Saturday, February 16, 2013

Will Beer Lounges Be Able to Exist in Vancouver Despite Provincial Go-Ahead

When Rich Coleman announced Feb 08 that breweries and distilleries, "can apply to have an on-site consumption area such as a lounge, tasting room or event area," to bring them in line with wineries who have enjoyed this option for years, the change was applauded, but many were cautiously optimistic at best, anticipating that it was not going to be an easy process.  

The concept, at face value, is a great idea and one that could produce even more growth in the craft beer industry, as having on-site beer lounges, with the ability to sell more than 12 oz of beer per person, per day, for on-site consumption, means that smaller breweries would have yet another revenue stream to help them stay in business. For nano-style breweries, with no business plan to grow significantly via off-site sales, not having to deal with distribution, major packaging or finding retail outlets to sell their brews means less hassle and overhead and an enhanced ability to stay afloat. 

It could be the change that would allow Vancouver to become a Portland North, with many small breweries within city limits.

But, in Vancouver, and most likely many other municipalities, it seems City Hall and the Provincial Government are not on the same page. From what I am understanding, Vancouver's municipal by-laws and zoning regulations, surrounding where breweries can be located and where liquor primary licenses are allowed, do not jive. It appears that breweries may not able to exist in zoning where liquor primary licenses are allowed therefore they cannot get approval from the city for on-site beer lounges which require a liquor primary license. 

I have tried to make sense of the Vancouver City Zoning Map but on first glance it looks like someone went on a bender of Blue Hawaiian cocktails, beet soup and corn chowder, then threw up on the page. There are so many zoning categories and sub-categories with different allowances and restrictions, I'm going to have to wait until the city gets back to me to confirm just what is allowed and where. 

As well, the city is very reticent to hand out new liquor primary licenses, so unless they change their attitude and look at the big picture in regards to supporting the craft beer industry within city limits, the changes in the law may have been for not, at least here in Vancouver. The process of getting a liquor primary is a long, difficult process in Vancouver and includes neighbourhood consultations, public meetings, telephone surveys in certain cases, council goes on and on. You can check it out here if you so desire.

It is not the first time one level of government has passed a law that conflicts with another level of government's laws or by-laws. Even though federally it was legal to serve a pint (20 oz/568ml), up until 2010 it was illegal in BC because the provincial serving size maximum for beer was 18oz/500ml. Again, when the Feds passed Bill C-311 allowing for the inter-provincial movement of wine, for personal use, many provinces, including BC at the time, did not allow inter-provincial movement of alcohol for personal use. The province has since tweaked their laws to be more in line with the Feds but if they hadn't, it basically would have rendered the Fed's change to the law a moot point.

This may be the case with beer lounges at breweries if something cannot be worked out by the city.

I am still in the early days of trying to clarify things. I have contacted Vancouver City Hall to try to clarify some things to see where they stand on the idea of beer lounges at breweries within city limits. I am not saying the city is against the idea, as I have no confirmation of that, but I am hearing that there are major road blocks. I just think that at this point the Provincial Government and the Vancouver Municipal Government may not be on the same page. Hopefully, at the local level, adjustments will be made for these types of licenses to be granted now that the way has been cleared by the province. It could be a great boost to the craft beer industry in Vancouver and with several small breweries, many who would benefit greatly from a small on-site beer lounge, in the planning stages or set to open in the city, it might be a great time for them to support this exploding industry.

In the meantime, don't expect to be enjoy more than a few taster glasses of beer at your favourite local brewery's tasting room any time soon.  It is going to take a while to figure out the logistics of this mess and you can bet it will be controversial with many NIMBY types and neo-prohibitionists against any support for small, local breweries with on-site consumption. I believe to get City Hall to support small breweries with beer lounges, both consumer and industry groups are going to have to lobby and advocate loudly.

CAMRA Vancouver, is this your next campaign? Campaign for Culture? It looks like it is time to start focusing locally instead of provincially in regards to advocating for the craft beer consumer.

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