This article originally appeared in the Winter 2021/2022 print issue of Quench Magazine.
GOOD LORD, WHERE DO YOU EVEN BEGIN IN BREAKING DOWN THE EVENTS OF THE PAST YEAR?
2020, I think it’s safe to say, was a massive disruption for the entire drinks industry. Bars closed, taprooms were converted into an extension of the production space, and the main focus of every week was to just get through it.
2021, by contrast, was the year of adaptation and sustainability through the long haul of a global pandemic. New bylaws surrounding sales were placed and put into practice. In parts of Canada, breweries found their rhythm in their online stores and in dealing with delivery apps now able to offer beer. By the time summer came around there were so many reopenings and lockdowns that the drinks industry became an efficient well-oiled machine, able to snap into action within days to supply beer to pubs or close off and put energy into the online shop. Where last year was all about getting through it, 2021 involved operating and growing within the ever-changing landscape.
It was also the year where, after the public stepped up to help their local breweries by constantly ordering their beer, the breweries worked to become more of a positive change in both their local area and the world through works of charity, collaborations, and lifting up the marginalized.
To be clear this isn’t necessarily anything new. One of the amazing things about craft breweries is that many of them set out to make their spot a community hub and are no strangers to sponsoring charity events or supporting local businesses. But a global pandemic has a way of putting things into perspective and when faced with the option of self-interest in order to stay afloat, many breweries strengthened their resolve to make a grim world better by helping.
Counterpoint Brewing in Kitchener, Ontario, for instance, has been doing well with their Diversity & Inclusion series of beers, which features brews created by local BIPOC culinary experts and artists, seeking to bring attention to the ways diversity augments communities. One of their latest, Outameni jackfruit sour with ginger and lime, was made with Chef Teneile Warren of Nyam with proceeds going to the ACB Network of Waterloo Region.
Other examples are pretty easy to find. Rebellion Brewing Co. in Regina offered free tacos at their taproom for healthcare workers. Vancouver Island Brewing partnered with the Pacific Salmon Foundation for their 2021 “Pod Pack’’ case of four beers, with proceeds going towards helping restore B.C. salmon stream, operate hatcheries, and research. Red Tape Brewery in Toronto developed the Pride Series, beers made in collaboration with seven members of the LGBTQ+ community with proceeds going to ACT Toronto.
Breweries have also been taking more time looking inwards to see what changes they could make within the brewing industry itself. The past two years have seen a few reckonings that made it into the public sphere lately, with discussions on discrimination towards BIPOC, LGBTQ+ people, and women along with fair wage practices being started.
The largest moment, kicked off by Brienne Allan at Notch Brewing in Salem, Massachusetts, saw countless anonymous people within the industry detailing stories of discrimination and abuse. In order to ensure the conversation surrounding these issues kept going, the Brave Noise international collaboration project was created. Kicked off by Allan, any brewery in the world who wishes to participate are given a recipe to brew with proceeds going to a charity or organization of the brewery’s choice that addresses issues that fight gender discrimination, racism, sexual assault, and harassment within the industry.
Although it was an American-based initiative, over 14 Canadian breweries happily participated, including Little Beasts Brewing in Whitby, Ontario; Jackknife Brewing in Kelowna, BC; Troubled Monk in Red Deer, Alberta; and Truro Brewing Co. in Truro, Nova Scotia.
On the business side, more breweries than ever this year have tackled the issues that come with being paid minimum wage by committing to being a certified living wage employer. Ontario in particular saw a rise, as Toronto’s Left Field Brewing announced they would offer a living wage at the start of the year, making them the fourth brewery in the province to do so. They were soon followed by Block Three Brewing, Anderson Craft Ales, Little Beasts Brewing Co., and Napanee Beer Co. in offering their staff fair and liveable wages, and hopefully leading the way to building an industry that allows their staff to prosper instead of just getting by.
Honestly, one has to admire this renewed zeal to improve the outside and inside of the industry.
I’m not going to lie to you folks, the world has looked pretty grim these past couple of years. But one of the things that has been getting us through it all has been sticking together and helping one another out. And through it all, craft breweries have been there to do their bit, all while handing us a much-needed pint.
Photo credit: Red Tape Brewery