Monday, June 10, 2013

Vancouver Beer Lounges One Step Closer to a Reality But Still Requires Public Support

Vancouver craft breweries are one step closer to being able to offer their thirsty and adoring customers the opportunity to purchase and consume fresh beers from the source in on-site (at the brewery) lounges.

In a report (read report here) received by Vancouver City Council from Vancouver City General Manager of Planning and Development Services, recommendations have been made to allow for amendments to the Vancouver zoning and development by-laws to permit licensed on-site lounges at breweries.

The report was generated as a result of a motion, tabled by NPA Councillor George Affleck, requesting city staff to look into what changes needed to be made to Vancouver by-laws to allow for licensed, on-site lounges in industrial zones. The motion was passed unanimously April 23rd by Vancouver City Council and the report was presented to Mayor Robertson and City Council last week.

In short, breweries located within Vancouver's city limits may be able to apply to have beer lounges by the end of summer, giving the Vancouver craft beer scene yet another boost and allow it to showcase fresh, local beers similar to how it is done in places like Portland, Oregon where beer tourism is BIG business for the city. 

March 1/13 BC liquor laws changed to allow breweries and distilleries to apply for endorsements to their existing manufacturer's licenses to allow them to have on-site lounges where they could sell their products directly to consumers to be consumed in the lounge, bringing them in line with wineries who have had that opportunity for years. Despite the ability under provincial laws, Vancouver City by-laws and regulations did not allow for the type of liquor liquor license required for lounges to exist in industrial areas that allow breweries, distilleries and wineries to operate.

Currently in Vancouver, breweries can have tasting lounges where they are permitted to sell only one 12-oz beer per person, per day but are permitted to give out multiple free samples. They cannot have entertainment or even televisions! They can sell beer to be consumed off the premises, such as growlers and packaged products.

I posted about the conflict here, a story that was picked up by mainstream media, and had attempted to get some response from Vancouver City Mayor Gregor Robertson and his City Council as to whether they had plans to make changes to support the desire by several local breweries to take advantage of the opportunity to apply to have lounges. After being repeatedly ignored by the mayor and his crew, I posted an open letter (read here), to Mayor Gregor and his council scolding them for their lack of accountability to the voters of Vancouver and as a result Clr Affleck, who described the open letter as "nasty", contacted me to take a meeting with him to discuss the beer lounge issue. After listening to what I had to say, Affleck saw how having such lounges in Vancouver would support the local craft beer industry and promote the city through tourism similar to what is seen in cities like Portland and Seattle.

Mayor Gregor and his Vision Vancouver gang quickly jumped on the band wagon and threw their support behind Affleck's motion, stating they had been working behind the scenes on resolving the issues before Affleck's motion was tabled. I am not saying they were not doing so, as I really have no idea, but I can say that they were given ample opportunity to let those interested in the issue know and remained silent. I am fairly confident that if Affleck had not pushed the issue with his motion that the wheels of City bureaucracy would have turned very slowly and we would not be at this advanced stage in the process so quickly.

"I am so pleased to see staff reporting back so quickly," stated Affleck. "The industry is on the verge of exploding in Vancouver. Changes like these, which help brewers and distillers succeed, is another step for Vancouver soon becoming an international destination for people passionate about beer and spirits."

The report will go before City Council this week I am told and if accepted, it will be referred to a public hearing where anyone who wants to speak about the proposed changes can have their say in front of City Council. Unless there is major opposition that sways City Council to rethink their position, the recommended changes will then be written into Vancouver City by-laws and will become law. All reports I am hearing is that the whole process should be completed by the end of July.

"I am hopeful that Council will pass this unanimously (Tuesday), thus sending it to public hearing process," says Affleck. "Until the public have had a chance to speak to it, I would not want to speculate on what will happen. But thus far, we have seen very little opposition to this and a ton of support."

If the recommended changes to Vancouver by-laws are made, breweries, distilleries and wineries located in areas zoned M-1, M-2, I-1, I-2, I-3, IC-1, IC-2 and IC-3 would be allowed to apply for endorsements to have on-site lounges to a maximum size of 80 m2. Currently it is virtually impossible to run a lounge in these types of industrial zones (read here). 

Special event area endorsements will also be allowed and breweries will be allowed to hold up to 2 special events, i.e. arts and cultural events, a month. 

Although the majority of work has been done by city staff, the public hearing is still a roadblock. City Council will need to see supporters of the changes out at the hearing and hear them speaking as to why they should be allowed. I know the local breweries are banding together and CAMRA Vancouver is fully behind the proposed by-law amendments. In fact CAMRA Vancouver President Adam Chatburn spoke at the original council meeting where Affleck's motion was passed.

"I'm pleased that the city council has moved forward on the issue of allowing beer lounges at breweries, there's still a long way to go but each step brings us closer to being a city that prides itself on our craft beer culture," stated Chatburn. "CAMRA BC - Vancouver Chapter will be there all the way to represent the craft beer consumers of the city and we look forward to the public meeting where we will show just how important these positive changes are to the future of the city and the province."

So CAMRA members stay up-to-date on this issue as I am sure President Chatburn will put out a call for supporters to attend the public hearing. You can be sure there will be opposition and possibly from very influential and organized camps such as the BC Alliance of Beverage Licensees (ABLE), the industry association who represents BC liquor primary establishments, who have been making noises they are opposed to beer lounges at breweries, fearing competition. I have personally had a few on-line Twitter exchanges with ABLE's Executive Director Ian Baillie who seems very anti-lounge endorsements for breweries. 

So, stay tuned if you want to be able to amble down to your local craft brewery for a mug of your favourite brew. The ball is in our court and craft beer consumers and industry types can ensure these proposed changes get written into law by going to the public hearing to support the cause. 

It just goes to show you, it is possible to fight City Hall and win...

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