most, if not all, are buying their grains locally. Whether that’s barley, wheat or hops, it’s Alberta made. That’s a big boost to local growers.

Jeff Hessel of Tourism Calgary said it’s a great story to be able to tell the world. It’s literally a business that starts with seeds sown here and turns into a bustling economic driver in Alberta. He said that story is sellable.

He said that they have data that shows people will make a decision on what city to visit in Canada because of the food and liquor scene. That’s quite a ringing endorsement for an expanded craft brew scene.

I haven’t even touched on the number of people employed by craft breweries, the transportation of more beer products across the province, and, of course, the liquor tax it generates.

Beyond that, it has a collateral effect outside of the brewing industry. Entrepreneurs see something like the Barley Belt, the Brewmuda Triangle and Brewery Flats and they see a congregation point. Why not throw food into here? Hungry drinkers need food, don’t they? More businesses pop up. More people are employed.

Economic growth ensues.

Whether you call it trickle down or the butterfly effect, the principle holds true when describing the Calgary – and Alberta – craft brewing scene. (This kind of effect could be coming with the legalization of cannabis, too)

It came about with one simple, non-descript decision.

I would say there are few, if any, examples, when measuring net gain for everyone in the province, of recent government decisions that have had similar impact.

My guess is there’s more of those antiquated rules standing in the way of more industrial and economic growth. Many more.

They’re not being addressed, whether it’s for dogmatic reasons, pragmatic reasons, cost-benefit reasons, or we just don’t know they’re there.

The growth of craft breweries provides enough evidence for me that it’s worth exploring how subtle changes in government policy can have such dramatic impact. You don’t need to put a sledgehammer to the general public, or industry, to reap greater rewards for everyone. Yes, everyone.

In this era of diversification, the answer may not lie in luring a massive tech company to the city or province. It may be right under our nose in the other regulations we have in place that stifle innovation in an industry ready to grow.