The local craft beer industry was given a glimmer of hope Wednesday after Vancouver City Council voted unanimously to support a motion, tabled by NPA Councilor George Affleck, directing city staff to instigate what changes need to be made to city zoning and licensing regulations to allow for on-site beer lounges.
The motion, which directs Vancouver City, "staff report back to Council on the required changes to the relevant regulations within the City of Vancouver that would permit micro-breweries, wineries and distilleries on industrial land to sample products produced on-site, thus being consistent with provincial liquor policy," in itself does not lead local brewers out of the bureaucratic woods, but at least has given them some hope that a path will soon be available to sell their beers in on-site lounges for consumption beyond the currently allowed 12 oz per-person, per-day.
Recent changes to BC liquor laws have made it possible for breweries and distilleries to apply for endorsements to their manufacturing licenses to have on-site lounges, where patrons can purchase and consume products produced on-site, putting them in line with wineries who have been able to do so for decades, but Vancouver City zoning and licensing regulations have made it next to impossible for beer, wine and liquor producers in the city to take advantage of the on-site lounge possibility. Currently tasting lounges are allowed, but except for the one 12-oz beer which can be charged for, all other beers must be given away as tasting samples.
These types of lounges, which have helped cities like Portland and Seattle become Pacific Northwest craft beer tourist destinations, could set up a win-win-win situation for the local craft beer industry, Vancouver City and and local and visiting craft beer consumers. Existing and future breweries would have yet another way to market their products and produce revenue, the City would benefit from an increase in beer tourism and economic spin-offs of having a vibrant local industry and consumers would have greater access to world-class, locally produced beers.
After writing a blog post on the situation (read here), I attempted to contact Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vancouver City Council to try to start some sort of dialogue about how supporting these types of lounges could be a great move for Vancouver, but I received no response prompting me to write a scathing open letter voicing my displeasure at being repeatedly ignored by local politicians.
Clr Affleck was the only person to respond and after meeting face-to-face with me tabled the motion which since being passed officially signals Vancouver City Council's intent to look into how to align City by-laws and regulations with provincial liquor laws regarding on-site lounges.
After the motion was passed late Wednesday, Clr Affleck, the lone NPA representative on Vancouver City Council, stated he was "very pleased to get unanimous support," and believes passing the motion was, "an important move forward for Vancouver
and sets us (Vancouver) up to be micro brewery tourism destination location."
After the motion was tabled last week, Mayor Gregor and Vision Clr Heather Deal immediately, via Twitter, made it be known they had been working with Vancouver City staff on a solution to allow for the lounges, but if this was true, they were keeping their activities very quiet. When CAMRA Vancouver President Adam Chatburn met with Deal a few weeks ago to talk about the beer lounge impasse, Deal only stated "they would look into fixing the problem" and gave Chatburn no indication as to when or how and definitely did not offer to table an official motion before City Council.
Another positive to come out of the Affleck motion is that local, Vancouver-based breweries have banded together to create one, organized voice. This unofficial, and I stress unofficial, "Vancouver Craft Brewers Guild" is very significant as local brewery representatives are finally seeing the importance of forming a united front to advocate for the local craft beer industry, for the greater good, while still fighting it out in the marketplace with their brews as individual breweries. Thirteen signatures, from 11 different existing or soon-to-be-opened Vancouver breweries were present on a letter presented to City Council, "respectfully asking for the opportunity to consult with planning and building departments as they draft forthcoming regulations pertaining to brewery lounges." City representatives did in fact meet with local brewery representatives before Wednesday's debate on the motion to listen to their concerns and wishes.
The motion was also supported strongly by CAMRA Vancouver, with President Chatburn both sending a pre-debate letter outlining CAMRA's position supporting beer lounges and by speaking directly to City Councilors at the debate on behalf of Vancouver craft beer consumers.
No offical timeline has been set for the report to come back to City Council, but Affleck hopes "by summer" so hopefully we will have a better idea as to how much the City of Vancouver really supports this beer lounge idea or whether they were simply buying time to take off pressure in regards to this issue.
Time will tell, but I am cautiously optimistic as this is the first time in a long time the local craft beer industry and craft beer consumers have organized and worked together and have been successful penetrating the political process to bring about possible positive, meaningful; change.
Let us hope this trend continues.