New Canadian Beer Definition

Of course I’ve reviewed the changes floated earlier this month by the government, which given the long lead-up are likely to be final when the new rules take effect. I had submitted, to my best recollection, comments in an earlier stage of the process. It must be two years ago or more now.

Just as a general or high-level reaction (not granular/legal opinion style) the process seems evolutionary and the changes reasonable.

Most beer made won’t be affected but some will. Beer remains an alcoholic infusion of barley malt or wheat malt,* to which other things can be added, classically hops or extracts made from them and cereal grains (malt adjuncts) but also many other substances.

It is clear once the amendment becomes law that herbs and spices can be used. The present beer standard permits use of any “carbohydrate”, which these are anyway, but clarification is provided.

Adding bacteria to yeast as a permitted fermentation agent takes account of certain styles using lactic acid bacteria, so this is new.

Brews with nuts, among some others, may need an allergens notice. The idea is that existing substances and new ones to be allowed in brewing may cause allergic reactions or contain gluten (dangerous for celeriacs), so the existing exemption of beer from the requirement to state these contents will be removed. (This explains the statement on some beer labels now, “contains barley”).

The new four percent by weight residual sugar limit is an alternative to the present, vague requirement that beer must have the taste, aroma, and character traditionally associated with beer. It may cause a few practical problems, e.g., for some very rich beer styles such as Imperial Stout or Barley Wine.

If there is one area for a re-think that’s it. The new rule applies to glucose, maltose, sucrose, and other basic sugar units, not dextrin for example.

This delphic-seeming requirement is intended to mark off traditional beer from malt-based alcoholic beverages, so-called malternatives, that traditionally are much sweeter in character and not really beer-like. A factor here is, the malt is often used essentially to provide the alcohol with flavours coming from fruit or other sugars added.

The new rules will not become effective until published in Part II of the Canada Gazette, likely next year. Also, the Regulatory Impact Statement issued by the Food and Drug Directorate states viz. a transition period:

There is a proposed transition period that would allow brewers to continue to use the requirements under the current FDR [Food and Drug Regulations] for a period of two years [from adoption of the new law sometime next year] in order to provide sufficient time for stakeholders to make necessary labelling or formulation changes. Regulated parties may follow either the former requirements or the new requirements during the two-year transition period. At the end of the transition period, the new requirements must be applied.

It is largely a regulatory area where the trade lobbies Beer Canada and Ontario Craft Brewers Association, as well as the Canadian Chapter of Master Brewers Association of America’s Technical Committee, will work closely with members to promote compliance.


*An earlier version of this post suggested that wheat malt was a “bolt-on” to the beer standard. However, on checking the current standard in the Food and Drug Regulations, I note it permits barley malt or wheat malt in beer, so a Gratzer/Grodziskie, say (all-wheat malt-based, or it may be) was always legal, and the wheat malt is not new as a potential 100% mash for beer. To my best recollection, an earlier version of the new beer standard required barley malt as a component in beer, that is what I was thinking of.