Alberta has seen its craft beer industry boom in the last 10 years — and now a trio of three entrepreneurs want the world to know what provincial craft brewers have to offer.
“Canada has a global reputation for its clear skies and clean water,” said Don Tse, a beer writer and consultant who operates Far Out Exporters with wife Michele and business partner Jeff Orr.
“Over 90 per cent of the beer is water. The malt barley grown in Canada is globally recognized.
“In the craft beer world, America leads the charge and Canada is second.”
The company is marketing beer produced across Canada, but since it’s located in Calgary and the trio knows craft brewers here, they have a special focus on Alberta suds.
Tse initially imported beer brands into Canada but as the domestic craft beer industry took off, opportunity beckoned.
“My wife and I really love to travel,” he said. “We would travel all over on the import business side, visiting breweries and things. Along the way, we met a lot of beer buyers in other countries. We just knew a bunch of people, and so we’ve been contacting them… It’s about knowing people.”
The pandemic has put a damper on the market, but Far Out Exporters has shipped craft beer to Australia and recently sent a shipment, including beers from Alley Kat Brewing Company in Edmonton and Inner City Brewing in Calgary, to Sweden.
“Every country has had some kind of lockdown,” said Tse. “Because of that, every country has had a big push to support small local business, which is great, but it doesn’t help me in my business of exporting beer.”
Still, a shipment to the U.K. is in the works and the company is in talks with Ukraine and reaching out to contacts in Europe. The U.S. is also a target although it’s “a difficult market — it has weird labelling requirements.”
Canada’s reputation for high-quality food and top food safety standards helps but other factors come to the fore.
“There are certain countries that have a fascination with Canadian wildlife,” he said, noting one of the beers in their portfolio is Grizzly Paw, brewed in Canmore and has a bear on one of its beers.
“That type of thing plays really well in Australia and Germany,” said Tse. “It sounds silly, but a beer made with maple syrup does well overseas.”
The two big trends in craft beer worldwide are Indian Pale Ales and kettle sours.
“We brew those really well here in Canada. It’s funny how countries like Germany have centuries-old tradition of brewing beer, but they brew the beer they’ve always brewed. So they look to North America for these IPAs and sour beers. That seems to be very popular.”
When he first got started in the beer industry, Orr said Albertans felt left behind by places like Vancouver, Portland and San Francisco, which had flourishing bar and craft scenes. But 10 years later, the variety and quality of beer coming out of the province is up there with other flourishing beer scenes.
“The goal here is to show people that we’re not just late to the game and trying to figure it out,” he said. “We’ve picked things up and have a stellar offering. You don’t get any fresher than having the barley come from up the road.”
Sophisticated buyers are looking for technical prowess and at beer reviews to see what they would like to try, added Orr.
“Our job as exporters is to try and bridge that gap a little,” he said. “We live and reside in this market, and recommend beers that they are looking for. We maintain a portfolio of beer that we would get behind and enjoy.”
While it’s “very early” days for their company, the outlook is bright, said Orr.
“In terms of beer and exports, Canada has not really put an emphasis on craft beer (but) I think there’s huge opportunity for marketing beer made in Canada,” he said. “It will surprise people.
“There’s a lot out there that people don’t see from other places right now. That’s exciting for me.”