Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: Sept. 26, 1985
Reporter: Bruce Yaccato
For all those Canadian beer drinkers disenchanted with the major breweries, there’s a new option on the scene. Called "microbreweries," these small breweries are starting to offer an alternative to giants Molson, Carling and Labatt. At microbreweries like British Columbia’s Granville Island Brewery, beer purists are thrilled with brews that adhere to the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516 - beer must only be made with barley, hops, water and yeast. This 1985 clip from The Journal raises the question: could this be the beginning of a microbrew renaissance?
Did You Know?
In the late 1960s, six massive brewing companies crowded independent breweries out of the market in England. British beer drinkers were faced with a brewing monopoly that churned out what many considered to be bulk-produced, bland beers. In response, British drinkers organized the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) to defend consumer rights. Canadian beer historian Allen Winn Sneath calls CAMRA the most effective grassroots lobbying organization in the world.
In 1981, Canadian entrepreneur John Mitchell visited England and was definitively inspired by CAMRA’s passionate condemnation of mass-produced beer. A year later, Mitchell enlisted the help of an experienced, brewer Frank Appleton. Together they set up their "cottage brewery" Horseshoe Bay Brewery in Horseshoe Bay, B.C.
After the Horseshoe Bay Brewery paved the way, the phenomenon spread across Canada. The Prairie Inn & Cottage Brewery opened shop in Saanichton, B.C., the Nobleman brewery opened in Winnipeg and the Rocky Mountain Brewery opened in Red Deer, AB. Between 1985 and 1989, 42 new microbreweries opened for business.
Staying in business proved difficult for many of the upstart breweries. Ontario’s Conners Brewing Company was among the casualties in 1990. Conners was plagued with a wide range of problems from their weak marketing plan to their unconventional and unpopular plastic beer bottles.
Successful microbreweries established in the 1980s and 1990s include the Whistler Brewing Company, Ontario’s Sleeman Brewing & Malting Company and Quebec’s Unibroue Inc.
The Bavarian Purity Law of 1516 was an actual law in Germany for four centuries, but was dropped by Nazi Germany during the Second World War because of supply restrictions.
The Bavarian Purity Law - now an ideal maintained by certain individual brewers rather than a law - states that beer must be made with only barley, hops, water and yeast. It prohibits a number of things often added to beer, including chemical additives, sugar, rice, corn and unmalted barley.
By definition, microbreweries produce between 25,000 to 75,000 hectolitres of beer per year - that’s the equivalent of five to 15 million pint glasses.