Monday, February 3, 2014

The Beer is Out of the Garden! Yap's Report Revealed & Some Good News for Craft Breweries

Friday the BC Liberals finally quit teasing us and released John Yap's BC Liquor Policy Review in full for all to see what came out of the massive consultation process that took place between Yap and BC liquor stakeholders, including the general public, last August through October.

Yap's final report was released in full as a part of a third announcement from the Liberals which highlighted proposed recommended liquor policy changes in regards to beer gardens at festivals, special occasions licenses (SOL) and U-brew/homebrew, among other things. The announcement also stated that all 73 of Yap's recommendations have "the full support" of the BC Liberal Government and that "significant policy work and implementation planning," will be done over the coming months to change these recommendations into official policy and law.

These recommendations, at this point in the process, look like they could prompt the government to take some significant steps towards modernizing our antiquated liquor policies and move towards treating adults who consume alcohol like, well, adults. When all is said and done, we may have more European-style liquor policies than 1920's Prohibition controls and consumers will have more freedoms and opportunities to enjoy a drink on a broader stage than is now allowed in our Nanny State.

Much depends on the actual policy that is drafted and if the Liberals hedge their bets and play it safe, like they seem to be doing with the idea of selling alcohol in grocery stores, these recommendations may not have much impact at all. But lets see the pint glass as half full at this point and move forward with the expectation that the government are really committed to making meaningful changes in regards to modernizing BC liquor policy.

Some of the more controversial recommendations, like booze in grocery stores, the return of happy hours, no more fenced beer gardens at festivals and allowing kids in pubs during the day, are grabbing all the media attention but I think these sexier policy changes will have little impact on craft beer sales and may, in the case of grocery store sales and happy hours, have a slight negative effect (more on that in my next post).

As an alcohol consumer who lives in BC, I am grateful that these headline-grabbing proposals have been "supported", but as a supporter of the local craft beer scene, I see many of the "lesser" or more boring recommendations, if they are followed through on, as being more beneficial to our BC craft breweries which will have the trickle down effect of being beneficial to craft beer consumers in this province. It looks like the BC Liberals are beginning to address the fact that they have basically ignored craft beer industry while putting the wine industry up on a pedestal, giving it and the BC wine consumers preferred treatment.

I think the following recommendations, if the government does follow through and create meaningful and effective policy changes, coupled with a change of attitude and commitment to support our craft beer industry in the same way they have supported the wine folks, will help strengthen our local craft beer community which is essential if all these new and soon-to-be-opened breweries are going to survive.

These are some of the most important recommendations I think will have a positive influence on the BC craft beer scene:
  • LDB should improve its marketing of B.C. liquor products in stores, developing new opportunities for product placement and innovative promotional and educational materials. 
  • Government should work with industry and tourism associations to develop promotional materials such as maps, apps and brochures on B.C. wineries, breweries and distilleries.
  • Government should discuss establishing a quality assurance program for B.C. craft beer and artisan-distilled spirits (similar to the VQA wine program). 
  • Manufacturers should be able to establish low-risk tasting venues such as a picnic area as part of their existing licence without the need to apply for a specific endorsement. Government should work with industry, local government and First Nations to increase flexibility for tasting options for manufacturers while being sensitive to potential negative impacts, such as noise, on the community.
  • Government should consult with industry and review the minimum requirements to obtain a brewery, winery or distillery licence. Government should also consider how these requirements are regulated by LCLB and LDB to ensure transparency and an effective regulatory system.
  • Government should permit B.C. liquor manufacturers to offer products for sample and sale at temporary off-site retail locations (e.g., farmers’ markets), with appropriate conditions. The decision about whether to allow vintners, brewers and distillers to showcase their products at a particular location will be left to the location management (e.g., farmers’ market association). 
  • Allow patrons to buy bottles of liquor to take home that are showcased at festivals or competitions. Consider amending SOLs issued to festivals and competitions, or allow BC Liquor or private retail stores to operate a temporary store on site as the means to provide for these sales.
  • Allow manufacturers to have off-site locations where they can sample and sell their products to the public (e.g., permanent tasting rooms in a downtown store).
  • LDB warehousing and distribution systems should be modernized and streamlined. The wholesale ordering processes should be improved with the goal of better and more efficient service to clients.
Our breweries can make the best beer in the world, but if they do not have the opportunity to operate and creatively market/distribute their products, free of bureaucratic red tape and stifling liquor policies, and get those beers to consumers at a competitive price, they will struggle to survive.  These recommendations help highlight quality BC craft products, create more avenues for craft breweries to get their beers directly to their consumers and hopefully will help improve distribution via the Liquor Distribution Branch.

I am particularly excited by the governments commitment to "develop new opportunities for product placement and innovative promotional and educational materials," for BC made liquor products. It is one of the items I personally presented to Yap & Co. during our CAMRA presentation. I have been appalled in the past when government bureaucrats have been heading to the US to lure American craft breweries up here to compete with our local craft breweries when our BC craft breweries are struggling to get listed and sold via our BC Liquor Store outlets (read here).

I also love the fact that the recommendations are looking for more creative ways of breweries getting their products to their consumers, via farmer's markets, off-site tasting room locations and "low-risk tasting venues such as picnic area".

Many of the recommendations are vague and the word "should" appears far too often, so we need to hold off on the celebrations and congratulating the government until we see just what comes down the policy pipeline. The real proof will come when the policies are actually drafted and will depend a lot on whether or not the government bureaucrats, who will be advising the politicians on how to write the policy and proceed, are on board and in agreement that changes need to be made. The LCLB and LDB will also need to change the culture of how they operate and make the shift from being Big Brother, Hell bent on imposing their will unchallenged and in an arbitrary manner, to industry supporters who do what they can to help our home-grown booze industry flourish while maintaining public safety and promoting health awareness.

Posts soon on: some of the recommendations that could be seen as negative for the BC craft beer industry; the one recommendation that may change the culture of paranoia and fear in this province among licensees and the official recognition that homebrewing is legitimate.


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  2. Good point on the "should" word count, Paddy. I double-love when it's combined with "consider." In fact, the govt could fully implement most of these recommendations down to the letter and not wind up changing anything: "What? We *considered* doing VQA for beer like the report said. Sure, we declined to do anything about it, but we sure did consider it."

  3. I think there is far too much ambiguity in the wording Chuck and I have an impending sense of doom that the gov't is going to play it safe, try to please everyone and in the process please no one...except their buddies & big business who lobbied them hard for some of these changes.

  4. Standard report language for proposed changes. You can't have a government review ending in "will" and "must".

  5. Good point Brenton. Government does use "will" and "must" in many instances when it suits their purposes, even when they know they are not going to follow through on their "will" and "must". I was simply pointing out to people before they start dancing in the street to look at the language of the recommendations, which are, at this point, recommendations, at times vaguely worded and open to interpretation, like the liquor in grocery stores issues that now the poli-folks have a hold of it, has completely missed the mark as to what the consumers were asking for.
    Who know what will happen from all this. I just hope the Liberals and the bureaucrats who be inevitably writing the policy, genuinely want to make meaningful change and really modernize liquor policies and laws.
    I can already see many of these recommendations having very little impact.
    I hope I am wrong