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Calgary brewer calls out AGLC distribution model for being ‘insane’





The craft scene is touted as a local gem, but one Calgary brewer is speaking out about the lengths his beer travels before they pour your pint.

Nestled in Inglewood Revival Brewcade is a small start-up brewery. Currently, they don’t brew beer on site and instead, contract through Red Bison to bring you their creations.

But even though there are only a few kilometres between Brewcade and their beer brewing contractor, the kegs they produce have to travel more than 600 kilometres — round trip — to the province’s only distribution centre in St. Albert and back before they can be tapped. 

“So, there’s a time delay in terms of freshness,” said Brewcade co-owner James Dobbin. “Then there’s the cost — we’ve spent 25 per cent of the total cost of beer production in shipments to Liquor Connect, it’s insane.”

According to a spokeswoman with Alberta Gaming Liquor and Cannabis, this contract-brewing system was set up to help small breweries start up without the upfront cost of infrastructure it would take to do their own manufacturing.

Manufacturers have to brew everything on-site, but a contract-brewer might not have a site yet. In some cases these brewers don’t have brick and mortar locations at all — so they can enter an agreement with a manufacturer to use their equipment and facility.

Revival Brewcade owner James Dobbin says 25 per cent of the production cost for their beer is trucking it to Edmonton and back, which he calls “insane.” (Helen Pike/CBC)

In some cases, contract brewers might not have a brick and mortar location at all — other provinces have called these types of operations “virtual breweries.” But in the case of Brewcade, they have a physical bar location.

Contact-brewing is not intended to be a permanent solution for brewers, just a stepping stone, which is why the AGLC says there are perks to becoming a manufacturer.

Domestic brewers, or manufacturers, are able to self-distribute their product, but contract brewers aren’t considered domestic brewers — they are considered liquor agents. In Alberta, a liquor agent is a group that orders, consolidates, ships and markets liquor.

“Alberta, is very unique,” said Holmen. “We have the only one-of-a-kind system in Canada where we have a privatized model.”

She said this model allows for a lot of choice in beer, spirits, ciders and wines. But the AGLC is the provincial regulator and distributor for liquor and cannabis products, she explains. 

“So that’s just the way the model is laid out right now,” said Holmen.

These kegs, which are manufactured in Calgary, have to be sent to Edmonton before the can be tapped and served. (Helen Pike/CBC)

She says these smaller brewers are making beer and sending it off to be distributed through the centralized distributor, Liquor Connect. And this is where Dobbin has to order back the beer brewed by Brewcade so he can then sell it at his bar.

“Their organization is extremely bureaucratic, so it’s counterintuitive to the way we all think,” he said. 

Instead, Dobbin said it would make more sense to be able to piggyback on their contract brewers to distribute and pay taxes through that manufacturer — or, he said, the province could create a nearby distribution centre for Calgary and southern Alberta businesses to use.

“So that we’re not polluting the environment just to deliver beer,” he said.

22 contract brewers in Alberta

According to the AGLC, there are 22 so-called contract brewers across Alberta. And because there’s only a small volume of product involved in contract brewing, the AGLC says there’s no business case to consider a standalone warehouse and distribution system for contract brewers in southern Alberta. 

“The intent of the policy is that contract brewers become licensed manufacturers and not remain contract brewers indefinitely,” said Heather Holmen. “Contract brewing was established to reduce barriers to entry and allow smaller operations to start up.”

And Brewcade is doing just that, after months of contract brewing to sell product they are becoming manufacturers soon. But Dobbin says they probably won’t stop their relationship with the provincial distribution centre. 

He explains in Alberta some manufacturers still have to use Liquor Connect because they have contracts that outpace the space they have on site to store product — and so the only distributor they can turn to is Liquor Connect.

Red Bison, which is considered a manufacturer,  uses the distribution centre too. And in an email, owner and founder Steve Carlton said having a monopoly on distribution doesn’t make sense.

“Having choices and competition would not only improve services help reduce costs to manufacturers,” he writes. “The fact that all of our product has to be shipped to St. Albert is also something that hardly makes sense.”

New centre was planned

When asked about whether or not a new distribution centre closer to southern Alberta would make sense, the AGLC pointed to an assessment of their distribution protocol done in 2007, a similar report was also done in 2009. 

At the time, manufacturers also noted issues with having one distribution centre. But the report concluded that a centralized system is best. 

According to the AGLC website, in 2016 a new distribution centre was planned to come online in 2018 — but that centre was also planned for St. Albert to be near existing infrastructure.

The frequently asked questions document states that having more than one distribution centre in Alberta’s market — one in Calgary and one in Edmonton — would “result in higher costs for the industry as well as overall system inefficiencies.” 

Carlton said a lot has changed between 2007 and the present. 

“There would have only been a handful of breweries,” he wrote. “Now, with over 100 this should have been looked at many times since 2007. The way Alberta’s population is spread out, it would also seem that Calgary or Red Deer would be a much better option.”

Holmen said the AGLC is always looking for ways to modernize and improve the liquor system to increase efficiencies.

“To say it’s not on the radar is not accurate, we’re always looking for ways to increase efficiencies.”


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Future of Ottawa: Coffee with Francis Bueckert





Francis Bueckert: When it comes to the current landscape of coffee-roasting companies and independent cafes in Ottawa, I think we are at a really interesting moment in time. There are more local roasters that are doing artisanal small-batch production—with more attention to the quality and origin of the beans.

With larger corporations such as Starbucks closing locations, it has opened a bit of space for local players to grow. We have been lucky to work with many folks in the coffee-roasting community, and we have found that there is a willingness to collaborate among different coffee roasters. For example, when Cloudforest started back in 2014, we were roasting our coffee at Happy Goat and it was the expertise of their head roaster Hans that helped me learn how to roast. Other companies such as Brown Bag Coffee have also lent a hand when we needed extra roasting capacity. There are others, such as Lulo, Mighty Valley Coffee, Bluebarn, The Artery, and Little Victories that are also part of the growing local coffee community. It’s small roasters like these who have shown me what a coffee community can look like, and that we can help to elevate each other, rather than being locked in competition.

If you care to make a prediction… What’s happening to the local café industry in 2021?

We believe that there is hope and that 2021 can be a big pivot year for small roasters and cafes.

This year will not be ideal from a business point of view. However, it could create a shift in people’s attitude toward where they get their coffee. We are holding out hope that people will support the roasters and cafes that are local to help them economically survive what is in all reality a very difficult time.

It all depends on where consumers decide to go this year. People are starting to recognize that supporting large corporations at this moment will be at the cost of the local roasters and cafes. There is the growing realization that a future where there is only Amazon, Walmart, and Starbucks would be pretty bleak. So we have an opportunity this year to support the kind of local businesses that we want to see thrive.

In your wildest dreams, what will the landscape for local coffee roasters and cafés look like in your lifetime?

In my wildest dreams, all of the coffee roasters and cafés would be locally owned and independent. They would all be focused on direct trade and artisanal coffee. Each different coffee roaster and café would know exactly where their coffee came from. Ideally, each company would be a partnership between the farmers who grow the beans and the people here selling them. There would be a focus on how to cooperate and collaborate with the farmers in the countries of origin to share the benefits around. We would all work together and share orders of cups, lids, and other packaging so that we could get better bulk pricing. In this way, we would make our local coffee community so efficient that the large corporate coffee companies wouldn’t even be able to compete.

We would also like to see people use coffee as a way to create social good. For example, we started Cloudforest as a way of helping support farmers in Ecuador who were taking a stand against large mining companies. This remote community stood up to protect their environment, so that they could have clean drinking water and soil for the next generation. They started an organic coffee cooperative to help show that there are other models of development, and we are doing our part year after year to help support their vision. They have a vision of development that does not include mass deforestation and contamination, and organic coffee is a key (among others) to show that another way forward is possible.

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Special events in the Ottawa Valley dominate annual OVTA tourism awards





The Ottawa Valley Tourist Association hopes that its annual tourism awards will provide a little sunshine during what is a dark time for local tourism operators because of the pandemic.

The Ottawa Valley Tourism Awards are presented annually by the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association (OVTA) to individuals, businesses, and events that recognize the importance of working together for the growth of the local tourism industry, as well as offering exceptional visitor experiences.

“After a year that saw a lot of businesses in the hospitality and tourism industry being challenged like never before, the annual Ottawa Valley Tourism Awards represent a bit of light on the horizon” said Chris Hinsperger, co-owner of the Bonnechere Caves.

The Ottawa Valley Tourist Association’s (OVTA) Awards Committee co-chairpersons, Meghan James and Chris Hinsperger, said they were very pleased with the recent nominations received, especially in the Special Events category. Submissions were received for The Farm to Fork Dinner Series at the Whitewater Inn; Light up the Valley; The Eganville Curling Clubs’ Rock the Rings; The Ontario Festival of Small Halls ; The Bonnechere Caves On-line Underground Concert Series; The Opeongo Nordic Ski Clubs’ Ski Loppet; The Tour de Bonnechere — Ghost de Tour 2020; and The Bonnechere Caves Rock ‘n Roll Parking Lot Picnic.

“During a time when communities were challenged, it is nice to see that people still made an effort to get together and celebrate, albeit under certain conditions. It just shows the creativity and resiliency of our tourism Community here in the valley” said Meghan James, director of sales at the Pembroke Best Western.

There are three Award categories: The Marilyn Alexander Tourism Champion Award, The Business of Distinction and The Special Event of the Year.

Hinsperger, is excited about this year’s awards.

“During this pandemic the hospitality and tourism industry was the first to be hit, was the hardest hit and will be the last of our industries to fully recover. As Valley entrepreneurs we owe it to ourselves, to our businesses and to our communities to be an active part of that recovery. Our livelihood and economic recovery depends on our efforts. And we will get back to welcoming people from all over the world to share a little bit of the place we are privileged to call home. This awards process leaves myself and others fully optimistic about our positive outcomes.”

Award winners will be announced at the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association’s virtual annual general meeting on Monday, May 31.

The OVTA is the destination marketing organization for the Upper Ottawa Valley and proudly represents more than 200 tourism businesses, comprised of attractions and outfitters, accommodation, food, beverage and retail establishments, artists and galleries, municipalities, as well as media and industry suppliers. The OVTA is supported by the County of Renfrew, Renfrew County municipalities and the City of Pembroke.

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Future of Ottawa: Farming with Jeremy Colbeck





Jeremy Colbeck: Well first, let’s talk about what we mean by farming. Although farms, and farming as an occupation, are in decline across Canada, they are still a major part of our rural landscape. That’s even more true for a strange city like Ottawa which includes a LOT of rural areas and whose urban boundary takes, what, three hours to cross? About 40 per cent of the rural land in Ottawa is farmland. Most of that farming is corn and soybean cash-crop, as well as some dairy and livestock farming. That’s mostly conventional farming (the kind that is profitable but not exactly where you take your kids on a Saturday).

There are also a lot of agri-tourism businesses in Ottawa, which give you that oh-so-good Saturday spot for family donkey-petting and apple-picking. And it’s totally understandable from a business perspective, but sometimes surprising to find out, that even though they grow some of the Christmas trees they sell, they might also be reselling some that come from much larger farms far away. The farmland around Ottawa is also inflated in price because of its proximity to the city, where it is in demand by would-be hobby farmers—folks who want to do some farming on their property in their spare time but make their money (to subsidize their small-scale farming habit) elsewhere. Unfortunately, many of these properties will have large mansions built on them, which will then make them completely unaffordable for the average farmer

There’s also a segment of small-to-medium-sized Ottawa farms that grow “premium” (artisanal, unique, extra-fresh, ecologically- or organically-grown etc…) products that they sell directly to local eaters via farmers’ markets or other direct marketing channels, including on-farm stores and farm stands. That’s where BeetBox fits in.

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