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Time to do our part and drink local beer

I’m a huge fan of craft beer, especially IPAs.

I realize some people say hoppy ales are a fad, but I sure hope not. Like many beer-drinking baby boomers, I endured cookie-cutter dreck from the major breweries for way too long. Today, I’m very happy having access to something different, fresh and tasty – especially given the summery weather we’ve been having, the re-emergence of pro sports to follow, and the fantastic IPA craft beer selection in Ontario.

In Canada, the alcohol scene has changed a lot since the pandemic, some of it in ways you wouldn’t expect.

For example, in June, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction reported that of those who drink alcohol and are staying home more, almost 80 per cent were drinking about the same or less than before the pandemic.

I would have thought it was opposite. But only one in five said they were drinking more. Nonetheless, that’s the statistic that made headlines.

If you buy liquor, you’re buying more through retail and e-commerce sites instead of pubs, bars and restaurants. That’s too bad. These establishments and the knowledgeable people who work there had a huge role in new product introductions. Trying an unheard-of item on the beer menu, or one recommended by a friend or a server, was a fun pursuit.

These establishments will take years to recover. Expert sources like the UK-based International Wines and Spirits Record predict that worldwide, beverage alcohol will take five years to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic, owing to the near shutdown of public socializing and worldwide travel.

A US Nielsen investigation estimates the market there would need to sustain more than a 20 per cent growth across all categories to merely level off the impact of bar and restaurant sales loss.

And that’s unlikely. Globally, alcohol sales were basically flat in 2019, at 0.1 per cent growth. Maybe some people are drinking more at home, but nowhere near enough to spike the huge increase Nielsen says is needed…even though total alcohol sales from stores in the U.S. rose more than 25 per cent in the early pandemic days, between mid-March to mid-May, compared to a year ago.

I’ll be curious to see how 2020 beer sales fare in Ontario, which is home to about 270 craft beer breweries.

Here, we’ve been way ahead of the curve in boutique wineries and craft beer (and spirits, to some extent), compared to many jurisdictions worldwide. Even a couple of years ago, asking for a craft beer in Europe drew a confused look.

But when it comes to beer, our country’s youthfulness gives us more freedom to adapt, along with the curiosity to try new things. That plays out on store shelves: Nearly 800 unique beer brands are listed across all retail outlets in Ontario.

The buy-local movement has helped craft beer catch on. Support for producers of anything local food- or beverage-related has been a growing part of our culture for more than two decades, and it spills over into beer sales, regardless of how you define local.

Before the pandemic, an establishment that didn’t carry representative brews from its own region was out of touch.

Now, we have to find them on our own. Sampling opportunities are much more limited than they were previously, so brewers will require even greater creativity to attract new customers and bolster sales.

I’ll be listening, watching and – in moderation, of course – participating, doing my part to help.



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