The Science of Innovation in NB’s Craft Alcohol Sector

  • Laurie
  • 2017-12-13




Gleaner Column

Chapter 13 – The Science of Innovation in NB’s Craft Alcohol Sector

The term ‘Innovation’ often times gets equated to technology-based applications. What doesn’t typically come to mind is the opportunity to employ innovative science to our traditional industries like agriculture, forestry and fisheries or to burgeoning sectors like craft alcohol.

The science behind alcohol production for consumption dates back to 4,000 BC with the Egyptians mastering the art and science of wine-making, and later fermentation-based brewing around 2,000 BC.  In 1668, Jean Talon established the first brewery in Quebec City – that innovatively incorporated both yeast and fermentation.  Since that time, the production of beer and alcohol has become wide, and varied, and the science behind them more and more complex. 

In Canada, craft alcohol has evolved from a basement hobby to a new, highly technical industry impacting multiple sectors from agriculture, manufacturing, transportation and tourism.  Although the craft industry didn’t really emerge in New Brunswick until the 1990’s with  early trailblazers like Sean Dunbar of Picaroons; today, the city of Fredericton alone is home to a growing cluster of craft beer, craft cider, wine and mead producers.

Adam Clawson and Nicola Mason, Co-owners of Red Rover Craft Cider, started out making ciders for themselves, which quickly grew to producing cider for friends.  Due to a lack of craft ciders in New Brunswick at the time, they decided to rectify the market gap, and founded their company in 2012. 

New Brunswick now boasts 32 craft alcohol producers and one of the country’s best research and support institutions, the Biorefinery Technology Scale-Up Centre in Grand Falls. The centre works with both agricultural growers and brewers alike, to support new crop production and harvesting, as well as helping brewers fine tune their processes, technologies, recipes and scale up to meet the ever-growing demand for craft alcohol.

Mike Doucette, Research Chemist at Biorefinery Technology Scale-Up Centre in Grand Falls, explains “Beer is science in a glass…You can change your grain bill, the hop varieties, the yeast strains or species and you can throw other microorganisms into the mix...there is so much to experiment with.”

Although the craft alcohol industry in New Brunswick is considered nascent, the economic impact is already significant. The industry currently generates a direct economic impact of $8.3 million annually, which is projected to grow, with policy and regulation reform, to $42 million in five years and $144.5 million in ten years. 

Meaghan Seagrave, Executive Director of BioNB, suggests “The growth of this sector is a great example of where science plays a role in innovation and economic development.  With 14 research institutes and numerous academic campuses brimming with a multitude of HQPs [highly qualified professionals] like fermentation specialists, biologists and chemists, New Brunswick is well poised for considerable growth in the craft alcohol sector. This also means significant in-direct impact and induced impact across multiple sectors.”

Although the projections are positive, this industry has not been without its challenges and hurdles. In fact, it has been an uphill slog in terms of addressing the current impact of provincial policy, tax and regulations. New Brunswick Liquor (ANBL) retail pricing regulations and liquor licensing regulations restrict competitive pricing. Provincial policy also restricts producers from being able to sell the products of their fellow producers.  It is time for New Brunswick to shift its focus from that of a revenue taxation strategy to an economic development strategy to enable the continued growth of this sector, which employs thousands across multiple sectors including agriculture, research, transportation and tourism.

Next time you are sipping local products - think about the cross-sectoral science and innovation behind our craft alcohol sector in New Brunswick. Better yet - take a tour of our local producers!

  • Red Rover Brewing Co.
  • Picaroons / North Hampton Brewing Company
  • Sunset Heights Meadery
  • Grimross Brewing Corporation
  • Maybee Brewing Company
  • TrailWay Brewing
  • Gray Stone Brewing
  • York Country Cider House
  • Johnny Jacks Brewery
  • Half Cut Brewing Company

Laurie Guthrie, EcD, BIS
Economic Development & Marketing Specialist
Ignite Fredericton | Knowledge Park | Planet Hatch

*Thank you and content credit to: Meaghan Seagrave, Executive Director of BioNB