Hamilton’s craft beer industry growing despite hurdles

By: John Rieti

If you don’t think craft beer is big business in Ontario, look no further than the $10 million brewery under construction on Hamilton’s waterfront.

The facility is the “big dream” of Matt Johnston and Bob Russell, the Hamilton-born founders of Collective Arts Brewing, who partnered with another local brewer, Nickel Brook, to rebuild the old Lakeport brewery on Burlington Street East.

When the facility’s finished in April, it will be able to produce some 36 million bottles of beer each year while also housing a concert venue, art gallery, tap room and beer garden.

‘With your own brewery, it’s really like an artist’s palette – you can do whatever you want.’– Bob Russell, Co-Founder of Collective Arts Brewing

Getting to this point hasn’t been easy. And further growth will continue to be difficult as craft brewers look for ways to get their product to more customers and overcome the hurdles of a market set-up that favours big breweries.

Craft beer is surging in popularity, but the industry still represents just around 4 per cent of all beer sales in Ontario — “we’re significantly underdeveloped here,” Johnston says — compared to about 8 per cent of sales in the U.S. and figures as high as 14 per cent in B.C.

Craft brewers blame the limited amount of places they can sell their product due to the massive multinational beer corporations’ grip on distribution systems like The Beer Store. Small brewers also battle just to get taps for their beer at bars, or to score the right to sell bottles at the LCBO.


Hamilton Collective Arts Brewery Interior ConstructionThe interior of the new Collective Arts and Nickel Brook Brewery is about the size of two hockey arenas. The facility will produce around 1.5 million cases of beer each year. (John Rieti/CBC)

Still, craft brewers are striving to open brick and mortar operations, which allow them to scale up production and create more unique brews, something the beer-drinking public is increasingly demanding.

“With your own brewery, it’s really like an artist’s palette – you can do whatever you want,” said Russell.

“I think it’s about having control of your own destiny,” Johnston said.

Currently, Collective Arts signs contracts with large craft breweries to make their beer, a well-established practice in the industry. Two other brewers, Brad Clifford of Clifford Brewing Co. and Warren Pyper of The Hamilton Brewery, have also recently launched in the city by producing beer elsewhere.

Read the rest of the article here.


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