‘A little bit more old-school’: Craft beer slowly finding footing in Lethbridge

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Craft beer slowly but surely finding footing in Lethbridge: ‘It’s a bit more old-school’
WATCH ABOVE: With the number of breweries in Alberta exploding to more than 120, the craft beer boom has been felt across the province, though not as drastically in Lethbridge. But as Danica Ferris reports, brewers in the city say the market is slowly but surely growing – Jan 30, 2020

When Theoretically Brewing Co. opened it’s doors in Lethbridge in 2015, co-founder Kelti Baird said it was a slow burn to get the brand up and running in the city.

“We still get people coming into the brewery asking like, ‘How long have you been here?’ And we’re like, ‘Four years,'” she said.

“When we started, we anticipated staying in our own marketplace for the first year,” she said. “We had to move to Calgary and Edmonton markets within the first six months, because Lethbridge just did not adopt.”

But the market for craft beer has grown in a big way since 2015, and Baird said it’s okay that it took the city a while to adapt.

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“The market here is interesting, it’s a little bit more old-school than some of the more progressive markets in the province — a lot of people like their pilsners and their lagers and that kind of stuff — but they’re slowly coming around to the idea of more and different flavourful beers.”

The market has grown so much that Lethbridge liquor store owner Kyle Baines said he struggles to keep Theoretically’s products on his shelves, just blocks away from their taproom.

“They’re so successful, they’re selling out so fast that sometimes I get even get stock, which is so wonderful,” said Baines, whose store Andrew Hilton Wine & Spirits was an early adopter of craft in the city.

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“We have seven fridges, and when I came in 2000, two doors of the seven were devoted to craft and the other five were all domestic beer,” he said.

“These days, it’s actually like two shelves out of the whole fridge is domestic and everything else is craft beer. We’ve been in it right since the beginning, but it’s never been as good and as fun and as interesting as it is right now.”

Baines said almost three-quarters of his craft beer stock is made in Alberta, with about 90 per cent of that produced in the south of the province.

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The store owner even drives up to Calgary every four to six weeks to pick up beer from breweries that don’t deliver to Lethbridge, both for his fridges and his growler bar.

“I know for us, we can put things on social media… we say ‘Hey, we have something brand new… we’ve got this really exciting brewery,’ and within literally minutes we have people in the door. It’s quite a response and a remarkable market,” said Baines.

With the industry more diverse than ever in Lethbridge, the city’s newest brewery opened over the summer.

Spectrum Ale Works owner Darrell Harris said he had been home brewing for more than 20 years before he and his wife finally decided to take the plunge and open a taproom.

“I think it was either my mother or my wife who bought me a home brewing kit 27 years ago, and we made that beer out in the driveway and it turned out horrible,” laughed Harris. “And I said at that point, ‘I’m going to make better beer than this.'”

Harris said the opportunity to create a community hub was what attracted him to the idea of opening a brewery.

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“We got the bug about 10 to 12 years ago, travelling around the northwestern United States on our motorcycles,” he said. “And it always seemed like the gathering spot — in any town, any community — was a microbrewery.”

“We just found that it would be a really cool thing to bring to Lethbridge… the community meeting hub that a brewery brings.”

For now, Spectrum is selling only draft beer — both out of the taproom and on a select few taps at restaurants around the city — and they plan to stay community-minded, something Baird said is the best part about craft beer.

“Keeping that money local is what’s really important, and people are starting to realize that,” said Baird, “Our business — if they shop with us — feeds back into the local community a lot more than if they go into a liquor store and buy a Molson product.”

And those in the industry believe Lethbridge could sustain even more players in the craft beer scene.

“We would actually like to see three or four more breweries our size or bigger — or even smaller, that’s fine too — open in the city,” said Baird. “That way we can start coordinating tours and getting people cycling between them, it would be so much fun.”

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Baines agreed that the thirst for good beer is there in Lethbridge.

“Could Lethbridge really make a great brewery succeed? Absolutely,” he said, “But I think anyone could do that. It’s all about the beer these days because the competition is just so fierce.”

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