Thirst for local craft: P.E.I. breweries trying to keep up with demand

·3 min read
Some staff members are working double shifts to make sure beer is making it to their own microbrewery taps, says Chantal Hayman, front house manager at Copper Bottom in Montague. (Tony Davis/CBC - image credit)
Some staff members are working double shifts to make sure beer is making it to their own microbrewery taps, says Chantal Hayman, front house manager at Copper Bottom in Montague. (Tony Davis/CBC - image credit)

A can of P.E.I. craft beer is increasingly hard to come by at local liquor stores and restaurants these days.

Some breweries on P.E.I. are seeing record demand and are having trouble keeping up.

"We have found a bigger demand definitely over what we had last year, obviously over 2020, and I would gamble, I would say, over 2019," says Chantal Hayman, front house manager at Copper Bottom Brewing in Montague.

Some staff are working double shifts to make sure beer is making it to Copper Bottom's own taps, Hayman said.

"As soon as it is put in a keg or put in a can, it's on the shelves and out, and the next batch is coming in for us to catch up."

Tourism finally being in full swing after years of pandemic travel restrictions has also added to demand.

Tony Davis/CBC
Tony Davis/CBC

"I think people are really excited to return to P.E.I," Hayman said. "They're just really excited to be able to come back.

"And I think in general craft beer has really taken off."

While Copper Bottom is happy to see demand up, it does sometimes leave the business torn between supplying another bar with beer and making sure their flagship brands are running out of their own taps, Hayman said.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

The owners of Lone Oak, based in Borden-Carleton, have had to decline some orders because demand is so high.

"This summer, the demand was significantly higher than what we were anticipating — which is a great problem to have, but it is still a problem, because obviously you want to service those orders and fill those shelves and keep restaurants happy," said co-owner Jared Murphy.

Demand got so high that the brewery has supplemented its own fridges with Upstreet and P.E.I. Brewing Company products, even though Murphy said they did their best to "project what a normal summer would look like."

When pandemic protocols were into place, it was hard to gauge what demand would be, and now the brewery is looking to manage its sales a little bit better.

"We've made a significant first step and that was hiring a director of operations," Murphy said. "We are going to lean on their expertise on how to scale up and grow our business in order to meet demand."

Tony Davis/CBC
Tony Davis/CBC

Bogside Brewing in Montague, which opened in 2019, is having its busiest summer yet.

"Tourism traffic seems to be really robust," said Dave McGuire, who runs the business. "The first season, really, for tourism for us has been really encouraging."

Local beer sales up 24%

Bogside has many of its own canned brews on its retail shelves, but it can be harder to find the varieties in liquor stores or bars.

McGuire said that is partly because current P.E.I. liquor laws don't allow brewers to ship anything but kegs directly to bars and restaurants. They have to go through the P.E.I. Liquor Control Commission, and that's something he wants to see change.

"Freeing us up to be able to bring cans direct to bars and restaurants, our customers, our clients, would make that situation a little bit better. It would take some pressure off the store."

In an email to CBC News on Friday, the commission said allowing brewers to direct-ship cans and bottles to restaurants would require a policy change, and it is not considering that move at this time.

PEILCC sales up too

The commission confirms craft beer sales are up so far this fiscal year, as it shared sales figures from the beginning of April to the end of August 2022.

The commission's overall sales in the first five months of this fiscal year are already up 11.4 per cent from 2021.

Total beer sales are up 5.6 per cent, but local beer sales are up a whopping 24 per cent.

When combined with other local products like ciders and seltzers, sales of local ready-to-drink products are up more than 27 per cent.