They’re meant to keep impaired drivers off the roads. But, new drunk driving laws introduced in Saskatchewan earlier this year have sparked change in the province’s beer market.

Lower sales

The new laws were introduced on Jan. 1 and brew pubs are already feeling the effects.

“We’re finding about half of our customers are very aware of this new law and are drinking less,” said Grant Frew, bar manager at the Bushwakker Brewing Company in Regina. “When people are coming in for dinner, they’re having their pint like they normally would. But, rather than having two, they’re thinking twice about it.”

It’s an ordering trend that’s spreading to other breweries in Saskatchewan.

“The onsite purchases of pints (are) definitely going down kind of across the province,” said Mark Heise, vice president and brewmaster with the Rebellion Brewing Company.

Taste trends

Jason Childs, an associate professor of economics at the University of Regina, teaches a class on the economics of beer. He says tastes in craft beer come in waves.

“The tendency towards what some German fans will call ‘big beers’ was a wave, it was a fad, it was a style. Just like the overly-hoppy, the double and the triple IPAs,” Childs said. ‘We’ll go that direction for a while, and then people will get bored with it and then we’ll move on to something else.”

Now, the craft beer market is trending towards a lighter brew.

“I think there are two things in play here,” Childs added. “One is the tendency toward a lower-alcohol content to avoid the issue around drunk driving and DUI. And also just in concurrence with the pattern.”

Bushwakker and Rebellion are already working on adding lighter beers to their menu.

“We’re going to produce a lighter IPA, which is a very malty, complex, hop-forward beer,” Frew said. “IPA is the signature beer of the entire craft beer movement, so we’re going to create a lighter version of that.”

Bushwakker’s current IPA, Chico, contains 6.8 per cent alcohol. The new session IPA, expected to be released later this month, will be 4.6 per cent alcohol.

“A lot of our customers tell us they enjoy a very full-flavoured beer,” Frew said. “But if the alcohol is too high, they just can’t enjoy as much of it as they would like.”

Rebellion Brewing currently offers several beers in the 4 to 5 per cent alcohol range, and recently released a 3.5 per cent radler.

“We’ve been putting more and more lighter products out there,” Heise said. “I just think we’ll continue to see that trend.”

Brewing challenges

Producing a full-flavoured light beer comes with its challenges. Brewmasters say less alcohol means less room for error.

“There’s not as much malt to cover up the alcohol taste and you’re left with the rest of the ingredients to cover it up,” said Michael Gaetz, head brewer with Bushwakker. “If there are any errors or any off flavours in your fermentation, they get picked up on easier.”

The lighter beers are made with fewer ingredients.

“When you’re making a big, strong, heavy beer, you can just kind of throw a bunch of stuff in and it’s going to taste pretty good,” Heise said. “But, you’ve got to be really careful with the delicate balance with the lighter alcohol.”

Craft brewing future

With Saskatchewan breweries working to bottle up the best flavor, there’s competition brewing amongst the brew pubs.

“It does become a bit of a competition to say who can make the best light beer,” Heise said. “It’s going to be really fun.”

With all that competition, there are sure to be more flavourful light brews on tap across the province.

“That’s the challenge for the brewers,” Frew said. “The really good brewers are going to be able to do it. I actually think it’s going to be a very exciting time for the brewing industry in Saskatchewan.”