‘Tis the season to drink.
Last year, a BMO report estimated that the average Canadian spent $85 on alcohol in December; that’s one bottle of spirits, three bottles of wine, and 27 bottles of beers per person. Sales of alcohol spike 40% around the holidays — 65% in Quebec — making it the most popular month for drunken stupors. This increase is not only to the advantage of the jolly consumer looking for a little social lubrication, but also for the 1 in 100 Canadians whose job depends on beer. One of those people is Charles Bierbrier, owner of the Montreal micro-brewery Bierbrier Brewing. Since opening in 2005, his business has expanded significantly. The former one-man show now employs ten people — “lean and mean” as he says — and brews several thousand hectolitres of premium beer a year. With Christmas fast approaching, I spoke to Charles about the status of beer in Canada and his own position as a beer brewer. Here’s the conversation.
First off, are you tired of interviewers always asking you about the significance of your last name?
Never! Bierbrier comes from the German word meaning ‘brewer of beer’ which is what my family did generations ago in Europe. I guess it was destiny.
With the holiday season in full swing, a lot of beer companies are marketing special winter brews. Bierbrier only sells two variations – a pilsner and an ale. Why not broaden the selection?
After years of home brewing, I have many recipes on file but I wanted produce the best possible version of an ale and the best possible version of a pilsner that I could , and according to my taste. I believe in “do something right and do it well,” I don’t need all sorts of beers with spices and herbs, that isn’t what I’d want to drink anyway. I want to brew high quality beer, with the freshest ingredients, using old world craft brewing techniques without the use of additives or preservatives. Our beer is all natural and I’ve personally sourced all the ingredients that go into the recipe to make sure the beer is the best it can be.
How much does your production increase around the holidays?
Production actually doesn’t increase much over the holidays – the real spike is in the summer months. People in winter tend to go home early, plus you don’t sit outside having beers on a terrace. In the summer people tend to sit outside and drink beer after work, etc.
Your great-grandfather owned a store called Canada Liquor Store here in Montreal, which he had to close when the government nationalized the liquor industry in the 1920s. Many of those laws passed nearly a century ago are still in effect today. Do you feel there is too much government intervention in the liquor industry? How has it affected your business?
There are definitely many laws and regulations but we just have to work within the framework. Each province has its own governing body overseeing liquor, as well as requiring federal permits. Most of it has to do with taxation and protecting the individual provinces. That being said, most agencies are very accommodating and helpful to new breweries starting up and I see a trend in laws becoming more open which is good. At the end of the day, I want to brew good beer and get it into the hands of my loyal customers.
In the United States, beer companies are required to include a message on their bottles from the Surgeon General warning against pregnant women drinking and drunk driving. Should Canadian brewers include similar messages on their products?
I don’t think we need to add these messages to beer labels. Consumers are smart enough to understand that beer can be enjoyed socially and in moderation and can be part of a healthy lifestyle.
What do you think differentiates your beer from other brands? Do you think there a trend towards more sophisticated beers in Quebec or do most people still cling to their Bleue and Molson?
People are definitely being turned on to better food, better wine, and especially now better beers. There’s nothing wrong with the macro beers, there’s a place for them. However, I work with many high end restaurants and their chefs want to offer something of higher quality and know where it comes from and where the ingredients come from.
What is the best marketing strategy for a micro-brewery like Bierbrier that might have fewer financial resources, as opposed to mass producers who just plaster their names everywhere they can?
I’ve always simply relied on word of mouth and sponsoring quality events that I believe in like local artists, bands, and charities. People sample the beer, and like it. It also helps that many top restaurants and chefs have really adopted the beer and recommend it to their peers, so I often get calls from new restaurants that are opening up and want our products. My beers aren’t available everywhere, and I guess that makes it desirable too.
Aside from your own product, what’s your favourite beer?
I really do love my beer. I like to sample brews from other breweries when I travel or visit brew pubs. Otherwise if I’m not drinking Bierbrier, I might opt for a good scotch once in a while.
Where do you think beer fits in terms of Canada’s national pride? Is there something particularly Canadian about drinking good beer?
Absolutely. Beer is part of our cultural and economic fabric. Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in Canada and one of our oldest industries. We should be proud of our brewers and the beer we make here. We’re proud to use Canadian barley for our Bierbrier Ale.
Originally published HERE