07/29/2016 11:37 EDT | Updated 07/29/2016 11:59 EDT

Alberta Announces $20 Million In Grants For Small Beer Brewers

Jeff McIntosh/CP

CALGARY — Alberta's small beer brewers will get up to $20 million a year in grants, helping to offset a looming hike in the markup on all beer sold in the province.

Finance Minister Joe Ceci said Thursday the goal is to level the industry playing field, help grow Alberta's industry and create jobs.

"Alberta's craft brewing industry is an important part of a more diversified, more resilient economy for all Albertans,'' Ceci told reporters at a news conference at a local craft brewer.

"With 37 craft brewers and counting, our government knows that we all benefit with great local products.''

Sliding scale grant

Under the program, brewers who produce less than 30 million litres per year will get money on a sliding scale based on their sales.

Ceci said the most any brewer can make under the plan is $12 million.

The program is beginning immediately and application forms are already available, he said.

The change will come after the markup on beer is raised to $1.25 a litre on Aug. 5 for all beer sold in Alberta, regardless of where it is made.

tool shed brewing company

Beer vats stand at the Tool Shed Brewing Company in Calgary, Alta. (Photo: Jeff McIntosh/CP)

Previously, Alberta brewers paid less on the markup, with a sliding scale starting at as low as 10 cents a litre. Brewers in Saskatchewan and B.C. got the same deal under the free trade New West Partnership Agreement.

Ceci announced the hike on July 12, promising at that time a grant program to assist provincial brewers.

Saskatchewan complained about the change, saying it violates the spirit of the New West Partnership free trade deal. It has threatened to impose retaliatory measures.

However, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has said the brewery rules are already rife with exemptions and unfair provisions, adding she will do whatever is necessary to grow the industry in Alberta.

Alberta's open beer market

Alberta has the most open beer market in Canada, with sellers simply having to fill out a form to sell. Access to shelves in other provinces is controlled by liquor boards.

Terry Rock, head of the Alberta Small Brewers Association, said changes remove impediments to industry growth.

"We think with today's announcement we're going to catch up and we're going to accelerate,'' said Rock.

Rock said a craft beer operation creates seven to 10 times more jobs compared with a macro-beer producer.

"We think with today's announcement we're going to catch up and we're going to accelerate."

The Opposition Wildrose party said the NDP has the right idea to grow the industry but is taking the wrong approach.

"Wildrose believes in a free and open market, and the fact that Albertans know a good product when they see it,'' said Wildrose Leader Brian Jean.

"I have full confidence that the great Albertan small and medium-sized breweries can continue to compete with other beers from across the country without the government having to pick winners and losers.''

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Alberta Budget 2016