Blake Shaw remembers when he tried his first craft beer. He didn’t like it that much, but it was the start of changing his palette. Fast forward to 2017 and Shaw organizes Medicine Hat’s annual Beerfest while his store, Trackside Liquor, is a destination for beer drinkers.
“Craft beer takes up 65% of our store’s shelf space, up from only 10% a decade ago,” says Shaw, co-owner of Trackside Liquor and co-founder of Beerfest. “Globally, craft beer has a following and we have seen a market develop in Medicine Hat.”
For proof of a growing market, look no further than Medicine Hat’s annual Beerfest. Ten years ago, the first Beerfest sold 250 tickets. This year, it was one of the city’s hottest tickets, selling out at 850 tickets.
On the manufacturing side, changes to provincial liquor regulations have lowered the barrier to entry for small craft brewers entering the market. When Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission removed minimum production requirements for craft breweries in 2013 the market exploded with new breweries and it’s continuing to grow. The number of craft breweries in the province has quadrupled in the past three years.
In the last year, two new breweries opened in Medicine Hat, with a third nano-brewery, in the works.
But the market encompasses more than just a new selection of brewers. While store owners like Shaw are stocking their shelves with craft beer, Medicine Hat pubs are also catering to beer drinkers seeking a local brew.
“When Industry Pub first opened in 2015, people were generally looking for mainstream beers on tap,” says Desiray Stone, owner and operator of Industry Pub. “Now, they are stepping out of their comfort zone and their tastes have changed.”
Like Shaw, Stone was not a beer drinker before opening Industry, but as she learned more about craft beer and the industry she was convinced that was direction to go.
Currently, craft beer accounts for about 75% of Stone’s inventory and is on nearly all of the pub’s 12 taps.
Stone’s craft beer selection is mostly Alberta brewed along with a few favourites from British Columbia. Parallel 49 Brewing Company’s Jerkface 9000 and Medicine Hat Brewing Company’s Burnside Blood Orange are the top sellers.
Stone is also integrating beer into the restaurant menu. Mike’s Meats is launching a sausage made with Hell’s Basement Rhys Against the Machine.
Stone and Shaw are optimistic and predict that craft beer will become more of a fixture of pubs and expect to see more spin-offs like the Tourism Medicine Hat Breweries Tour and taphouses.
“I think it’s just going to get bigger and better,” says Stone.