Those who are the shakers and movers in the local craft beer scene have much to be proud of with the major gains that have been made over the past few years in regards to educating the general public about craft beer and expanding the craft beer community to include a wider cross-section of British Columbians, but one has to only look to the Georgia Straight's 2011 Golden Plate Reader's Choices Awards to see how much work there is still to be done. The knowledgeable Vancouver craft beer community is still very small in comparison to those who prefer mass-produced macrobrews, churned out by the larger breweries and I think those of us who consider themselves members of the local craft beer community sometimes forget just how small a minority they are among Vancouver and British Columbian beer drinkers because they are constantly surrounded and supported by like-minded people. At CAMRA meetings and events we are preaching to the converted and when close to 100% of the room shares your beliefs and feelings it is easy to lose track of the fact that the rest of the big, old world out there does not share the same.
I am one of those people who sometimes forget just how small a market share craft beers actually have here in BC. The last statistics released by the BC Liquor Distribution Branch (BCLDB), in their December 2010 Quarterly Report, show that beer sales from breweries producing under 150,000 hectalitres is on the rise, increasing by 7.65% for draft and by a whopping 40.12% for packaged products while the bigger breweries, producing more than 150,000 hl saw sales shrink by 7.71% for draft and 8.6% for packaged products. You would think that with those numbers that the smaller, craft beer breweries would be gobbling up a large portion of the BC beer sales market share but they don't, still only selling approximately 13% of beers sold here in the province.
What do all these numbers have to do with the Georgia Straight's annual readership awards you ask? For me, it hammers home just how much more work there is to be done in educating the beer-drinking public about what constitutes a quality, craft beer, how beers should be served and well, quite frankly, everything there is to do with drinking good beer. I sometimes think we in the craft beer community are too busy patting each other on the back to notice that for every craft beer sold, there is still almost a six-pack of mainstream beers being rung up at BC cash registers. Yes, we get it and we are enjoying the fruits of our epiphanies with every sip of craft beer, but we will not see the realization of our dreams of being able to purchase and drink craft beer, served in the manner that we want it, on an equal footing with those larger, macrobreweries who put $$$ signs ahead of quality and taste, until we start to effect real change into how the general public perceives craft beer and microbreweries.
It just takes one look at the Georgia Straight awards to see where the general public locally is with beer. Alexander Keith's was voted the best beer brewed outside of British Columbia! Alexander Keith's is not even the best beer brewed in Nova Scotia. And how the Hell does Kokanee tie for first place for the best BC beer brewed outside of Vancouver? It was tied for first with Phillips Brewery's Blue Buck Ale, but, with all due respect to Phillips, Blue Buck does not have any business being on top of any list to do with the best BC beer brewed outside of Vancouver. When I last checked a map, Surrey (Central City Brewing), Sorrento (Crannog), Squamish (Howe Sound Brewery) where all located outside of the city limits of Vancouver yet none of their award-winning beers made the top three. Driftwood Brewery, which is located in Victoria along with Phillips, also did not make the grade with their great beer line-up. Best BC brewery located outside of Vancouver...Okanagan Springs! Yes, Phillips and Driftwood were voted second and third but where is Central City, voted Brewery of the Year in 2010's at the Canadian Brewing Awards. There are several other peculiar, odd and downright ridiculous winners in this ballot, but I will let your peruse the list for yourself.
I know, I know, these reader's choices-type awards are all dependent of the audience of the publication, who votes, block voting, etc, but the Georgia Straight should be a good sounding board for what the general public thinks and believes here in Vancouver. From what I see, by the choice made by the Straight's readers, CAMRA BC, CAMRA Vancouver and the rest of us campaigning on behalf craft beer consumers have much work to do which is a perfect segue into the announcement of CAMRA Vancouver's next Policy and Advocacy Meeting, scheduled to take place April 5, 2011 at the Railway Club. Meeting starts at 1800 hours sharp. If you want to be apart of the growing craft beer movement here in this city and help effect change, show up, get involved. If you are not a member of CAMRA, join up and help the numbers grow. If you are a member of CAMRA recruit your beer drinking friends. I know I say it over and over again, but getting more involved and pulling in the same direction will provide strength to the craft beer movement. Even a simple act of getting all CAMRA BC members to vote in next year's Georgia Straight Reader's Choice Awards may help to shed more light on and expose more people to the great craft beers that are being produced out there in this great land of ours.