Sunday, December 30, 2012

Is the BC Beer Market About to Become the Wild West?

If the rumours I have been hearing the past few weeks are true the BC beer market may resemble the Wild West by the middle of January.

I have been informed from two completely different sources that the BC Liberals will finally be making an announcement in regards to what course of action they will take two years after the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch.put out a consultation paper requesting industry input in regards to proposed changes to the laws regulating tied house and trade practices.

If the information I am getting is correct, and I do believe it to be so, the changes are to be announced by mid-January and will completely deregulate tied houses and trade practices, leaving the BC market wide open, reminiscent of the Wild West, for the highest bidders to lock down pubs, restaurants and liquor stores by either buying these outlets or offering large amounts of cash, or other inducements, for exclusivity rights (bars/restaurants) and preferential shelf placement (liquor stores).

The original call for input outlined three options for tied house law changes, those being to eliminate tied house prohibitions altogether, permit tied houses between the same corporate entity, but limit the number of tied houses a person can hold to limit risk of market consolidation or to permit tied houses with public interest restrictions.

They also laid out three options in regards to trade practice regulations, those being to eliminate trade practice restrictions altogether,  reduce or eliminate most trade practice restrictions or to streamline some trade practice policies and procedures

For better explanations as to what those options mean, click on the consultation link above.

There has been a great divide among the players in the craft beer industry as to whether deregulating tied house and trade practice restrictions will have a negative impact on the industry or not. You can read in more detail what this is all about here and here.

The biggest fear is that the larger, deep-pocketed, national and multinational breweries will simply buy pubs and restaurants, or pay licensees to favor their products, to stop the growth of the local craft beer industry which has managed to claw their way from 7% to about 15% of the domestic beer market in BC over the past five years. That growth may not sound much, but when you consider that each percentage point represents over $8 million dollars in sales, you can see why the bigger, national macro-breweries do not want the smaller breweries get any stronger. There are also some concerns that the more aggressive and growth-oriented local breweries, willing to incur short-term losses for long term gains, might just try to buy a larger share of the market by stepping on their competition who are more focused on sustainability and producing great beers.

There is also the fear that licensees will begin to demand cash, free product and kickbacks for the right to sell beer in their establishments which will prohibit smaller breweries from being able to sell their beers in those types of establishments.

Many others say that the deregulation of the tied house laws will not impact the major craft beer markets like Greater Vancouver and Victoria and will give craft breweries in smaller markets, where marco-beers dominate, another outlet to sell their beer if they have the means to invest in a pub, restaurant or liquor store. There is also the argument that the practices of bribery by breweries and demanding payment of some type by licensees are alive and well in the beer industry because the laws are impossible to enforce and that deregulating will have little impact.

If the laws are wiped from the books, it will be interesting to see what happens. As a consumer, I would like to see a middle ground approach, where their are some safeguards in place to stop the larger, richer breweries from simply buying tap, fridge and shelf space to the point of restricting their competition similar to what happened in the UK in the 1990's. But I think, at least here in Vancouver, there are too many licensees who are committed to craft beer because it is simply a better product, because selling craft beer is profitable and because there is a great thirst among local beer drinkers for superior craft beer products.

In the end, as a consumer, I can only hope that if there is deregulation, it does not result in restricted access to locally brewed craft beers or higher prices. If so, it will have to be the consumers who rally and demand a further review by which ever political party gains power in the upcoming election as the industry is too divided on these issues.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cascadia-gate - Is This Really a Consumer Issue?

I don't think I have ever seen a reaction as fierce and as widespread to any issue related to the local craft beer scene as I saw this past week in regards to what I like to now call Cascadia-gate.

It seemed, with some of the posts and comments I read on Facebook, reddit, etc., that some craft beer consumers took it personally that the term Cascadia had been trademarked in regards to "brewed alcoholic beverages namely ale and, malt liquor, stout, porter and lambic".

But, to tell you the truth, I don't really understand some of the venom and, quite frankly, the mob mentality that ensued after Barley Mowat posted the story. It was great to see those passionate about craft beer in BC finally band together and get vocal, and the force of their actions did prompt Steamworks to respond, even if that response was perceived by many to be inadequate and insincere, but really, how does this issue impact the consumer? Why all the anger, rage and name calling? If you read many of the comments and posts, when they were available to be read, it was obvious that some of those writing them really had no grasp on what this whole issue was about.

Yes, this story did warrant a response from those of us who are involved in the local craft beer community and/or passionate about their craft beer. And I applaud those who offered their opinions in intelligent and constructive ways, letting Eli Gershkovitch, owner of Steamworks, and his "Steam Team" know they were upset with Eli quietly telling local breweries, for reasons only he really understands, to stop using the term "Cascadian" Dark Ale (CDA). But, let's face it, he was not telling them to stop brewing that particular style of beer or impeding consumer access to CDAs. No, just last night I drank some North Shore Black IPA, brewed by North Vancouver nano-brewery Bridge Brewing Co. Black IPA is another term used to describe CDA. A few weeks back I enjoyed Parallel 49's  Black Christmas , described, a little tongue in cheek, by P49 as a Christmas Dark Ale (CDA) due to the trademark hubbub which was common knowledge among the local craft industry even before Chuck posted his original "The Grinch Who Stole Cascadia" story.

The Black Christmas and North Shore Black IPA ales may have been described in different terms, omitting the term Cascadian, but, at least in my humble opinion, they are in fact CDAs. And it shows that local breweries are already finding ways around the trademark issue. Just labeling a beer as a CDA, without spelling it out, will alert consumers that the beer is a Cascadian Dark Ale. Those looking for that style of beer will know what CDA means and those who don't probably will not know what a Cascadian Dark Ale is and would have to ask for an explanation anyway.

It is one of the reasons I, as CAMRA Vancouver President, have not come out with an official stance on the whole issue because I do not see this as a consumer advocacy issue. As president, I can say CAMRA Vancouver would like to see craft breweries working together to increase their share of the market place so that we, the consumers, have greater access to more craft beers, but whether that beer is called CDA, Black IPA, or something different, is a battle for others to fight. This is an industry-related conflict, one that, brewer's associations representing the breweries and homebrewing groups may want to tackle as they are the ones brewing and naming their beers CDAs.

No, I personally don't agree with Eli that he should be able to protect his trademark in relation to other breweries using the term Cascadian Dark Ale and I voiced that opinion to Walter Cosman, President of Steamworks Brewing Company, last summer. As pointed out by Chad on his blog Hoplog, used in that way, Cascadian is a descriptor for a style of beer. If breweries were calling their beers Cascadia Lager, or Cascadia IPA, I could see Eli's point, but when they are using Cascadia in reference to describing the CDA style, I think the trademark infringement has no traction. Cascadia Dark Ale in that sense is like using lager, stout or India Pale Ale. Many breweries are now trademarking the names of their beers to protect their branding. But protecting a brand and protecting a term that describes something, in my opinion, are two different things.

But what do I know about the law and my opinion obviously is not one Eli Gershkovitch agrees with.

And no, I personally don't buy "Team Steam's" assertion that Eli's actions were, "the best course of action so as to preserve  the integrity of the name 'Cascadia' for true craft breweries not for large multinational breweries." And no, I did not buy the spin put out in the response from Steamworks painting the picture that Eli and Steamworks are David fighting the evil Goliath, in the form of Molson Canadian, or that Eli is the benevolent but misunderstood defender of the craft beer community who, out of the goodness of his heart, would allow other craft breweries to buy the license to use his trademarked term Cascadia. 

I do hope Eli finds a way to save face and back down on this whole issue and I think opposition from other craft breweries and consumers in general is essential, but I would ask that if you are voicing dissent you do it in a constructive and respectful way. Calling Eli names and making statements like "Steamworks suck" on-line is only going to anger him and make him dig in his heels. But if enough people send him well written and well-thought out, intelligent communications about why what he is doing is wrong, maybe, just maybe he will see the light and truly act in good faith as a stand-up member of the BC craft beer community

In the meantime, we as consumers can continue, unimpeded, to enjoy our CDAs even if the breweries do not use the term Cascadian Dark Ale until this whole issue gets cleared up.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

That's How it is Done - Paying Attention CAMRA Members?

If you have any interest in the BC craft beer scene and have any sort of connection to social media, you will know that there has been a bit of controversy stirred up by a recent post by Barley Mowat involving who Steamworks Brewery owner Eli Gershkovitch and the trademarking of Cascadia in regards to brewed alcoholic beverages.

The post caused a huge backlash against Eli and Steamworks from the local craft beer community who took to social media in droves to voice their displeasure regarding the whole situation. The reaction to Barley Mowat's post was swift and fierce and, even though it was not always on point, or in complete understanding of what was going on, prompted a quick response, which you can read here, from "The Steam Team", who were forced into damage-control mode as the good reputation of Steamworks was being unmercifully bashed.

Every action has a reaction. 

Action: Eli requests local brewers not use "Cascadian" when naming, labeling, marketing Cascadian Dark Ales. 
Reaction: Local craft beer breweries start renaming their Cascadian Dark Ales weird names which peaks Barley Mowat's curiosity and prompts his post.

Action: Local craft beer enthusiasts are outraged after reading the post and take to social media to voice their displeasure with Eli and Steamworks creating a whirlwind of bad PR for Steamworks.
Reaction: The Steam Team respond, explaining their position, a touch late I might add, and implement some damage control measures by offering up a resolution in an attempt to save face and pacify the angry mob.

This is how it is done folks. That is how you support a cause to effect change. 

I hope craft beer consumers, particularly CAMRA BC, CAMRA Vancouver and other CAMRA branch members took notice. If craft beer consumers want to effect change to the laws and get the same governmental considerations wine consumers do, they need to be just as vocal, angry and active, targeting the LCLB and Rich Coleman, as they were yesterday in regards to Barley Mowat's post. A focused campaign with huge support will be more likely to prompt a positive reaction from government than not.

Think about it, who is more reactionary than the government?

The is absolutely no value in CAMRA BC having over a 1,000 members if 950 of them are passive and do not support their organization's actions past paying $25 a year for a membership. If CAMRA Vancouver had received the same type of vocal and passionate social media support for their FUSS and BYOCB Campaigns, Coleman, LCLB General Manager Karen Ayers and licensees may have taken CAMRA's positions more seriously. 

Just saying.... 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Prospect of Bigger Bucks Changing BC Craft Beer Community

Yesterday, Vancouver beer blogger, Barley Mowat, exposed one of the worst kept secrets in the local craft beer community when he wrote his post "The Grinch Who Stole Cascadia" outlining how Steamworks owner, Eli Gershkovitch, has been flexing his legal muscles in regards to a trademark involving the word Cascadia. 

I am not going to write more on the subject as Barley has it more than covered. I will say that the whole situation has been bothering me since I found out about it early last summer when a sales manager for a local craft brewery mentioned they had been contacted by Eli about not using "Cascadian" Dark Ale due to the Cascadia trademark. It has also bothered most others in the know, including some associated with Steamworks, because actions like this are historically not representative of the local craft beer industry.

But I believe times, they are changing and this situation shows just how much the local craft beer scene has transformed and how the once tight "craft beer community" is slowly being attacked and splintered as the financial rewards get bigger due to the growing craft beer market and increased competition for those dollars. 

According to the latest Liquor Distribution Branch Quarterly Market Review, BC's domestic beer sales, from Sept/11 to Sept/12, were in excess of $900 million dollars, making each percentage point in the market worth $9 million dollars. Breweries, especially those with a business plan to grow, will fight hard for those dollars and some, not all, will fight dirty if they get the chance and think they can get away with it.

With these types of dollars at stake and with the increasing market share being claimed by smaller craft breweries, this American-style of legal action is going to become more of the norm than the exception as the competition gets more heated with more breweries, both local and outside BC entering the local craft beer market. 

In recent weeks I have come across information about a few other local craft breweries that have been threatened with legal action for reasons that can be viewed as suspect, at best. In one case, an Ontario-based brewery, who are currently expanding into the BC market, hit a local craft brewery with a Cease and Desist order. For various reasons, I cannot comment more, but I see this as a sign of the fierce battles being waged over limited shelf and tap space for craft beer. I have also heard that one of the major craft breweries in BC is under attack from the major national breweries regarding possible trademark "infringements". I reached out to the local brewery representative to try to verify if this was true and was told that he "couldn't really comment on that stuff right now," which tells me that there is probably truth to these rumours.

These are not American breweries protecting their turf south of the 49th as was the case with the ridiculous Red Racer-Racer 5-Red Rocket legal battle which somehow Central City Brewery lost. These are Canadian breweries attacking each other over what I see as trivial matters that are motivated by trying to impede the competition, to gain an upper hand in the market and not by actual issues that are damaging those taking action or by wrong-doing by those being hit by these legal actions. I can see, but don't agree with, the motivation for the bigger breweries to try to squash the once-insignificant-now-annoying bug that is the craft beer industry, but I find it very disturbing to see small Canadian breweries attacking one another and even more disturbing see one local craft brewery go after several other local craft breweries for questionable reasons.

When I started working in the local craft beer industry 12 years ago, there were very few breweries in BC producing craft beer and we, for the most part,helped each other out as much as possible. I can remember one incident where I went to an establishment to hook up a tap for Storm Brewing but stopped because the licensee wanted me to disconnect a Russell Brother's tap. I actually refused to do it until we contacted Mark Russell, then owner of the brewery and informed him. As it turned out, he had been asked to cut a Storm tap somewhere else, so we "traded" taps, so to speak and had a good laugh over a pint of beer about the whole situation. But this was the norm, not the exception. Back in "the olden days" we helped each other find accounts, spread the wealth and let the beers fight it out in the market place with the consumer deciding which beer was tastier.

Today, the industry is completely different animal. Craft breweries are now, except for a few hold-outs who only keg their beers, concentrating on bottled and packaged products. Flashy packaging and marketing are often just as important for some breweries than the product. Brewers are not always the owners and not always making the decisions as to what to brew and as to whether the product is ready to go to market or not. Craft breweries now have sales representatives, marketing personnel and PR folks where as in the past, many craft breweries were basically one-man shows with the owners acting as brewers, delivery drivers, and general brewery gophers. On more than one occasion, brewery owners were known to live in their breweries to save money and they were the face of their breweries as far as marketing went. The craft brewing industry was a lifestyle as much as a business. The idea of taking legal action against another craft brewery was unthinkable.

To survive, the industry has evolved and as the industry has grown and the fight for the lucrative consumer dollars in a tough market has intensified, accountants and lawyers have become just as important as the brewers in some cases. I, for one, am not surprised by stories like the one Barley Mowat posted. I think it is only going to get nastier as trade practice and tied house laws get relaxed and the larger breweries move in with wads of cash and attempt to buy up smaller, successful craft breweries and point-of-sale distribution. 

Long gone are the days I remember when one craft brewery refused to cut the line of another and being involved in industry was based on pure passion for great beer, not bottom-line profits at the end of the year. Let's hope as consumers, the focus remains on producing the best craft beer possible and not just on the bottom line.

LCLB Protecting You From Gang Violence While Your Are Being Robbed by Licensees

Next time you are sitting in a bar or restaurant quietly enjoying your 12-ounce "pint", be sure to say a quiet thank you to the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Branch for allowing you to sip your short-poured brew without fear of being caught in the cross-fire of some violent gang shoot-up.

Yes, apparently LCLB General Manager, Karen Ayers and her crack-force of inspectors are, "focusing on keeping gangs, gang related activities and violence out of licensed establishments" as one of their priorities and therefore they have no time to stop you from being robbed blind by some licensees who see fit to serve you about 60% of what they are promising you as a serving size, this according to an email she sent me October 10, 2012.

Whew, that is relief! Here I thought only fully trained and appropriately armed police officers were protecting us from the bad guys. Now I can again safely venture out and have a beer of unknown quantity knowing liquor inspectors, armed with business cards and a LCLB Licensing Policy Manual, are keeping me safe in this province's local watering holes.

I had emailed Ayers, on behalf of CAMRA Vancouver, asking her, yet again, to direct LCLB liquor inspectors to enforce the law requiring licensees to provide serving size lists for alcoholic beverages in order to protect BC beer consumers who are routinely mislead and often lied to about the volume of beer they are being served. CAMRA Vancouver has been pressing this serving size issue since launching their "Fess Up to Serving Sizes" (FUSS) Campaign a year ago but have been consistently told by Ayers and Rich Coleman, the Liberal Minister responsible for the liquor portfolio, that protecting consumers from being cheated deceived and over-charged is not something they feel they need to address.

Ayers and Coleman have consistently stated that the LCLB has had four key public safety priorities: over-serving, serving to minors, over-crowding and the sale of illegal alcohol. Now you can add keeping gangs, gang activity and violence out of licensed establishments to that list. As a result of focusing on these priorities they have advised me, because of limited resources, they cannot address less important issues, such as protecting alcohol consumers' rights even though to do so is apart of their licensing policies. But somehow, in between sending 18-year-old kids who look 25 into bars, restaurants and liquor stores in order to trap licensees into serving minors and focusing on keeping gangs out of licensed establishments, the LCLB has had time to ensure public safety is maintained by tackling such important issues such as prohibiting a restaurant from allowing patrons to enjoy a burger and a beer while playing video games.

The LCLB are so arbitrary in what laws they enforce and liquor inspectors so prone to interpreting the laws to suit their needs, that it is laughable at times. I sat down with one liquor inspector last Spring to talk about holding a cask festival and it was quite obvious that the inspector had no idea about the laws he was supposed to be enforcing. The directives he was giving, to comply with the law, had absolutely nothing to do with the LCLB licensing policies that applied to the situation and myself and others at the meeting had to correct the liquor inspector several times. This same inspector has been known to tell restaurant employees that when their establishment is showing a televised Canuck's game, they are not to cheer when the Canucks score a goal as this may incite patrons to over-consume alcohol in their excitement.

And this is the type of person who is out there preventing gang related activities and violence in licensed establishments? He has time time throw a wet blanket on bartender-server hockey enthusiasts but no time to make sure you are getting what you ordered and paid for.

I understand the LCLB's focus on important issues like over-serving, but even here Ayers confused me with her explanation that, "(i)t is the duty of all licensees and their staff to provide safe and responsible liquor service. They are responsible for ensuring patrons are not over-served during a visit to their establishment, regardless of serving sizes."

Okay, the LCLB cannot deal with such trivial issues such as blatant robbery and deception because they have to concentrate on ensuring licensees are not over-serving, yet licensees are responsible for policing themselves in regards to liquor service and ensuring patrons are not over-served.

Things that make you go hmmmmm....

Ayers did say in her email that, "if someone is upset with serving sizes at their local restaurant or bar they can make a formal complaint to this (LCLB) branch and the area inspector will follow up with that establishment."

With the added responsibility of curbing gang violence, it sounds to me like the liquor inspectors will be too busy to deal with our complaints...maybe this is a job for the Pint Police.

If you want change, get vocal, get involved. If the LCLB gets continuous complaints about licensees who are misrepresenting their serving sizes, or not telling you how much they are serving, the LCLB will be forced to do what they should be doing as a regular part of their duties, that being protecting the alcohol consumers of BC.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Difficulty of Judging Beer & How a Pilsner Has Won Best in BC Two Years Running

The 2012 BC Beer Awards have come and gone and by all accounts, the awards ceremony and the CAMRA BC Harvest Fest event was a huge success and worthy of being the signature event for the BC Craft Beer Month.

Congrats to all of this year's winners, well done and well deserved.

But as with seemingly every type of awards ceremony where voting takes place, from selecting the Oscar winners to selecting a Homecoming Queen at a high school prom, some are in disagreement with the announced winners and at least one member of the local craft beer community has publicly, via Facebook, come out to state that he believes a "lot of pedestrian beers" took home top prizes in this year's BC Beer Awards, which he finds "embarrassing" and believes is evidence that the BC craft beer scene has "a long ways to go".

The main bone of contention seemed to be the naming of Steamworks Pilsner as this year's "Best in Show", an honour it was awarded last year as well, with the originator of the Facebook discussion questioning how a beer that he compared to "mainstream" beers, and which he felt did not accurately represent the best beer in BC, could win top billing in the awards. He did state he found the Steamworks Pilsner a decent beer but that it harmed the reputation and credibility of the BC craft beer scene by being given this lofty award.

The post drew harsh criticism and those defending Steamworks Pilsner and the BC Beer Awards quickly pointed out that the beers are judged on how well the meet the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) style guidelines. This also drew criticism from the original poster who pointed out that judging beer on how it meets predefined style guidelines does not reward those brewers who are creative, innovative and whose beers "transcends boundaries" and rewards those brewers who recreate what has done before.

I think some valid points were raised in the Facebook discussion and I thought it might be interesting to see just exactly a beer gets voted "Best in Show" in a competition like the BC Beer Awards. I contacted Matt Anderson, who helped organize this year's event. Matt is a CAMRA Vancouver executive member, BJCP certified judge, homebrewer extraordinaire and knows his stuff when it comes to the technical side of making and judging beers. I might add he knows a little about drinking them as well!!

According to Matt:

  • All judging was conducted completely blind, with the judges not knowing whose beers they were being served or which breweries had even entered the competition. The only info given was the style of beer.
  • Six groups of three judges were used. Each group had two BJCP ranked judges joined by a third judge who could be a cicerone, sommelier, beer writer, bar owner, etc. 
  • A group of judges would be assigned a category and would go through it beer by beer and score each out 50, pausing for discussion after each tasting in order to come to some sort of general consensus. If necessary, upon completion of each flight, they would re-taste certain beers and come up with a final decision on first, second and third place for the category. 
  •  Categories with more than 12-15 entries were tackled by two or more groups, with each group selecting up to three beers from their flight to be entered into a "mini best of show", where judges from each table would come to an agreement on which beers would finish first, second and third.
  • The first place beers in each category qualify for the best of show round, for which we had a group of nine judges at one table. The first five beers were brought out, the judges would knock out two, then two more would be brought out. This would continue until there were only the top three beers left, then the judges would argue for and against beers until finally deciding the eventual winner.
The beers are scored according to how they meet the predefined style guidelines, in this case the BJCP style guidelines. If you have never had a look at these, you can download them from the website linked above and see how precise and comprehensive these guidelines are and how specific some of the categories are. This format tries to make the judging as objective as possible and pits entries only against those in the same category until the Best in Show round. Then it is the beer that best exemplifies what a beer of its category should be that wins.

As mentioned, this is the second straight year that Steamworks Pilsner has been found to be the best example of a beer meeting that beer's category style guidelines  For the record, this year's beer was not brewed by the recipe developer, Conrad Gmoser, over even at Steamworks and was brewed by Tony Dewalt, formerly of the legendary Dix, and Timmy Brown, late of Mission Springs, at Dead Frog Brewery in Aldergrove where Steamworks bottled beers are currently being brewed until their Burnaby brewery opens.

Is this the best way to judge a beer? Well, it is not a perfect system because, as pointed out in the Facebook discussion, this system does not really give freedom to those brewers who are thinking outside the box and pushing the limits of style guidelines and creating new ones. It is a good system though to keep things fair, objective, keep personal biases out of the judging and for comparing apples to apples, so to speak. Even if a judge is a dedicated IPA-hop freak, he has the style guidelines to use to rate the beer, not his/her personal preference.

Judging beer in the BJCP format is difficult. I sat in on one judging session last year before a CAMRA Vancouver event and was blown away by how serious and complicated it was. I did find that the beers I judged as the top were mostly the same as the ones the judges picked, although I ranked them much higher than the judges did score-wise. I can tell you if you have never sat in on one of these judging sessions, it is more than just swilling samples of brew and picking the one you like the best.  It is a very controlled and focused activity.

Although the BJCP style guideline format may not be perfect, it is way more preferable to other formats that just turn into a popularity contest, like the year-end, CAMRA Vancouver Awards and the Best of Vancouver Awards handed out bu the Georgia Straight. Using the format the BC Beer Award uses is the best I have seen for neutralizing a judge's bias towards one style of beer over another. If you just had an open blind tasting with only lager-loving judges, for example, other beer styles would not have a chance of winning because they simply would not fit the judges' palates. It also eliminates any biases or preferences for certain breweries because of their reputations as the tastings are blind.

I have always steered away from rating beers on this blog as I feel it is such a subjective topic and my opinion is just that, my opinion. There are many highly rated and famous beers I can't stand to tell you the truth. And I have not taken it upon myself to become a certified beer judge just because I have no interest in having to taste many styles and examples of beers I don't like. I also do not want to have my experience of enjoying beers ruined by me constantly judging them for faults and weaknesses. I took a few script writing courses at the Vancouver Film School years ago and to this day, I tear story lines apart and recognize where many scripts are going based on what I learned about the art of writing good scripts. I find it hard just to watch and enjoy a movie.

I want to keep that joy in tasting and drinking beer!!

Maybe next year, it might be fun to have two competitions, one the controlled, objective format like this year's format and one an open competition, judged by the same judges, in the same blind manner, where they just vote which beer is the best one entered based on their preferences and opinions. Maybe call it the "Judge's Choice Open Category".

Is the Steamworks worthy of the "Best in Show" award? Who am I to judge as I am not a ranked-certified beer judge and do not have the experience or education to dispute what those who are qualified that have.

Is it my favourite BC beer? No, it is not, but I can appreciate it is a well designed and well-brewed pilsner.

Not that it really matters. These are beer awards folks, nothing more, nothing less. They are beers judged on how they taste that day. I don't know about others, but I will continue to drink the beers I find pleasing no matter who brews them or what awards they have or haven't won.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Vancouver Licensees Beware the Pint Police

A sleeve is not a pint, or even close to one,
so don't call it one!!!
In Canada, 20oz = pint, nothing more, nothing less
I don't know about you but I am getting fed up with being mislead, whether intentionally or not, by bars and restaurants who advertise pints and serve sleeves.

Twice in the last few weeks I have seen restaurants on Commercial Drive advertising "pint" specials when they were serving sleeves, which are between 20-40% less in volume depending on which version of the hated glassware is being employed.

This pisses me off to no end as it is misleading at best and downright dishonest if the misrepresentation is advertised knowingly.

A few Mondays ago I notice Falconetti's tweeting about an all-day "pint" special. I tweeted back a few times asking if they were in fact serving 20oz pours and was met with silence. Later in the day, I walked past the restaurant, on my way to the park with my kid, and noticed a "pint" special advertised on their sidewalk chalkboard outside the restaurant. Curious, I stuck my head it the door and there was not a pint glass to be seen. Just to be sure, I called to enquire, and was told "pints" were apart of the Monday special and when I asked if it was actually a 20oz pour or a sleeve, the response was, "technically, I guess you are right, we serve 16oz sleeves."

Technically, really?

I wonder if I offered them $3.60, which is 20% of the $4.50 they were advertising their "pints" of lager for on Twitter, if I would have been told I was technically right as well?

I don't think that would have been acceptable to them as it should not be acceptable for consumers to be mislead. I would have been very pissed off if I had seen their tweet, traveled specifically to Falconetti's for this great pint deal only to receive a sleeve.

Eventually, after yet another tweet, where I pointed out that their tweet and sidewalk chalkboard board were inaccurate, whoever is in charge of Falc's Twitter account corrected their mistake and tweeted to clarified that they did, in fact, serve sleeves.

A few days later, while walking down Commercial, I noticed Timbre advertising "all draft pints $4" on their sidewalk chalkboard out front of their establishment.

'Wow, what a great deal," I said to my wife, better check this out." I stuck my head and was not too surprised to see that this too-good-to-be-true offer was in fact too good to be true.

Later, when I got home, I queried on Timbre's Facebook page if they did serve pints and immediately they answered back that they did serve sleeves. When I mentioned the chalkboard advertising, they responded it must have been an "oops" and that they would correct the problem.

I don't know if these mistakes, which are not isolated to Commercial Drive or these two places, are a result of some generational information gap for those raised on the metric system, failure to pay attention to detail or intentional misrepresentations. The Imperial System is as foreign to some as hops are to Alexander Keith's IPA, but that should be no excuse for attracting patrons into their establishments with what is basically false advertising, whether intentional or not.

I come from an age when a pint was a pint, sleeves did not exist and millilitres and litres were weird European concepts, but the majority of today's generation of servers and bartenders are from a different era, the era of the metric system and the non-standardized sleeve glass. But they need to learn that "pint" is not just a generic term for a serving of draft beer, no matter the size. The term pint has the official and legal volume in Canada of 20oz (1 gallon is 160oz, pint is 1/8 gallon), as per the Federal Weights and Measures Act, or in today's money, 568ml.

The term sleeve has no legal or standard volume attached to it in Canada and is a term invented by the pub and restaurant industry to decrease serving sizes and increase profits.

I am not stating that either Falconetti's or Timbre were intentionally misrepresenting their serving sizes because frankly I don't know, and I commend them both for publicly admitting and fixing their mistakes, but obviously someone at both locations did not know that a pint is an actual measure, at least I hope that was the case. I am quite sure these same folks would not advertise a dozen chicken wings knowing full-well that a dozen is defined by the number 12 and knowing that their serving sizes were much less than 12 wings.

So why is it okay to do this with beer?

CAMRA Vancouver, with the Fess Up to Serving Sizes Campaign (FUSS), have tried to address the misrepresentation of serving sizes here in Vancouver and even had the cause brought forth in the BC Legislature by NDP MLA Shane Simpson, but the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Branch have done little to ensure licensees do not mislead consumers and Rich Coleman, the Cabinet Minister responsible for alcohol, basically stated it did not matter.

But it matters to this consumer and as a result of being fed up with this problem, I am going to start waging a one-man war against this misrepresentation of draft beer serving sizes. It is us, the consumers, that must put pressure on licensees to change if we want to see change. I know others out there are frustrated and even angry about this issue. I, for one, intend to start trying to apply some pressure.

Stay tuned for future posts related to the Pint Police... 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

BC On Tap - Every Month Can Be BC Craft Beer Month

October is upon us which means it is, once again, BC Craft Beer Month (BCCBM).

For those of you who do not know, October was officially declared by the BC Provincial Government in 2011 to be BCCBM, a month that, according to the official proclamation, "will feature a celebration of British Columbia craft beer".

The month is meant to be a time for those who support the local craft beer industry to shine the spotlight on themselves, by creating their own special celebrations which highlight specifically the world-class, craft beer brewed here in BC and raise awareness as to just how successful and important the craft beer industry is here in this province.

More importantly than that, it is an excuse for us who love to tip back a jar or three to get out there and enjoy the BC craft beers that we love.

Although it happens less frequently these days, often our local craft beers get over-shadowed by the amazing beers, and the buzz they create, imported from well known craft breweries down south. In my opinion, it was when these great US beers started arriving on the scene here in BC that the local craft breweries really started to push themselves to create and brew more unique and interesting beers to keep up and hold their places in the local market. Although there was a definite craft beer scene here, especially in Victoria and Vancouver where there were some great beers being brewed, it was these US beers that really started to educate the consumer here in BC as to what craft beer was all about and pushed it out into the open, beyond the beer nerd scene and CAMRA crowd.

In the past five years or so local brewers have not only managed to keep up with their very talented brewing cousins to the south, but have often surpassed them at their own game which is pushing the limits and challenging the norms of how beers taste and pushing the boundaries of recognized beers styles to create new styles and beers others try to emulate.

BC craft beer plays second fiddle to no one these days and one Vancouver establishment, Tap & Barrel, celebrates that fact every day of the year, not just during BCCBM.

This is not a review of the Tap & Barrel, although I personally really like the place and love what owner Daniel Frenkel and his staff  are doing there. No, you will have to go there yourself to judge whether you enjoy the place or not. I think you will, but I have been known to be wrong before.

What I want to highlight is the fact that Tap & Barrel has 24 beers on tap and all are brewed in BC breweries. They embrace and highlight the local scene on a daily basis and are none the worse for wear for doing so because our craft beer industry is producing more than enough great beers to occupy the 24 taps on offer there. And they are just scratching the surface, pouring only a fraction of the good BC beers available. Hopefully, as they get going and gain popularity, they can begin to rotate some of their taps and include some of the great beers and breweries that are not currently represented on their tap list. Hopefully, if they are successful, and I see every indication that they will be, more and more establishments will expand their beer menus and will focus more on our locally produced beers. Tap & Barrel are not the only licensee who boast an all-BC, craft line-up, but I do believe they do have the biggest selection of BC-only beers. If I am wrong, please send me word of where I can find a larger selection of BC beer, and only BC beer, on tap.

The fact that a restaurant like Tap & Barrel can go with an all-BC, craft line-up on their draft beer list - they do offer some macro lagers and imported beers on their modest bottle list - is something I could never of imagined when I first started enjoying beer back when I had hair and a waistline. I come from a time when three national breweries had a complete stranglehold on the market here in BC and when you ordered draft beer, you didn't even bother to order by brand because they all tasted the same and often pubs only had one brewery's beers to offer. Now you not only have multiple styles and categories of beers to choose from, but also many choices within those different styles.

And even as recently as a few years back, although there was a growing selection of craft beers available on the market, many were from cities like Seattle, Portland and San Diego. Now our BC beers are legitimately in the mix and earning more and more tap and shelf space and they are there own their own merit, not just because they are locally brewed.

Before I start getting hate mail from those who love their beers from down south, this is not a knock against those brews or the establishments who serve them. Great craft beer is great craft beer and I am lucky to live in a city where there is a seemingly endless supply of craft beers from all over North America and beyond. But what I am finding more often than not is that I am drinking BC craft beer and not just because it is BC craft beer, but because I prefer them over the others available. I can honestly say that about 90% of the beers I purchase and consume are BC craft beers and like at Tap & Barrel, every month of the year is, for me, BCCBM.

I think because of the huge wave of momentum the BC craft beer industry is riding on right now, you may see more licensees concentrate more heavily on the local breweries. It would be great if the LDB caught on and stopped restricting  the number of listings they give BC breweries, which they should be promoting and supporting as much as possible, not ignoring, especially since domestic craft beer sales are one of the only segments of the alcohol market that is consistently growing. This would help grow the BC craft beer market and as the market grows, it will be able to support more and more breweries giving the consumer more and more choices.

What a great time to be a craft beer lover and living in BC!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Say it Ain't So - LDB Warehouse Distribution Privatization Cancelled

It appears the BC Liberals finally found a way to save face and cancel their plans to sell off the Liquor Distribution Branch's warehouse distribution system.

Hidden in a press release from the Ministry of Finance in regards to the provincial government's tentative agreement with the BCGEU for a new two-year contract, it was announced, "(a)s part of the agreement, the Negotiated Request for Proposal process for the privatization of liquor distribution was cancelled." 

This is welcome news to those who have been opposing how this whole LDB privatization process has been unfolding. I have been saying for a few months now that I believed the Liberals would find a way to back away from their controversial plans but they just needed to find a way to save face and make it look like they were doing it for some greater good, not because of immense pressure from the public and private sectors of BC and the media.

At first glance it looks like the BCGEU, who were very vocal in their opposition to the privatization plus, provided that avenue of escape. 

I think a lot of credit needs to go to the media and bloggers who played a big role in shedding light on what appears to have been some scandalous backroom deals which resembled the controversial BC Rail privatization. On the heels of the HST debacle, it seemed political suicide for the Liberals to try to sneak this privatization past the BC public, but try the did, showing, in my opinion, the arrogant attitude this government has and its disdain for public wants and needs.

What will this mean for BC craft beer consumers? 

Well, we will never really know, but I think in the short term we won't have to worry about potential price increases and restricted access to locally produced craft beer as a result of a private monopoly, accountable to only their shareholders, taking over the warehouse distribution on alcohol in BC. 

The downside is that we are stuck with the current system, which is flawed and needs overhauling, but at least it is a system that is accountable, to some extent, to the voters of BC.

Better to deal with the devil you know...

Let's hope all this media attention on the LDB will prompt some positive changes in the future by the next government, which by all accounts looks to be the NDP. I think those wanting reform need to make this need for the modernization of our liquor system an election issue and push to get commitments from those seeking election next May to bring the LDB and the LCLB into the 21st Century.  

Behold the Wine Snob

A few months back I met with someone from the wine camp and over a few beers we had an excellent discussion about issues common to both the BC wine and craft beer industries, successes the wine lobby have realized as a result of advocating and how the craft beer consumers could better organize to help them realize similar successes.

During this discussion it was pointed out to me the craft beer consumer advocates and the craft beer industry as a whole have a major problem that has nothing to do with the quality of beers being brewed or the lack of organization of the industry and this problem is one that is playing a major role in the lack of support given to craft beer by the government and the hospitality industry.

"You (craft beer consumers/industry) have an image problem," I was told.

This was not news to me, and should not be for the majority involved with the craft beer scene here in BC. It is a reality and a hangover from the Dark Ages of Beer when with a few exceptions, from Coast-to-Coast in Canada, the majority of beers available were basically generic, mass-produced lagers meant to be swilled for the effect, not the taste.

During this Dark Age, beer had no place in the finer restaurants about town, did nothing to enhance or compliment food and was considered a beverage almost exclusively downed by down-and-outs and by middle-class, working men, but thankfully, due to the explosion of the BC craft beer scene and the amazing beers being brewed locally, those days are long gone.

Or are they?

A few weeks back my family and I walked into one of our favourite Commercial Drive eateries and I noticed what looked to be a fairly casual wine tasting in progress. I went over to introduce myself  hoping to score a sample or two of primo vino and strike up a conversation with others who have a passion for good alcohol and food. Quickly the conversation shifted to the recent Bring Your Own Wine legislation and I mentioned my desire, as a consumer advocate of local craft beer, that the laws be further changed to include beer.

That's when I came face-to-face with the reality of the "image problem" facing beer drinkers, whether they be craft beer aficionados or not.

I was told, in no uncertain terms, by one of the people at the tasting, that no restaurant owners would be interested in beer being included in BYOB legislation. This fellow, who told me several times he was the owner of five restaurants, therefore knew what he was talking about, went even further and asked who, in general, would be interested in such a ridiculous idea?

He dismissed the fact that craft beer consumers would be very interested in this concept. He scoffed at the idea that a beer of any style or quality could compliment, never mind elevate, food if paired properly and told me he had no interest in enticing the craft beer crowds to his restaurants because beer drinkers "only order yam fries".

Wow, behold the wine snob.

He wanted to hear nothing about the fact he was actually sitting in a restaurant that supported including beer in BYOB legislation. He pooh-poohed  that, like with wine, people cellar and age certain beers. He simply ignored when I pointed out that there were a multitude of fine dining, beer-pairing dinner events that sell out on a regular basis around the city or that craft beer lovers are often also equally into their fine wines, single malt scotches and gourmet food.

Quite simply, he could not fathom that those who enjoy good craft beer come from diverse backgrounds and have varied tastes and interests just like those who enjoy wine.

He offered no solid arguments other than the ideas that wine is more refined than beer, wine drinkers more sophisticated than those who prefer a fine ale, lambic or stout and that selling craft beer was not profitable.

It was quite obvious to me Mr Wine Snob was actually quite ignorant of what great beers were all about especially when he ordered a macro-lager to enjoy with his food instead of the craft beer option that paired very well with the style of food being served.

Luckily my wife was there to drag me out of the conversation as the condescending and patronizing tone of Mr Wine Snob triggered my inner-Surrey.

There will always be restaurants and bars that cater to wine-lovers, just as there are now places like the Alibi Room, St Augustine's and Biercraft who cater to the craft beer crowd, and places that serve only mainstream lagers and European import "premium" beers and that is fine. There are also fine-dining establishments like  Vij's and Chambar, who have great wine menus, that offer great beer with their food...for a reason.

Because they understand flavours and taste without prejudice. And they give consumers choices.

But Mr Wine Snob is not alone. This is part of the response I received from Rich Coleman, minister in charge of all things alcohol in BC when I wrote him about Bring Your Own Beer to restaurants.

"While we appreciate the evolving nature and uniqueness of craft beer, it is not in the same category as wine."

Behold the wine snob.

More on Mr Coleman at a later date...

As a side note, I don't have time for the beer snob either. .If someone gets pleasure from sipping a sleeve of Molson 67, good for them. You won't find it in my glass and what is in your glass does not impact my drinking experience. I do not assume that those who drink these types of beer are inferior to me, or have no clue about good food because this quite simply is not true.

And if you want to know, Mr Wine Snob, otherwise known as Chris Stewart, is co-owner of the very successful restaurants La buca, Pied-a-Terre, Cafeteria, Commissary and The Sardine Can here in Vancouver. I introduced myself as the president of CAMRA Vancouver and presented my card on the table, therefore he should have known I was on the side of the craft beer consumer, yet he felt it necessary to insult beer drinkers and make it clear to me they were not good for his restaurants. And after he did so, he gave me his card, without his name but listing his establishments, at which time he once again warned me that they were fine-dining, wine-oriented restaurants - places yam fry eating beer lovers like myself may find lacking even though I had told him several times I  had a great love for wine after living in South France for close to three years.

I am not telling you to boycott or avoid his restaurants, as I have said, I have heard they are excellent but if you want a great plate of yam fries or a good beer, please take the above into consideration.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Craft Beer Defined

This evening, when I heard the on the 6:00 news that the term craft beer had been defined and included in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, I was very excited.

Finally I would have a conclusive answer when I am inevitably asked the question ,"what is craft beer?"

This is always one of the first questions posed to me in interviews and it always catches me off guard for some reason, causing me I mumble out some lame-ass definition that makes me sound like I have no clue what I am talking about and which makes the interviewer think they are going to fire their assistants for recommending me for the interview. This inability by me to nail down the perfect definition might be because there was no real consensus as to what constitutes a craft beer because the term was created mostly as a marketing ploy. You ask 10 different beer aficionados to define craft beer and you will get 10 different and often conflicting answers.

But that was before Merriam-Webster got involved.

You can imagine my excitement as I quickly went to their on-line dictionary and typed in "craft beer". Merriam-Webster have been defining the English language since the 1800's so surely they would know how to nail down precisely and succinctly the definition that has alluded all of us beer geeks for the past 15 years or so.

Finally there would be no argument or debate as to what constitutes a craft beer. I was prepared to be enlightened.

So here it is, according to Merriam-Webster: craft beer (noun) - a specialty beer produced in limited quantities.

Well that sure clears things up doesn't it? No longer will I have to struggle to sound learned and intelligent when asked to define craft beer. I can just sit back, with an all-knowing smirk, and spout forth the definition endorsed by those who define the English language, making myself look every inch the expert my interviewer expects me to be.

Seriously, I'm even more confused and have more questions than ever. What defines "a specialty beer"? What defines "limited quantities"? Does that mean my beloved Fat Tug IPA is not a craft beer? Say it ain't so!  It is regularly produced, can be found virtually everywhere in Vancouver year-round and is a beer from a recognized style, so is it a specialty beer made in limited quantities? 

Who cares. I like it so I will drink it until I don't like it any more, no matter what label gets attached to it or pigeon hole its gets shoved into. I don't drink Fat Tug because it is called a craft beer, I drink it because I love its flavour.

I think maybe we, the beer geeks, get too carried away with this whole craft beer thing sometime, especially since no one really knows what the Hell craft beer is exactly. Isn't the point of going out for a beer to enjoy said beer and the company you are with while drinking it? If you like a beer's taste and it hits the spot for you, does it matter whether it is craft or crap? Hell, if Molson M and it's microcarbonation blew away my tastes buds, I would drink it, but predictably, it just blew, so I don't. I have tasted beers that were supposed to be great tasting beers, brewed by the most hip and reputable "craft breweries" and I have disliked them because, yes, you guessed it, they didn't suite my palate.

I've said it before and I'll say it again,  I would drink beer filter through dirty socks if I liked the taste and it didn't kill me.

So maybe this ambiguous definition from Merriam-Webster and lack of consensus on any other definition from the beer world about what defines a craft beer is not all that important. What is important is that we all have ample access to the beers that we love, sold at reasonable prices, in the volumes promised and served in the correct manner.

Meanwhile, I'm going to start memorizing this new definition so I am ready for that next interview. How can I go wrong by answering, "well, according to Merriam-Webster..." 


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Why Grapes are Being Freed While Hops Remained Shackled

Over the past month BC wine consumers and the BC wine industry have had several reasons to pop champagne corks in celebration of changes to both federal and provincial laws which have benefited both groups.

First Bill C-311, a Private Member's Bill  introduced into the House of Commons by Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Dan Albas, prompted an amendment to the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act (IILA) of 1928 which now allows, under federal law, that wine, and wine only, may transported or shipped across provincial borders by consumers.

Spirits and beer are still illegal to ship or transport across provincial boundaries as they have been since the introduction of the IILA.

Next the Provincial Liberals got in on the act by allowing consumers to buy direct from Canadian wineries and as an added bonus, they did not have to pay the BC Liquor Distribution Branch's (LDB) 123% mark-up! Even though the feds had allowed for cross-border shipments of wine, it is the provincial governments that ultimately have control of what alcohol gets imported into their jurisdictions so this move was critical to give Bill C-311 some meaning.

Again, these allowances were made for wine only, leaving laws unchanged in regards to spirits and beer.

If that weren't enough,  Rich Coleman, the minister responsible for all thing liquor in BC, next announced that BC wine lovers could now take their favourite bottle of wine to participating restaurants, pay a corkage fee and enjoy it with their meal. The allowance for Bring Your Own Wine (BYOW) was immediate and restaurants have been taking advantage of the freedom to allow BYOW since the announcement was made mid-July.

All of these great freedoms and allowances for wine lovers have craft beer drinkers crying into their sleeves. The moves definitely give the appearance that the BC wine consumers and  wine industry get favoured treatment from the BC Liberals, the LDB and the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB), and in many cases this is true, but in these cases I would argue that these wine-centric changes have been well-earned by the consumers of wine in this province who have organized, lobbied and gained the support from the industry to back their fight to change laws.

Groups like #freemygrapes, who Albas thanks on his website for their essential support, and Modernize Wine have been working hard to bring wine consumers together on issues and form loud, strong voices that the government and the wine industry have not been able to ignore. They have a small core of very dedicated people who are adept at creating a buzz, educating other consumers about the importance of supporting their movements and catching the attention of politicians. They are good at defining, ahead of time, exactly what it is that they want, creating an action plan and then going out and getting the results they want..

And contrary to popular belief, these movements are not heavily funded by deep-pocketed vineyard owners, at least not in the beginning.

#Freemygrapes and Modernize Wine are consumer-driven, grassroots movements. They use social media  to the maximum to create a buzz and focus attention on themselves. They often organize on-line chats, to discuss the issues at hand and keep people focused. They have email write-in and Twitter campaigns which target politicians and bureaucrats who are in positions to influence the changes they seek and put pressure on the various private sector groups to support them. More importantly than organizing these awareness-raising events is that they get participation in large numbers which is essential. They are determined and have been organizing for years now, which is one of the major reasons they are now seeing successes.

These movements being consumer-driven makes sense because many, if not all manufacturers, vendors and importers of alcohol in BC are afraid to stick their heads up and speak out about problems and demand changes due to the atmosphere of fear and the widely-held belief that voicing complaints and concerns will result in reprisals from the LCLB and LDB. I don't know how many times I have heard from licensees they feel both government agencies are "vindictive" when challenged either privately or publicly. You only have to look at the RIO Theatre saga, where RIO ownership publicly challenged the Liberal Government and LCLB in the media and paid the price with the process dragging on much longer that it needed to, almost costing RIO ownership their business, before Mr Coleman finally did what he should have done straight off, which is make changes to a decades-old liquor policy that had no place being enforced in the 21st Century.

It is a widely-held belief by many that the process involving the RIO's licensing issues was purposely delayed to make the RIO ownership pay for their direct public challenges. These are, of course, just rumours....

So it is up to us, the consumers, to lead the charge as we have less to lose in regards to what the LCLB and/or LDB can do to us. They cannot suspend our liquor license or hit us with some arbitrary fine for "contravening" liquor laws. They cannot lose our liquor order of products that fill our shelves. They cannot lose our paperwork, delaying payment for products sold weeks before.

They can ignore us, but in the end, if consumers make enough noise, with enough people, politicians, who ultimately call the shots for the LCLB and LDB, will listen because consumers are voters and in the end, politicians are all about getting votes so they can stay in power.

The craft beer consumer is not without options and does have CAMRA BC, and their branches in Vancouver, Victoria and the Fraser Valley, to rally around but CAMRA BC does have numbers, with close to 1,100 individual members and over 80 corporate supporters, but those numbers mean nothing if the majority of members are silent and/or unwilling to get involved. I made recent calls to individual members to write emails to LCLB General Karen Ayers and minister Rich Coleman in support of CAMRA Vancouver's Bring Your Own Craft Beer Campaign and out of the 250 or so who had signed our petition and our 700+ members, about 20 people responded (and my thanks to all who did respond).

A group like CAMRA and movements/campaigns are only as effective as those supporting it and until craft beer consumers learn to get as organized, vocal and supportive as wine consumers are, they are going to be like poor kids standing outside the candy shop with their noses pressed up against the window, jealously watching the rich kids inside the store sampling and buying their sweets.

So, craft beer consumers, if you want to #freemyhops, Bring Your Own Craft Beer or are against the LDB privatization of distribution, get active, get involved and support those groups out there, like CAMRA BC/CAMRA Vancouver, who are actively trying to make a difference. Write letters to the editor, get involved in tweet and email campaigns, sign petitions, get friends and family interested in supporting the cause.

And if you are waiting for the person next to you to fight your battle, don't because I have news for you, they are probably waiting for you to fight their's.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

CAMRA BC Speaks Out on LDB Privatization - Time For Craft Beer Consumers to be Heard

Disclaimer: For those who do not know, I am the current president of CAMRA Vancouver. I write this blog as myself and the opinions voiced here on VanEast Beer Blog are mine, not those of CAMRA BC, CAMRA Vancouver or another organization

In case you missed it, last week the Campaign for Real Ale of British Columbia (CAMRA BC) spoke out publicly against the current Liberal Government plans to sell off the province's liquor distribution warehouses and warehouse distribution system to the private sector, joining groups like the Alliance of Beverage Licensees of BC, the BC Government Employees Union and The Craft Brewer's Guild of BC and the NDP Party of BC in voicing their dissent.

In an email to Rich Coleman (see below) and many other major players in the current privatization process, CAMRA BC, a craft beer consumer advocacy group, voiced displeasure about the fact the the Liberals have not been able to guarantee that the privatization plans will not negatively impact the access to locally brewed craft beer or that alcohol prices will not increase for the craft beer consumers of BC. They also point to the absence of consultation with the private and public sectors of the province and to the fact that the Liberals have not produced a business case or cost-effect analysis to support their privatization plans.

The email came one day before NDP Alcohol Critic Shane Simpson dropped a bombshell by releasing documents showing the BC Liberals had no current plans to privatize before being approached last summer by Exel Logistics, who made a pitch to take over the province's alcohol distribution which they had been pursuing for years. For excellent coverage of the whole affair check out Bob Mackins blog 2010 Goldrush #LiquorLeaks.

I hope the CAMRA BC (CAMRA Victoria, CAMRA Vancouver, CAMRA Fraser Valley) membership at large pick up on the cue that it is time to start voicing their dissent individually as well. It is all well and good when organizations speak out as a whole, but the voice becomes much louder when the individuals who make up the membership of these organizations take it upon themselves to make some noise themselves.

One email from CAMRA BC to Rich Coleman, et al, is essential. One thousand emails from CAMRA BC members will have Coleman and all involved sitting up and taking notice as each voice of dissent is a vote and in politics that is what counts.

This whole affair has the same stink to it that the HST did when the BC Liberals did another about face about face, changing their position from "no HST" prior to the 2011 election to announcing implementation of the since shot-down tax shortly after being voted back in.

Maybe it is time for an another HST-type, grassroots revolt here in BC to show the Liberals once and for all, we will not tolerate being lied to and deceived. The necessary emails are all below for anyone who feels it is important to speak out in order to try to stop this process until the government provides some evidence the move is good for British Columbians and determine that this is indeed what the citizens of BC want.

Democracy only works if there is participation from the masses.
From: CAMRA President <> Date: Wed, Jul 11, 2012 at 5:38 PM  Subject: Campaign for Real Ale of British Columbia position LDB Distribution Warehouse Privatization
Cc: <>,, <> 

Dear Mr Coleman   
I am writing you this letter on behalf of the Campaign for Real Ale of British Columbia (CAMRA BC), a craft beer consumer advocacy group who represent more than 1000 individual and 100 corporate members here in British Columbia and of which I am the Vancouver Branch President and member of the BC Executive.  
Since the announcement of the BC Liberal Government’s plan to sell off the Liquor Distribution Branch’s warehouses and with them the province’s warehouse distribution system, many groups have come out against the plan, including the opposition NDP Party, Alliance of Beverage Licensees of BC, the BC Government Employee’s Union and the Craft Brewer’s Guild of BC.   
There have been complaints of the complete absence of consultation with BC’s liquor industry or the general public, and the lack of guarantees that this privatization plan will not negatively impact the alcohol industry and alcohol consumers of this province.   
It is now our turn, the craft beer consumers of BC, to voice our dissent due in large part to  the lack of information as to how this privatization will affect the craft beer industry and craft beer consumers and because the current government cannot guarantee 100 percent that this privatization deal, when completed and implemented, will not have a negative impact on the craft beer consumers of BC.   
No business case has been presented. A clear cost-effect analysis should be completed and presented to both the liquor industry and general public in order to clarify exactly how privatization will affect liquor prices before this process goes any further.   
No study has been done and no guarantees have been made as to whether privatization will affect access to BC-brewed beers from local, craft breweries.  
At the moment, the Provincial Government has a mandate to make these beers accessible, but will this continue after privatization?   
In short, CAMRA BC cannot currently support this privatization plan and will continue to voice dissent until the following steps are taken:
  1. Conduct a study to provide objective data showing how this move will impact the craft beer consumers of BC  
  1. Make public a business case and/or cost-effect analysis
  1. Have a full and meaningful consultation with both the private and public sectors of the province in regards to the planned sale and privatization of the Liquor Distribution Branch's warehouses and warehouse distribution system  
If, after those steps have been taken and it is shown that this privatization plan will not negatively impact the craft beer consumers of BC, CAMRA BC will be willing to support this move publicly on behalf of our membership. 
Thank you for your time. 
Paddy Treavor  
President, Vancouver Branch - CAMRA BC