Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Vancouver Craft Beer Lovers Hold Fate of Beer Lounges in Their Own Hands

Vancouver-area craft beer lovers literally hold the fate of brewery lounges in their own hands and have the rare opportunity to be consulted directly in regards to liquor law changes as yesterday Vancouver City Council officially passed a report from the Vancouver City General Manager of Planning and Development Services recommending that changes be made to City zoning and licensing by-laws to allow for the sale and consumption of beer in lounges located within breweries.

That matter will now be referred to a public hearing, the final step in the approval process, which should be scheduled in a "few weeks", according to NPA City Clr George Affleck, whose motion (see here) started things moving forward. The public hearing is where those in the private and public sectors of the community get to come out and have their say on the matter directly to City Council so it is not just a rubber stamp type step in the process. If major opposition to beer lounges show up and successfully plead their case and those in favour are silent, or less prominent, the whole process could grind to a halt.

"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," stated Clr Affleck last week after seeing the report which recommends breweries, distilleries and wineries be allowed to have licensed, on-site lounges, no bigger than 80 m2. To give you an idea of the size, if you have visited Parallel 49's tasting room, it is well within this size limit.

Currently in Vancouver on-site (meaning at the brewery) patron consumption opportunities are limited to tasting rooms where breweries can charge for samples but are limited to selling 375ml per patron per day, otherwise samples can be offered to the public at no charge. Because of the fact that breweries cannot charge for their products in tasting rooms, few have bothered to build and staff them. 

This single change to Vancouver by-laws could change the face of the local beer scene in Vancouver completely and according to the report, gives breweries, "a more lucrative means of showcasing their product." It will help support small, local breweries and encourage new growth in the industry. 

You need to look no further in BC than to the wine industry who have been allowed this type of lounge for years. Areas like the Naramata Bench have taken full advantage of the lounge opportunity to draw tourists and locals alike to tour from winery lounge to winery lounge to try different wines from the source and purchase products. It is a far more intimate consumer experience and connects the consumer directly to the point of production. 

This type of lounge has has also helped make places like Portland Oregon and Seattle, Washington beer tourist meccas and they bring BIG dollars into the cities as beer lovers visit the breweries located within city limits to enjoy themselves.  Food and entertainment will be allowed as well and if Vancouver sticks to the intentions of the Provincial Government when they made changes to the laws March 1/13, minors accompanied by responsible adults will also be allowed, making these lounges family friendly.

This is the time for groups like CAMRA Vancouver to shine and make a difference by getting their members to come out to the meeting to ensure the pro side of the argument gets heard loud and clear. CAMRA Vancouver President Adam Chatburn has already been very involved in getting things to this point, having spoken to City Councillor Heather Deal a few months back in a private meeting and having spoken at the council meeting where the motion was presented. 

"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," stated Chatburn last week.

Let's hope craft beer consumers and industry types are as committed as Chatburn to come out the the public hearing so we can get this passed and written into law as I would like nothing better than to sit in a local beer lounge by the end of summer to enjoy a fresh, locally brewed beer straight from the source.

I would hate to see the process get this far only to be scuttled by consumer apathy for getting involved in the political process.

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