Randy Salamon estimates his Canadian Homebrew Supplies store in Brampton on Wilkinson Road has seen a 30 per cent growth in sales every month in the last two years.
Salamon said there is a widespread increased interest in craft beers and homebrewing. “People enjoy trying new beers and are tired of the Big Three,” he said, referring to Molson, Sleeman and Labatt.
The owner and president of Oakville’s Cameron Brewery, Bill Coleman, agreed. The former head of marketing at Molson said customers like the idea of supporting small, local businesses. “If you look at Molson, Sleeman and Labatt, they’re all successful Canadian companies, but they’re now all foreign-owned,” he said.
The lack of chemicals and additives in many craft beers is also a big draw. “You can drink half a dozen and not have a hangover,” Salamon said.
The former automotive technician said he’s had customers travel from as far as Germany, Australia and even Africa to come pick up supplies from his retail store. “I think it’s our selection,” he said simply. “We work hard for it to be a one-stop shop.”
In his nine years of operation, Salamon’s inventory has grown from a few hundred items to more than 4,000 products. His most expensive item is currently a Speidel 500-litre kettle that sells for $37,000.
And while 10 per cent of his business is helping bars set up their own craft brewery operations, Salamon said that an individual can also do homebrewing in a space as small as a one-bedroom apartment.
Both Salamon and Coleman have seen the popularity and appreciation of microbrews affect their customers and their business. “One customer told me she served craft beers instead of wine at her holiday dinner,” Coleman said. “And there are some young drinkers, who are 19 or in their 20s, who have never drank a domestic, mainstream beer.”
Demand for Cameron’s limited-release cask products was so high this past holiday season that hundreds of people pre-paid for a waitlist spot, Coleman said.
One of the biggest challenges craft brewers face, Coleman said, is competing with foreign beer brands for prime shelf space in the LCBO and dealing with the foreign-owned Beer Store. “To get that eye-level spot in the fridge instead of another beer, it’s frustrating,” he said. “With craft beer, people have to spend the time to find it or get it.”
Despite that, Coleman estimates that his beers are now in more than 250 bars across Ontario, up from 100 two years ago. The company has also launched more seasonal products only available in specialty Toronto bars like C’est What or Bar Volo.
The Oakville brewery is currently a private company that employs less than 50 people, including retail staff, sales representatives and brewmasters. The family business recently celebrated its 15th anniversary.
Salamon’s Canadian Homebrew Supplies currently employs three people in a 4,000 square foot space.