KENTVILLE, NS - Some say it’s a trend, others say it’s here to stay, but one thing is undeniable: hard data shows craft beer is boosting Nova Scotia’s economy.
Annapolis Valley Chamber of Commerce president Colby Clarke says craft brewing has done nothing but stimulate the local economy since the industry began booming within the past decade.
“This boom has carved out an opportunity for local people to take advantage of (the) strong demand for local product,” he says.
The Nova Scotia Craft Beer Market and Impact Study, conducted in 2017, found that while sales of commercial beers are declining in Nova Scotia, the increase in craft beer sales has offset that drop – proving craft beer is an up-and-comer that can no longer be ignored.
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‘Benefits for everyone'
The study states total beer sales in Nova Scotia increased from around 599,000 hectolitres in 1993 to around 622,000 in 2016, and during that same time span, craft beer sales grew from nearly zero to nearly 33,000 hectolitres.
It also found craft beer increased its share of total volume of beer sales in Nova Scotia to 5.3 per cent.
This is all in addition to sales increasing over 50 per cent over the last year, with sales numbers in Nova Scotia reaching $13 million, according to the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia’s website.
These numbers, combined with a budding local crop of new and established breweries, are why Clarke says he’s feeling “very optimistic and excited” about the industry’s future, and not at all worried about the market being oversaturated – a common symptom of ‘trend’ industries.
“This industry is a collaborative one. When you can add to that concentration of businesses in one area, it’s going to have benefits for everyone,” he says.
“We saw that with our wineries, and now we’re seeing that with our craft breweries. It’s a win-win for them all.”
Local interest in local product
Whitney Moran, the co-author of East Coast Crafted: The Essential Guide to the Beers, Breweries, and Brewpubs of Atlantic Canada, agrees that the market – both province-wide and within the Annapolis Valley – is “nowhere near” oversaturation.
“We’re an agricultural province, we have a lot of tourism, and I think we can sustain a lot of growth. People who like it don’t just buy from one brewer – we haven’t even begun to return to a pre-prohibition normalcy,” she says.
Moran says she’s also excited for more soon-to-come developments, like how she hopes each small town may grow to have its own local brewery.
“Think local pubs in Ireland – that could be Nova Scotia one day,” she says.
Clarke says another way to avoid oversaturation is by seeking ways to diversify. One potential avenue could be to produce beer ingredients here at home. That's already being done here in the Valley by Sea Level brewmaster Randy Lawrence, who was the first commercial hop producer in Nova Scotia, and Horton Ridge Malt & Grain, a local producer of organic malt.
“Our craft beer is local, but there aren’t many local ingredients going into it even though there are many products farmers could look into producing. We should really see what appetite we have to create something even more truly local,” says Clarke.
Exporting a destination
Sales are not the only way in which craft beer is helping the economy in Annapolis Valley, according to Clarke.
With these breweries adding to the list of food and beverage destinations in the Annapolis Valley – an area already renowned for slow-food lifestyle and destination wineries – Clarke says local tourism numbers will only continue growing as groups visit the area.
“Groups that travel here never just visit one place. You’ll get a few group members who enjoy wine, others who prefer beer, and at some point, they all want to stop and eat somewhere,” he says.
“When... they spend multiple days and still run out of time to see everything, you know you’re in a good spot. This is what we’re coming closer and closer to doing.”
Clarke also wonders future growth of the industry could mean exporting opportunities that would see Nova Scotia craft beer imported elsewhere around the globe.
“For those folks that do really well, the markets are almost endless. Some of those could actually build up to a point where they’re local for us, but not local for others,” says Clarke.
“The industry is beyond a trend at this point. We’re creating our own destiny, grabbing the reins and moving forward with this.”