The Notley government announced in Thursday’s budget a plan to grow the province’s craft distillery business. While details were not provided, Finance Minister Joe Ceci said it will be modelled on the Alberta Small Brewers Development Program introduced last July.
“The Alberta small brewery grant program is creating jobs and driving new investment,” Ceci said in his budget address. “This year, we are going to build on the success of our craft brewing program and work to model a similar program for Alberta’s craft distillers.”
The news was applauded by producers of locally made vodka, gin, rum and whiskey. Up until 2013, minimum production requirements in Alberta meant the province had virtually no craft distilling industry to speak of. However, the removal of those minimum requirements has prompted the launch in recent years of approximately a dozen new businesses.
Susan Ransom, who opened Krang Spirits in Cochrane in November and sits on the executive of the Alberta Craft Distillers Association, said opening a distillery is significantly more expensive than opening a brewery because of the equipment required. She said distillers in the province have been lobbying for several years now for a grant or rebate program that would help more fledgling operators get off the ground.
“I’m really excited,” Ransom said of Thursday’s announcement. “I can tell you right now that without this grant program, you would never get many more than 12 to 15 (craft distillers) in the province. Certain distillers in the province have sold virtually everything they own in order to get open.”
The province’s grant program for craft brewers, through which the government will award up to $20 million in grants annually to small producers of Alberta-made beer, was hailed by Ceci on Thursday as a significant success story that has helped grow the province’s craft beer industry from just 14 breweries in 2015 to upwards of 70.
“It’s the most open system of liquor marketing anywhere and it’s been successful, and the small brewers grant program is part of that success,” Ceci said. “And we’re going to keep being successful now with the distillers program.”