Beer giants squeeze out local brewer

Matt Gardner
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Prince Albert’s only local beermaker has been unable to sell its product in city arenas dominated by better-funded corporate brewers.

Staff from the Rogue’s on 6th pub display some of the locally-brewed beer produced on-site. The Prince Albert Brewing Company has been unable to get its beer sold in local venues where industry titans like Molson dominate. Left to right: owner Dan Dobratz, server Chelsea Viney and brewmaster Harvey Dennis.

The Prince Albert Brewing Company (PABCo) is the sole micro-brewer in town, producing a variety of beers sold at the Rogue’s on 6th pub and elsewhere. But residents won’t find PABCo beer at large venues such as the Rawlinson Centre, which prefer to sell beer from large conglomerates such as Molson Coors and Labatt.

One of the reasons for the discrepancy is the larger funds that industry giants can draw upon. The city-owned Prince Albert Raiders, for example, have a $30,000 exclusive contract with Molson.

“This is not a sour grapes thing,” PABCo and Rogue’s owner Dan Dobratz said. “It’s just a little bit on the frustrating side on our side, that we have this wonderful product, and … there’s a resistance there to even try it.

“The Art Hauser Centre, I talked to them over a year ago and there’s just no way we can ever compete, giving them $30,000 to put our beer in there, because we would never make $30,000 in a year even. But how does Molson do it? Is it just the exposure? … It’s just crazy. It’s like David and Goliath.”

When the Raiders’ contract with Molson came up for renewal last season, team representatives met with various companies including PABCo, Labatt and Great Western, but ultimately decided to stick with Molson.

“We have a longstanding agreement with Molson Coors Canada, and they’re very much into the sports marketing and support the community-owned team very well,” Raiders business manager Bruce Vance said. “We’ve certainly sat down with P.A. Brewing Company and chatted with them, and the logistics of trying to get his product in here was a challenge on his end and would have been a challenge on our end.

“That being said, we … have a real good relationship with Molson Coors Canada, and it was just a decision that we made on the business side to continue with somebody that’s been here for a long time. We did try to get PABCo in here, but the numbers just didn’t work out on either end.”

While the Raiders have signed an exclusive contract, guaranteeing that Molson will be the only beer sold at the Art Hauser Centre, other venues have no official agreements but benefit from largesse provided by the larger beer companies.

It’s like David and Goliath. Dan Dobratz

E.A. Rawlinson Centre general manager Darren McCaffery said his venue received a great deal of assistance from Molson in terms of providing cooling equipment, helping get the bar started at the beginning and various donations.

“We’re really happy with (Molson Coors) and we’ve stuck with them,” McCaffery said. “It’s not necessarily anything deliberate, it’s more (that) it’s worked out for us … (We’re) certainly open to ideas, and I’d bring it forward to the arts board … I think it would be maybe a good idea to explore some other (options), especially if it’s a hometown company.”

In the meantime, PABCo will continue to experience business as usual, which is actually going quite well. The company is currently en route to producing 48,000 litres of beer for 2012, including brands such as Grey Owl Pale Ale and flavours such as raspberry, blackberry, chocolate and tangerine.

“For our first full year of operation, we’re at about 80 per cent capacity,” Dobratz said. “But we want to expand.”

PABCo currently employs 28 people in its brewery. Dobratz estimated that the company has spent $60,000 advertising in print and on radio, and while the company’s beer has sold well in the community, local arenas represent the final frontier for sales within the city limits.

“The product is a well-received product,” Dobratz said. “Our product outsells all the other draught combined (at Rogue’s). Our product outsells our bottled beer. So it’s been well-received. P.A. has received it well.

“It’s just these venues where Molson has got their fingers … The big boys have got their fingers in there. It’s pretty hard to pry them (out and) get people to change their mindset a bit.”

Organizations: PABCo, Molson Coors Canada, Prince Albert Raiders Rawlinson Centre Labatt Art Hauser Centre Prince Albert Brewing Company P.A. Brewing Company

Geographic location: Great Western

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Recent comments

  • Brenda Johnson
    November 08, 2012 - 23:18

    Would LOVE to try some in Saskatoon!