Saturday, 12 March 2016 05:40

Swift Current entrepreneur president of new assoc.

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Swift Current's Kari Stenson is the new president of the Saskatchewan micro brewery association. Swift Current's Kari Stenson is the new president of the Saskatchewan micro brewery association. Contributed

If Kari Stenson wasn’t busy enough with she and her husband Clayton’s upstart Black Bridge Brewery in Swift Current and all of the success it has garnered following its first full year of operation, she has now earned even more prestige.


The pair were recognized on a national level with brewmaster Clayton finding the right touch winning a bronze medal at the Canadian Brewing Awards for 2015 in the early summer.
The Stensons followed that up with winning a prestigious Swift Current Chamber of Commerce SCBEX Award as the Start-Up/New Business of the Year for 2015.
Black Bridge Brewery is now part of a new group called the Saskatchewan Craft Brewers Association Inc.
The organization was formally introduced Feb. 24, but work has been done the past half a year to organize it.
Kari was in at the organizing level when the group first started to meet in September of 2015. She is a director, but also the newly-appointed president.
“I was asked to join up at the beginning phase. There were only a handful of us from the industry that put in time to make the association happen,” explains Stenson.
“The driving force of the association is a united voice when approaching the government for changes to regulations. We also want to be a place for inquiries into the industry in Sask. whether it’s a start-up business or an established company looking to expand, etc. As an association, we are able to put forth our businesses as serious beer makers, not only within Saskatchewan, but Canada as well.”
The association has another southwest Saskatchewan connection as Shawn Moen and his business partner Garrett Pederson, natives of Cabri and Abbey respectively, are also part of the organization.
The two operate 9 Mile Legacy Brewing Company in Saskatoon. Moen is officially a director and secretary with the association.
Moen designed the corporate framework and was responsible for leading the working group that created the association.
He explains the association is focused on small craft breweries with voting members being craft breweries that are owned and operated in Saskatchewan and produce less than 20,000 hectalitres per year.
The initial membership is 10 Saskatchewan craft breweries, which is significant for Moen.
If a person doesn’t fit the criteria of a voting member, but nevertheless wants to support the organization, there is ability to participate as a non-voting associate member.    
“We needed to form a group like this to unify our voices from a regulatory engagement perspective. There are several regulations in Saskatchewan that affect small craft brewers uniquely,” explains Moen. “The advantage of forming a group like this is that, instead of having several voices and opinions on regulatory issues (which might not always be consistent), we can have the debate internally and identify the central issues that affect the general industry. The goal, through that process, is to have more professional, effective and organized engagement with our government partners and provoke smarter regulation.
“My background is as a commercial lawyer and, so, when I joined the industry and started 9 Mile Legacy Brewing, it was a natural role for me to work at designing the organizational framework and engage our various craft brewers. The process involved inviting every single microbrewery and brewpub in Saskatchewan, actively involving those that wanted to participate in the organization process and designing a corporate structure that met the general needs of the provincial craft beer industry. After months of work, our association formally existed at the start of this year.”
Moen explains an association of this nature exists in many other jurisdictions where craft beer is much more established such as British Columbia and Ontario for example. When an industry reaches a critical mass of craft breweries, an association such as this is, in his view, critical to take the next step forward as an industry. 
In Saskatchewan, local craft beer represents a small proportion of overall beer sales (estimated at three per cent). When compared with other jurisdictions such as British Columbia (estimated at 20 per cent) or Canada generally (estimated at  seven per cent), the craft industry is significantly underdeveloped.
As a result, their regulatory regime is at a less mature stage. There is opportunity to grow the presence of well-made Saskatchewan craft beer, but the Cabri native says it will take a collective effort.
The association will be focused on both advocacy/lobbying as well as promoting the industry as a whole and therefore in turn, the individual brewers.
Moen acknowledges with a fledgling association, energy and resources must be used effectively. 
“Our initial efforts will be focused on engaging with government and provoking a smarter approach to regulating the craft brewing industry,” explains Moen. “Even before you start discussing the regulatory regimes in individual provinces, the Saskatchewan beer industry is very challenging. Operating in the middle of the country results in higher shipping costs for capital equipment and ingredients. Due to the lack of craft breweries in Saskatchewan over the last several decades (until recently only Paddock Wood Brewing in Saskatoon and Bushwakker Brewpub in Regina) consumer preferences and understanding of ‘beer’ need to be developed.
“We also simply have less people in Saskatchewan and a smaller consumer base. Amidst those challenges are disincentives to growth and outdated regulations. Saskatchewan is an outlier in Western Canada on a number of regulatory fronts. As just one example, the production threshold in Saskatchewan for microbreweries (after which you pay tax at a much higher rate and lose a number of license-related privileges) is up to one quarter of the production threshold in other provinces.
By example, the Saskatchewan threshold is 5,000 hL whereas B.C. is 15,000 hL and Alberta is 20,000 hL. That difference is just not in keeping with our vision of a progressive and growing Saskatchewan economy. We should be encouraging growth or, at minimum, not maintaining outdated regulatory barriers to growth.”
In time, Moen expects association initiatives focusing on general industry promotion, education of consumers of the value in supporting the local craft brewer and support for members and new breweries from a technical and quality assurance perspective.
“Our association is committed to developing a positive relationship with our government partners,” says Moen. “That approach does not depend on who wins the provincial election. The lens that we view our relationship with our municipal, provincial and federal regulatory bodies is one of respectful dialogue, collaboration and hard work. We accept that our industry is one that should be regulated, but that regulation needs to be smart. We can help identify what is working and what is not.”
Organization or not, life is good for Stenson. Black Bridge Brewery is rolling along.
"Business has been steady, we have our new beer Double IPA canned as a seasonal beer (with)  limited availability. We are also planning a few more packaged beers for the rest of 2016,” explains Stenson. “We are anticipating steady growth for 2016. Our beer is being distributed more widely across Alberta and Manitoba starting this spring.”
Moen has a similar story. He says the fact people have been excited about their micro-brew is encouraging. The growth within Saskatchewan’s borders in the industry has been encouraging. It helps small business and agriculture  which is why craft brewers are currently so popular.
“It’s really simple, Saskatchewan people like drinking great, fresh beer,” explains Moen. “When we started planning 9 Mile Legacy a few years ago we came at it with the simple proposition. Saskatchewan people are no different than people elsewhere, they just may not have tried all of the wonderful variations of what ‘beer’ can be. When a person tries well-made craft beer, they are hooked. They are focused on experiencing different tastes and styles. Variety is ultimately what makes an industry like this thrive and, once you get a few local craft breweries making great beer, it opens the door for more. Some meaningful regulatory changes helped spur on our recent growth but we still have work to do.
“Saskatchewan people also value hardworking, community-minded businesses. Our members support a number of local causes, employ your neighbours and contribute (significantly) to the tax coffers of this province. An established and thriving craft brewing industry benefits us all. Saskatchewan people understand all of that ... We are repeatedly reminded of our competition for market share.The beer industry is a tough one, but we have a common interest in this association. We all want to see the general craft beer industry grow. Our hope is that, at least for the purposes of the association, we can set differences aside and work for a common good. It has worked in other places. It can work in Saskatchewan.”

Read 2389 times Last modified on Monday, 14 March 2016 11:18
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