Monday, January 14, 2013

A Look Forward to 2013

Now that 2012 is in the rear view mirror it is time to start looking forward to see what is in store for 2013 for the BC craft beer consumer. The past few years has seen the BC craft beer scene explode but I believe that what has transpired has just been the warm-up for the main event which will totally change the craft beer landscape here in BC over the next few years.

Okay, I will now put on my funny wizard hat, look into my crystal ball and channel my inner Amazing Kreskin to see what is in store for 2013 for BC craft beer consumers with a special focus on the Vancouver area as that is where I am based...

Changes to Laws in the Works
As I announced a few weeks back, it looks like the tied house and trade practice laws are going to be erased from the books and according to the intel I am getting, these changes are happening ASAP. How these changes, if they do indeed occur, impact the craft beer consumer is a point of heavy debate among those involved in the craft beer industry.

Tied Houses: In one camp there are those who believe allowing alcohol producers (i.e. breweries, wineries and distilleries) to also own distribution points (i.e liquor stores, pubs, clubs, restaurants) will allow for deep pocketed producers to buy up distribution and sell only their own product limiting the smaller, less financially able manufacturer from being able to get their products to their adoring public. In the other camp, some believe that by eliminating the tied house laws, consumers will have greater choices, especially in smaller markets, as manufacturers will then have the opportunity to create their own places to sell their wares and licensees will have the opportunity to get into the manufacturing game, producing unique alcoholic treats for their establishments.
Trade Practices: Again, there is one camp that believes that giving deep pocketed alcohol manufacturers the chance to basically buy shelf and tap space or allowing licensees to sell tap and/or shelf space to the highest bidder will cut down on consumer choice as money will dictate selection, not consumer desire-demand. Some also say this practice will drive up prices as manufacturers are forced to pay licensees for the right to sell their products. Others believe that changing these types of laws will have no impact because bribery is alive and well and a common practice here in BC.

To be perfectly honest, these laws (both tied house and trade practice but more so the latter) are being ignored and regularly circumvented in the BC beer industry so it is hard to say if making these common practices legit will really impact things. I think here in the big city, where craft beer has a strong hold, we will not see much change, but deregulating may stop to craft beer craze from growing as quickly in the smaller markets.

Another change to the liquor laws I think we are likely to see sooner than later is one that will allow breweries and distilleries to have licensed lounges and special events areas similar to those that wineries have been allowed for years.You can read about the proposed changes here. These changes are being highly anticipated by many and should allow for a lot more opportunity for craft breweries to market themselves and offer their beers right on-site. It will also allow for smaller, nano-style breweries to operate both in the bigger urban centres and smaller communities without having to worry about packaging or getting their beer to vendors. It might be time to start looking for growler companies to invest in as I think the current growler market, which Barley Mowat writes about here,  is going to take off and explode.

But without a doubt the biggest event in 2013 that will influence whether there are major changes in store for the craft beer consumers of BC is the Provincial Election, slated for May 14, 2013. If the current popularity polls are accurate, it looks like we are in for a change of government with the NDP Party taking the reigns for the next four years. I have heard both personally from a contact high up in the NDP party and from another source who also has NDP contacts, that if elected, the NDP will be looking at reviewing BC liquor laws. Whether this is a major review, which could result in widespread changes to laws that are hindering consumer choice, restricting consumer access, inflating alcohol prices, not supporting the growth of the craft beer industry and generally stifling good times, or just a few tweaks here and there, such as we are currently seeing with the Liberals, is yet to be seen. From what I am hearing now, pre-election, is that the NDP may be looking at a major review and fix of our broken alcohol system. I don't expect them to make that promise publicly, as it is a big one to keep, but lets keep our fingers crossed and hope that they truly have been listening to the BC public and have not just been spouting rhetoric in attacking the Liberals for not making these much-needed changes.

A sign of how healthy the craft beer industry is here in BC is the seven craft breweries that opened their doors in 2012, five of those in the Greater Vancouver area, according to Thirsty Writer Joe Wiebe's recent article . Joe is  wired into this type of thing through his constant research on BC breweries so I am going to go out on a limb and say his list is fairly inclusive.

The upcoming year looks to see even more craft breweries open their doors in BC. By my count, there are 10, seven in the Greater Vancouver area, who have announced plans to open and I know of at least four more that are in the planning stages, including the proposed brewpub or brewery at UBC. That estimate could be conservative as I am not as in the know about things that are happening outside of The Lower Mainland-Greater Vancouver and the South of Vancouver Island.

As well, many existing breweries are also expanding their brewing capacity to keep up with demands. Central City, Red Truck and Steamworks are all in the process of building new, bigger facilities. Driftwood has just gone through an expansion at their present sight that has increased production and Parallel 49, who opened last Spring, seem to be in a constant state of expansion to keep up with the demands for their beer. I know Townsite Brewing, in Powell River, is currently installing new fermenters, which will help them keep up with demand and the list goes on and on as to who is growing and expanding. And to make sure that all this increased beer production makes it to market, I have noticed that many of the craft breweries are increasing their sales and marketing teams and attempting to enlarge their distribution areas. This is great news for those craft beer lovers who live outside the craft beer hubs of Vancouver and Victoria. Lets hope these breweries pushing the borders of the craft beer market are successful in spreading the love.

What does all this mean...well, by the end of 2013 we should have much more production of some of the great beers we already love, meaning less shortages of the most popular brews and possibilities for these breweries to expand their distribution and sales. And with the new breweries up and running we will see new beers on the market competing for your craft beer dollar and, judging by the people I know who are getting involved in the brewing end of the industry, there are going to be some great new beers available in the market competing with the already great selection of BC craft beers.

Restaurants and Pubs
It seems everywhere you go these days, at least here in Vancouver, there is at least a few craft beer options on the menu. Rarely now do I need to produce my small bottle of hop oil to tart up my macro-beer because almost everywhere I go I can find decent beer. I was even in the lounge of the Hotel Vancouver the other day and found several Phillips and Driftwood beers on the bottle list. This is great news for consumers and I do not think this trend will slow down as business folks continue to clue in that craft beer drinkers are everywhere, have money and are willing to part with it while out on the town.

In Vancouver, the two most anticipated openings for me are the Craft Beer Market, to be located in the Salt Building at 85 W 1st Ave in the Olympic Village, shouting distance from The Tap & Barrel, the Daniel Hospitality Group's (DHG) dynamite False Creek BC craft beer hangout. The Craft Beer Market is planning on having 140 taps of  draft, many of the craft variety and the DHG are planning on opening a second Tap & Barrel location near the Vancouver Convention Centre, complete with another massive patio and I am told more great BC craft beers on tap.

 The last few years has seen CAMRA Vancouver really raise their game and their profile and I do not see this trend slowing down. I spoke briefly with newly elected President Adam Chatburn at CAMRA Van's AGM and he seemed to speak my language and quickly convinced me he wants to keep on fighting the good fight and keep CAMRA focused on pushing their advocacy and education agendas. This is great news for local craft beer consumers as this upcoming year could be CAMRA's big coming out party if they can manage to get themselves to the table if the NDP do get elected and do commit to a review of liquor laws.

I have also heard rumblings that the BC Craft Brewer's Guild is possibly looking at revitalizing and getting more active and focused. I have long said it is essential that the industry get organized and advocate and lobby hard for themselves in order to get the same treatment that the wine industry does and I really do hope that the rumours I am hearing are true and that we do get a more active and comprehensive craft beer, industry-oriented association because a strong craft beer industry means more growth, which should translate into more selection and more access for consumers.

With all these positive things in the works I believe it is going to be a banner year for the BC craft beer lover. As I said at the opening of this post, I think the explosion we have seen in regards to craft beer locally is nothing compared to what is going to happen over the next few years. Exciting times to be a craft beer lover here in BC!!

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