Was Brewster’s on 11th Avenue the first microbrewery in Calgary?
I think it was – not microbrewery – brewpub. There’s a distinction there. A microbrewery is larger volume and has different licensing. A brewpub was a business that brewed beer and sold it right out of the restaurant like any other dish.
Where did Brewster’s start?
Brewster’s was started by the Lanigan brothers in Moose Jaw, SK, in 1989. In 1991 Michael Lanigan moved to Calgary with his family and founded the 11th Avenue location. Alberta has now expanded to eleven locations, with two Beer Revolution sister concepts. All the locations are doing very well, considering the restaurant industry is a small-margin business requiring a lot of resources to run. Now we’re looking forward to moving into retail.
We do most of our brewing at our Foothills Industrial head office location. It’s growing at an exponential rate, and we’re on the cusp of figuring out how much beer the retail market is going to need. We always wanted to move into retail, but it was never up to us. The laws surrounding being a brew pub dictated that yes, you can brew beer, yes, you can sell beer within the confines of your restaurant, but no, you cannot sell beers in retail stores.
What changed it?
A lot of hard work, a lot of lobbying, a lot of asking. I think the final straw was with the emergence of all the craft beer in Alberta it became obvious that these out of Province breweries are able to sell unimpeded, yet here we have a large scale brewery in Calgary which can’t sell beer in retail liquor stores. It doesn’t make any sense. All this money that could be contained within the Province is being funnelled out, and here we sit unable to sell our product locally.
What would you say Brewster’s influence on craft been in Alberta has been?
Without Brewster’s as a force in the beer economy then neither Beer Revolution nor other craft specialty bars would exist. Craft beer businesses exist only because, or partly because, Brewster’s been pushing craft beer for over 25 years in a province that for the most part didn’t want it until recently. It was a tough sell.
“Brewster’s been pushing craft beer for over 25 years in a province that for the most part didn’t want it”
I remember years and years of telling people, “Yes, we do brew our own beer. No, it’s not home brew. No, we don’t make a pile of money brewing our own beer, because we still pay tax. Yes, the beer is dark, no, it’s not crystal clear and golden coloured.” It was a long, long road, and now it’s interesting to see that market for craft beer starting to take off. We have been around for so long that people forget that Brewsters in Alberta started it all, along with Big Rock. It’s an exciting time for us now.
And now you’re going into retail?
The retail side is a really big focus. The AGLC just amended the brewpub and microbreweries licenses in the fall of 2013. We can now sell our beer in stores, and microbreweries like Big Rock or Wild Rose could open a chain of restaurants if they chose.
We’re going to be in stores within the next six months with six products, a healthy mix of some of our best-selling approachable beers: River City Raspberry, our Blueberry and Wild West Wheat; and some more sophisticated ones: Rig Pig Pale Ale, Hammerhead Red Ale and Curly Horse IPA.
Brewster’s is a very innovative, forward looking and motivating company. We’ve come a long way from what felt like shoving beer down people’s throats in the the ’90’s to where now it feels like the product has come of age. It’s a totally different atmosphere serving Brewster’s beer now. You don’t need to work nearly as hard to tell people that craft beer is good. It just is good, they don’t have to be convinced.
— Fred Holliss