Serenaded by Swedish indie-folk music, a local farmer carts a heavy load of wheat past gleaming silver tanks.
To his immediate right, a man in a knit sweater runs the counter for a tiny shop, hocking cans and growlers of beer, teas, t-shirts and glassware. Extending behind them both is a large space with lofty ceilings, boasting beautifully simple, brand new furnishings. The bar adorns the centre of the space, reaching back into the open kitchen.
All along, their motto bears down on the approaching consumer: “Blood, sweat, and beers.”
This is the new brewpub at the Tannery. It’s the newest iteration of the popular Waterloo brand: Abe Erb Brewing Company.
The man in the knit sweater is founding manager Tony Theodosiou, and the farmer is one of several local partners. They share a relationship committed to creating a local, communal experience — the very heart of the craft beer movement.
In committing to local relationships like this, Abe Erb embodies the ideals of a burgeoning movement. Local brewing forms exciting, adaptive communities, creating jobs that are inherently passionate about community and partnership.
Of almost equal importance, it creates exceptional, unique, delicious beers.
This new location is part of realizing the future of the brand; with the extra space, Abe Erb is able to brew their flagship beers in Kitchener, freeing up space in the Waterloo pub for more experimentation.
And the future looks bright: they’ve just released 1857, a light, malty, Kölsch-style lagered ale, onto LCBO shelves — their first expansion to third party sellers. The plan is to continue in this direction with their Hefeweizen, Das Spritzhaus, scheduled to hit LCBO stores in the spring.
Inside such a competitive market, it can be hard to break into a larger presence across the province. But with 1857 not only taking up half of their brewing space, but actually selling out, it makes sense that they’re already looking toward the future, having procured a space on Colby Drive exclusively for manufacturing.
Along with Abe Erb, several other local brewers have continued to expand their reach. Block Three, Descendants and Innocente are just a few of the proliferating contemporaries that have blossomed over the past few years. This kind of incredible, exponential influx of brewers in the market has some seeing craft beer as a bubble that’s bound to pop sometime in the near future, but Abe Erb has another perspective.
“[The bubble] is only going to burst if the market doesn’t expand,” said Ian Pattenden, brewmaster.
Statistically, beer drinkers have been buying less beer — but they’re buying more varieties and they’re focused on keeping their beer money localized.
In 2015, 6 per cent of beer sold in Ontario came from craft brewers. Realistically, this leaves a great deal of room to grow, as evidenced in similar, advanced markets in the U.S (12 per cent of total market in 2015), France and Switzerland.
The core purpose and concept of beer is fundamentally changing, evolving from compulsively drinkable macros to experimental, artistic micros with heart and variety.
Continuing at the 20-30 per cent current annual market growth is unsustainable in perpetuity — but we haven’t yet reached peak microbrew.
Perhaps craft beer is so important because in this heavily divided, digitized world, there aren’t many strongholds of physical community remaining — the average consumer shops online, distancing themselves more and more from their locality into a brand-powered, watered down version of the real world.
Abe Erb, and by extension, the entire craft beer movement, are about relocalizing our interests and creating something that is more than just a product and reflects the heart and the history of a community.
In an odd, liquor-drenched kind of way, craft beer is making us human again.