With federal relief business loans due in full in January, craft breweries on Vancouver Island face an uncertain future.
The organization that supports brewers in B.C. says the province’s breweries will be thinner in ranks a year from now.
“The conservative number, and I can’t believe I’m going to say this, is 10 per cent. I think maybe 15 would be on the upper reach,” says Ken Beattie, executive director of the BC Craft Brewers Guild.
Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loans are due Jan. 18. From that $60,000, one-third is forgiven if the loan is paid in full by the deadline.
Category 12 Brewing in Central Saanich is one of those businesses facing that federal deadline. “Forty thousand. That takes the wind out of a cash account pretty fast,” says owner Michael Kuzyk.
Five years ago, Kuzyk added a kitchen to offer food along with beer tastings, and he says diversifying has helped strengthen a foothold in a community flush with craft beer options.
Moon Under Water Brewpub and Distillery has been producing its product on Bay Street in Victoria for 12 years.
“When we started, we were the 50th brewery in the province. Now there are 240,” says owner Clay Potter. “We all got out of COVID hoping to recover and see a big boom. A lot of breweries went into debt to stay afloat and keep their staff. We got out, and the economy and the market just hasn’t kicked back yet.”
Potter says there’s a shift in consumer habits.
“Young drinkers just aren’t drinking beer,” he says. “Boomers loved beer, but in many cases, that generation has been told by their doctors to cut back.”
In response, Moon Under Water has gone big on non-alcoholic beer. The Dry Side of the Moon is their most popular “near-beer,” and Potter’s walk-in cooler is stocked to the ceiling with flats of their popular product.
“Non-alcoholic beer sales are up 2000% from a couple of years ago,” he says.
All breweries can control right now is their product and the hyper-local approach that’s helped them get established. The industry as a whole would like to see a lengthy extension on their tab with the federal government.
“That would give them some breathing room,” says Beattie.