Friday, September 28, 2012

Behold the Wine Snob

A few months back I met with someone from the wine camp and over a few beers we had an excellent discussion about issues common to both the BC wine and craft beer industries, successes the wine lobby have realized as a result of advocating and how the craft beer consumers could better organize to help them realize similar successes.

During this discussion it was pointed out to me the craft beer consumer advocates and the craft beer industry as a whole have a major problem that has nothing to do with the quality of beers being brewed or the lack of organization of the industry and this problem is one that is playing a major role in the lack of support given to craft beer by the government and the hospitality industry.

"You (craft beer consumers/industry) have an image problem," I was told.

This was not news to me, and should not be for the majority involved with the craft beer scene here in BC. It is a reality and a hangover from the Dark Ages of Beer when with a few exceptions, from Coast-to-Coast in Canada, the majority of beers available were basically generic, mass-produced lagers meant to be swilled for the effect, not the taste.

During this Dark Age, beer had no place in the finer restaurants about town, did nothing to enhance or compliment food and was considered a beverage almost exclusively downed by down-and-outs and by middle-class, working men, but thankfully, due to the explosion of the BC craft beer scene and the amazing beers being brewed locally, those days are long gone.

Or are they?

A few weeks back my family and I walked into one of our favourite Commercial Drive eateries and I noticed what looked to be a fairly casual wine tasting in progress. I went over to introduce myself  hoping to score a sample or two of primo vino and strike up a conversation with others who have a passion for good alcohol and food. Quickly the conversation shifted to the recent Bring Your Own Wine legislation and I mentioned my desire, as a consumer advocate of local craft beer, that the laws be further changed to include beer.

That's when I came face-to-face with the reality of the "image problem" facing beer drinkers, whether they be craft beer aficionados or not.

I was told, in no uncertain terms, by one of the people at the tasting, that no restaurant owners would be interested in beer being included in BYOB legislation. This fellow, who told me several times he was the owner of five restaurants, therefore knew what he was talking about, went even further and asked who, in general, would be interested in such a ridiculous idea?

He dismissed the fact that craft beer consumers would be very interested in this concept. He scoffed at the idea that a beer of any style or quality could compliment, never mind elevate, food if paired properly and told me he had no interest in enticing the craft beer crowds to his restaurants because beer drinkers "only order yam fries".

Wow, behold the wine snob.

He wanted to hear nothing about the fact he was actually sitting in a restaurant that supported including beer in BYOB legislation. He pooh-poohed  that, like with wine, people cellar and age certain beers. He simply ignored when I pointed out that there were a multitude of fine dining, beer-pairing dinner events that sell out on a regular basis around the city or that craft beer lovers are often also equally into their fine wines, single malt scotches and gourmet food.

Quite simply, he could not fathom that those who enjoy good craft beer come from diverse backgrounds and have varied tastes and interests just like those who enjoy wine.

He offered no solid arguments other than the ideas that wine is more refined than beer, wine drinkers more sophisticated than those who prefer a fine ale, lambic or stout and that selling craft beer was not profitable.

It was quite obvious to me Mr Wine Snob was actually quite ignorant of what great beers were all about especially when he ordered a macro-lager to enjoy with his food instead of the craft beer option that paired very well with the style of food being served.

Luckily my wife was there to drag me out of the conversation as the condescending and patronizing tone of Mr Wine Snob triggered my inner-Surrey.

There will always be restaurants and bars that cater to wine-lovers, just as there are now places like the Alibi Room, St Augustine's and Biercraft who cater to the craft beer crowd, and places that serve only mainstream lagers and European import "premium" beers and that is fine. There are also fine-dining establishments like  Vij's and Chambar, who have great wine menus, that offer great beer with their food...for a reason.

Because they understand flavours and taste without prejudice. And they give consumers choices.

But Mr Wine Snob is not alone. This is part of the response I received from Rich Coleman, minister in charge of all things alcohol in BC when I wrote him about Bring Your Own Beer to restaurants.

"While we appreciate the evolving nature and uniqueness of craft beer, it is not in the same category as wine."

Behold the wine snob.

More on Mr Coleman at a later date...

As a side note, I don't have time for the beer snob either. .If someone gets pleasure from sipping a sleeve of Molson 67, good for them. You won't find it in my glass and what is in your glass does not impact my drinking experience. I do not assume that those who drink these types of beer are inferior to me, or have no clue about good food because this quite simply is not true.

And if you want to know, Mr Wine Snob, otherwise known as Chris Stewart, is co-owner of the very successful restaurants La buca, Pied-a-Terre, Cafeteria, Commissary and The Sardine Can here in Vancouver. I introduced myself as the president of CAMRA Vancouver and presented my card on the table, therefore he should have known I was on the side of the craft beer consumer, yet he felt it necessary to insult beer drinkers and make it clear to me they were not good for his restaurants. And after he did so, he gave me his card, without his name but listing his establishments, at which time he once again warned me that they were fine-dining, wine-oriented restaurants - places yam fry eating beer lovers like myself may find lacking even though I had told him several times I  had a great love for wine after living in South France for close to three years.

I am not telling you to boycott or avoid his restaurants, as I have said, I have heard they are excellent but if you want a great plate of yam fries or a good beer, please take the above into consideration.


  1. Perhaps that helps to explain Cafeteria's recent closing...

  2. I did not know it had closed. When did that happen?

  3. I don't think craft beer has an image problem. If it did, the industry wouldn't have seen a doubling of sales in the last five years. Rather, it's a question of knowledge.

    The majority of people are ignorant about beer. That includes people who drink beer every day and people who serve it for a living. With some guidance, many can be liberated from the grip of the stereotypes associated with industrial lager. I find women to be the easiest to convert to craft beer.

    However, you will always come across people who are not open-minded and will even go so far as to dismiss inconvenient truths. These kind of people are not worth your time. Craft beer is not a fad. We have seen a beer renaissance in North America that is turning into a global phenomenon. I say, leave the wine snobs to their gated community. I find the air there a tad stuffy.