Tuesday, February 19, 2013

No Fun City Bureaucracy Stands in the Way of Beer Lounges

It appears the City of Vancouver is once again living up to its reputation as being No-Fun City.

Despite the Provincial Government's announcement Feb 08 that breweries and distilleries will now be allowed to apply to have on-site lounges, special events areas (SEA), picnic areas and tour areas in BC, it appears Vancouver's restrictive zoning regulations and restrictive liquor laws will make it very difficult for breweries to take advantage of the changes.

This change to the law, which the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) states in  LCLB Policy Directive No 13-02 is, "designed to support the growing craft brewing and distilling industries by introducing another means for licensees to showcase their products," and allows breweries and distilleries "to apply for endorsement areas at their manufacturing site where patrons may consume liquor manufactured under the licence."

Currently, breweries can apply to have tasting rooms where they can either offer the general public free samples and/or sell up to 375ml (12oz) per person, per day to be consumed in the tasting room. The new regulations would allow breweries be able to sell their own beer on-site in amounts more than 375ml per person, per day for on-site consumption.

I had this clarified by a LCLB spokesperson who, via email, wrote, "the process for breweries and distilleries to apply for on-site lounges and special event areas will be the same as it is for wineries, in that it will be treated as an endorsement on the manufacturer licence, rather than a separate liquor primary licence."

This is the part the City of Vancouver's Liquor License Department (CVLLD) does not seem to understand. 

According to CVLLD Coordinator, Lucia Cumerlato, breweries would have to apply to have a “neighbourhood public house", which requires a liquor primary license, if they wanted to have an on-site beer lounge. This is in total contradiction to the LCLB's policy directive. Cumerlato did not seem to keen to communicate about the subject of liquor primary licenses and on-site, brewery beer lounges and referred me off to the City's Media Relation's before cutting off email communication when I attempted to get clarification on the licensing issue. 

The LCLB policy directive goes on to specify the lounges and SEA would allow minors, if accompanied by a parent or guardian, which is definitely not allowed in neighbourhood pubs.

It appears Lucia, or City Hall personnel responsible for liquor policy did not read LCLB Policy Directive 13-02.

In another written communication from the City of Vancouver, VEBB was informed, "(u)nder City bylaws, the opportunity to take advantage of this new legislation will depend on where the business is located as not all zones allow for Liquor Primary licences." The only zone classification that has the designation as an "outright approval" zone for breweries and distilleries in Vancouver is classified as M-2, which does not allow liquor primary licenses. There are several other zoning classifications that list breweries and distilleries as under the heading of "conditional use" but only one of them, M-1, allows liquor primary licenses.

The communication goes on to state that if current breweries are located in zoning that prohibits liquor primary licenses, "a business owner may choose to take advantage of the new legislation by submitting a rezoning application." This rezoning application would be looked at on a case-by-case basis and would involve, "consultation with the community to understand the implications of this new activity on the area."

I have not looked into any other municipalities as trying to figure out Vancouver has given me the headache to end all headaches. The current complicated zoning regulations combined with the City's restrictive liquor license policies make it very expensive and difficult to go about getting approval for an on-site beer lounge, not to mention that the process to get a building rezoned, then the liquor primary license application process would mean a long, drawn out time frame that could take years to navigate.

The confusing thing is that the tasting rooms are already in place and operating in some breweries. The move simply would allow the breweries to sell their product as opposed to giving it away. 

Maybe this change in provincial policy was just dropped suddenly in the lap of municipal governments, but the LCLB did say they "consulted" with the Union of BC Municipalities so local governments should have been aware the changes were coming. I get the sense the CVLLD just does not understand what the Liberals were intending and have no idea how to proceed forward, but it shouldn't be hard to figure out as wineries have been doing it for years with great success. If unpreparedness is the case, lets hope the city gets up to speed quickly as any application for lounges and SEA requires "local government /First Nation input as part of the licensing process."

At a time when several small breweries are looking to open within Vancouver City limits, the city should be looking at ways to support the vibrant craft beer industry. Breweries employ people directly and create secondary employment. They pay taxes, they buy local products, they create tourism, especially if they would be allowed to have these types of lounges which is why the BC Provincial Government originally gave wineries this ability to promote their own products on-site.

Those of us who are advocating actively for changes to the BC liquor laws hammer on the Provincial Government but often it is the local municipal governments who are putting restrictions in place with their zoning regulations and licensing practices. It might be time for advocacy and lobby groups to start targeting City Hall in an effort to make them understand that both the industry and consumers want to see lounges and SEA on-site at breweries. If Vision Vancouver really want to be a visionary government, they should clear up this confusion ASAP.

In the written communication from the City, it was stated that, "(t)he City is undertaking a city-wide Liquor Policy review this year, and as part of that work we will study the implications of the new provincial legislation." Let us hope they do because if not, and other municipalities may embrace these changes with open arms and you may see breweries moving out of the city soon to more welcoming and forward-thinking places in the province.


  1. Part of the implementation problem could be that a significant number of the wineries are not in developed areas. I think there are a couple in Langley but can't think of any in Vancouver.

  2. True enough but no matter where wineries are located, they have to deal with local government and their by-laws and restrictions. Vancouver Urban Winery is classified as a winery I believe and they have a tasting room. I am sure they are bumping into the same problems.
    The point being, even if this is a new concept for Vancouver City, they should read the intent behind the legislation - to promote vibrant and growing and home-grown industries - and sort out the problems.
    At least that is how I see it.

  3. Hi Paddy - well written. This impacts all craft wineries, breweries and distilleries. There seems to be some shared learnings and support each group can offer to better position ourselves in a positive collective way? As we just opened the first Micro-Distillery in Vancouver it was no small task to trail blaze that path. Count me in to help in helping provide some focus from our perspective. Charles Tremewen, Founder/Distiller, Long Table Distillery.

  4. Thank you for your comments and support Charles. I am hoping that the current problem is just a function of a lag time between Provincial law changes and local governments making adjustments to their by-laws to align themselves. With some gentle pressure and encouragement from consumers and industry interests alike, I am convinced the City of Vancouver will do what needs to be done to remove roadblocks that are halting progress.