After three wonderful years at East Vancouver brewery incubator Callister Brewing, it’s time to close the books on my business Real Cask Brewing for a while. I’ve had an incredible experience bringing real ale to the people of BC, and I would like to thank everyone who supported my Indiegogo crowdfunding appeal, as well as those who tried my beer. July 2018 will be Real Cask’s last month; I hope to see you all there before the end. Naturally, Callister will be continuing with two new brew crews. Keep an eye out for Sundowner!
I’m asked almost daily, “What’s next?” Well, I’ve been asked to take part in collaboration brews around the province and I’m looking forward to taking my vintage camper van around to visit these delightful friends and explore “super, natural British Columbia.” I’m also privileged to be teaching the Business of Craft Beer course at SFU and am hoping to take on other teaching roles. (I’ve really been enjoying teaching and I look forward to each new term; I hope the students have as much fun as I do.) I’m also asked to consult about craft beer, casks and creating cooperative organizations in the craft beer community. If you’re interested, please contact me and I’ll be very happy to give you information about these endeavours.
I knew from the outset at Callister that a cask-focussed brewery would be a niche business and ultimately unprofitable, so it’s time to move on and let someone else use Callister as a launching pad for their brewing dreams. I’m considering a little break from the BC craft beer community. It’s been all-consuming for the last six years; I’ve seen it grow from small festivals and a few breweries making a couple of cool beers to a massive industry attracting talent from all over the world and a range of great beers that no-one could keep up with!
The other reason I’m ready to take a break is that the unrestrained growth in BC craft beer (in my humble opinion as a brewer and an economics graduate) has started to reach a critical mass. Not to say that craft beer has “jumped the shark” or stir up false controversy, but I think we can all acknowledge that the year-on-year growth we have been experiencing is ultimately unsustainable. Of course, craft isn’t going away. The market is strong and constant innovation from the brilliant men and women of BC craft will continually renew and expand the market.
Competition for draft taps is much fiercer, with breweries outbidding each other to offer generous terms. Increasingly aggressive sales forces going after the limited shelf space in government and private liquor stores means that new or smaller breweries can struggle to compete, no matter how good their product. On the other side of that coin, some brewing companies can flood the market with product, pushing others off shelves and taps. We are now seeing the inevitable knock-on effect: craft breweries closing or changing hands.
Rumours of breweries for sale abound across the province. Will we see new groups taking them over, or more purchases and consolidation from the bigger guys? Historically, successful craft breweries have cooperated, working together for the craft beer community while nominally competing with each other. Will we see some of that cooperation dwindle as more newcomers arrive in the community, unaware of the history behind it all? Are we seeing fatigue in the urban centres, as the market reaches saturation and new business models are pursued? Are we running out of small towns to put breweries in? I’m not trying to pour cold water on the good times, nor doomsaying for the sake of it. We just have to be aware that the bubble that has been growing very quickly could be burst by dubious business practices and those looking to make a quick buck, similar to the Vancouver housing market.
As for me: to paraphrase Churchill, this is not the end. It may not even be the beginning of the end. But it is certainly the end of the beginning.