Monday, April 16, 2012

BYOCB to Restaurants - A Win-Win Idea

Have you ever been seated in your favourite restaurant, noshing on your favourite meal and thought to yourself, "this meal would go perfectly with (insert name of craft beer or wine of your choice here), I wish it was on the menu"?

Yes, I speak of the fabled Bring Your Own Booze (BYOB) to restaurants, which is not just some far-out concept realized in liberal European nations. It is a reality in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba where no longer is there a need to salivate about what could have been, as you can, in participating restaurants, simply turn to your server and order one of the bottles of wine you purchased legally elsewhere, brought with you and handed over to the restaurant personnel upon arrival. It seems only wine has been included in the BYOB category at this point, but why not BYOCB (Bring Your Own Craft Beer), as there is no logical reason why beer could not be included.

Although the laws vary slightly from province to province, the basic idea is that restaurants have the choice to allow patrons to bring in their own bottle(s) of wine, which they turn over to the restaurant upon arrival. They can then order that bottle(s) of wine, as they would any bottle off the menu, and pay a "corkage" fee for their wine to be served to them.

All other facets of the liquor laws remain the same in regards to serving the BYOB wine. Servers must not serve to minors, must not over-serve, cannot serve to intoxicated patrons, the alcohol has to be purchased through legal channels, etc. The advantage to the restaurant is that they do not have to carry a large inventory of wines in an attempt to satisfy a wide range of pallets. Restaurants still make a profit charging the corkage.

The advantages to patrons is that they get to drink the wine they want to drink with their meal and are not restricted to what the restaurant may or may not carry on their menus.They may pay less for that wine as well, depending on the corkage fee charged. From the research I have done, the corkage fees run from nothing, in places like Montreal - yet another reason to love this great city - to up to $50 in Toronto - yet another reason...okay, I'll remain silent. Some restaurants in Ontario were even advertising reduced prices on traditionally slow nights during the week to try to lure in patrons.

With the Liberal Government's current promise to review the province's current liquor laws, it is not out of the realm of possibility that a BYOB law could be passed. In an email communication with VEBB, a Liquor Control and Licensing Branch spokesperson stated that the Liberals, "will consider 'Bring Your Own Wine' as a part of a larger review of liquor policy in the province." When queried specifically if the review was considering beer as well be included in the BYOB review, a "no decision has been made," response was all I received. I think it is imperative that those in the craft beer industry, consumers of craft beer and advocates for the consumers (are you listening CAMRA BC) make some noise and let the government know that it is not acceptable to make these changes without including beer in any BYOB program. I can guarantee you wine advocates are on this issue and making their voices heard, which is why wine was mentioned by the LCLB in their email.

Cafe Kathmandu owner, Abi Sharma, whose small Commercial Drive eatery does not have the room or the operating budget to inventory a large variety of wine or beer, is all for the concept of BYOB. His restaurant, which serves amazing food, is the perfect example of an establishment that would benefit greatly from allowing BYOB.

"It (BYOB) is a mutually beneficial arrangement for both patrons and restaurants so long as the (corkage) fee is reasonably good enough, for sure," stated Sharma. "I am willing to participate."

I can only think of one way to improve upon the experience of eating one of Abi's goat curries, that being able to enjoy the IPA of my choice with it. If BYOB came into effect, that experience could become a reality.

As the government would still be collecting their tax from the sale of the wine and beer originally and the corkage fee, they would not be out any tax dollars and as for the restaurants, if they do not see this as being beneficial for their bottom line, they would not have to participate. But for those who want to offer BYOB, like Cafe Kathmandu, this is a win-win concept that could only further enhance BC's growing reputation as a tourist destination and for cities like Vancouver, which is becoming somewhat of a Mecca for foodies and craft beer lovers, it would be a natural fit.

Let's hope those reviewing our liquor policies are thinking along the same lines. I, for one, cannot wait for the opportunity to take in a few of my favourite IPA's to compliment my already-out-of-this-world goat curry at Cafe Kathmandu.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Playoff Craft Beer Survival Guide

The reports that Maple Leaf players and personnel are being spotted working on their tans and tweaking their golf swings on the beaches and golf courses around the world can only mean one thing - the NHL regular season is over and this year's battle for Lord Stanley's mug is about to begin.

This is music to the ears of bar and restaurant owners who are preparing for the hordes of thirsty fans who will be gathering together at their favourite local watering holes to slake their thirsts while cheering on their favourite teams.

Historically, for Canadian hockey fans, that has meant gathering in some dark bar around a television, or in front of a fuzzy image projected on a screen, while drinking macro-lager swill, but times have changed since I had hair and a waistline, especially here in Vancouver where there are a variety of licensed establishments that feature numerous high-definition televisions and big screens and serve up a variety of world-class craft beer for thirsty sports fans.

VanEast Beer Blog put together a list for the craft-beer loving hockey fan to help guide them to some of the better hockey-watching, craft-beer-friendly places. Remember, this is my list and I do not claim it to be THE list. It is a biased list and reflects, in every way, the opinions of the writer. I welcome anyone to send in their favourite places to drink craft beer and watch the game in the comments section of this blog. 

The number one place to enjoy the game with friends and family with the craft beer of your choice is your place. Where else can you get the exact beer you want to drink, eat what you want to eat, put the game on pause (if you have a PVR) while you go get or off-load beer, replay key plays to your heart's content and where, at the end of the night, you do not have to tip your server! And, it is the only place you can control who sits next to you, thereby ensuring you do not end up next to some bandwagon-jumping drunk whose ignorance of the game is only surpassed by their obnoxious need to voice said ignorance.  Although it is a lot of fun to head out for the night to your favourite watering hole to take in the action and soak up the atmosphere, no where beats home.    

Vancouver - Eastside

St Augustine's  Craft Brew House and Kitchen - 2360 Commercial Drive, Vancouver
The number one place to watch the Canucks, or any sorting event for that matter, in Vancouver and perhaps BC, is St Augustine's Craft Brew House and Kitchen. With 40 taps of craft beer, 13 televisions and a location less then a slap shot away from the Commercial Drive transit hub, it is hard to beat Augie's. The downside is every sports fan in the city who loves craft beer knows it is THE place to watch a game so you have to get there early. Last year for the final series, people were arriving four hours before the game to secure tables. Check the website for reservation status. Augie's is also kid friendly and, despite what some think, is a restaurant. 

Biercraft Commercial Drive - 1191 Commercial Drive
If you are looking for a less stimulating environment but still want a great selection of craft beer, Biercraft could be the place. With a 100-inch hi-def screen and two 42 inch televisions you won't miss the action. There are 25 beers on tap and a staggering 80 bottles to choose from as well as a great food menu. They do pull in the Eastside hockey crowd, but not to the extent of St Augustine's. 

Westside - Cambie area
Original Joe's - corner of Cambie and W Broadway.
This choice may surprise a few people, but the Cambie & Broadway Original Joe's is slowly turning itself into a craft beer destination and they love their Vancouver Canucks! They don't have the most comprehensive selection of craft beer but you will find Driftwood, Red Racer, Howe Sound and Lighthouse beers among their selection. They also have in-house beers, brewed by Calgary's Big Rock Brewery, that are brewed exclusively for Original Joe's. They also serve full 20 oz measures of draft if drinking pints is your thing. The place lines up early on game nights and there are more than enough televisions and a big screen to ensure you will see the game. It is also perfectly located across the road from the City Hall-Broadway Skytrain Station. 

Biercraft Cambie - 3305 Cambie
The Cambie version of Biercraft has a slightly different vibe and some different beers on tap, but similar numbers of taps and bottles to choose from and the same type of viewing set up. The food is great and as with the Commercial Drive location, you know your beer is going to be served with the love and respect it deserves.

West Side - Kitsilano
Darby's Pub - Corner of MacDonald and W 4th
For those who don't know, Darby's has quietly become one of the go-to craft beer spots in Kitsilano. Darby's has a 108-inch projection screen and seven flat screen televisions and 20 taps of draft beer, 14 of which are of the craft beer variety. As an added bonus, Darby's Liquor Store, attached to the pub, has an awesome selection of craft beers to purchase for your fridge at home. Darby's does take reservations.

The Bimini Public House - 2010 W 4th Ave
If you want to take in the action at Vancouver's oldest neighbourhood pub, Bimini's is the place. They have recently remade themselves and are beginning to build a reputation as a great craft beer house that has a great atmosphere during the games.

The Sunset Grill - 2204 York
I was just at the Sunset Grill last week for the #YVRBeerTweetup and it is a great venue with 14 hi def televisions and 15 taps of beer. It is a smaller venue with an intimate feel that will lend itself well to creating a great atmosphere for watching the game. I could see the Sunset becoming a very popular place to go for the action during the playoffs.

Smiley's Public House - 911 W Pender
Smiley's is a craft beer joint that has a definite pub feel to it. Of all the Donnelly Group establishments, Smiley's probably has the best craft beer selection, with 28 taps. There is plenty of room at Smiley's to gather with a large group and I understand they will take reservations and hold them until one-hour before the game. I think Smiley's is a very under-rated place by craft beer lovers and if  I am Downtown, this is probably where I would take in the game.

Malone's Urban Drinkery - 608 W Pender
Many in the craft beer community disagree with me about Malone's but I think it is a great place to stop in for a craft beer. It has long been known as a place Downtown to go watch the games, but the difference is now you have a very decent selection of craft beers to choose from as 27 or their 36 taps are dedicated to craft brew which are very reasonably priced. Malone's also has 11 televisions and a big projection screen so you won't miss the action. It is also just one block from the Granville Skytrain Station.  

Central City Brew Pub - 13450 102nd Ave
It's Central City Brew Pub, with Red Racer beer fresh from the source in true pint servings, do I have to say more?? Well, in case I do, they have two large projection screens and televisions everywhere you turn and love their sports with a passion. If that is not enough, it is about 200 metres from the Surrey Central Skytrain Station and they do take reservations. Food is great as well.

Pumphouse Pub6031 Blundell Rd
The Pumphouse is probably the place that gets mentioned most to me as the place to go watch a game outside of Vancouver. With 24 taps of draft beer, most of the high-end, craft variety, six televisions and a large projection screen it is a great place to catch the action if you are out in Richmond.

Howe Sound Brew Pub
There are few places I love to go out of town for a beer than Howe Sound Brew Pub. If I was going to get away for a weekend during the playoffs, this is where I would go and I may in fact do so on my holidays coming up in a few weeks. With their world-class beers, great pub, which is known for attracting sports fanatics for the big games and the hotel attached, it has all that I need. It doesn't hurt that everyone I have ever met associated with Howe Sound are amazing folks. Seriously, it is worth the trip to go check them out.

Mission Springs Brew Pub 
Because I love the creations of head brewer Timmy Brown and because I know that there are few places that support their Canucks more than the Mission Springs gang, I am including them on my list of out-of-town places to go. If you find yourself anywhere near Mission around game time, do yourself a favour, grab a beer and soak up the atmosphere in the brew pub. And if you see Timmy hanging about, say hello from Paddy.

Monday, April 9, 2012

YVR Beer Tweetup

Last week I was asked to come speak about CAMRA Vancouver at the latest #YVRBeerTweetup held at the Sunset Grill in Kitsilano. I have to tell you the truth, I actually had little idea as to what a "BeerTweetup" consisted of and the idea of sitting in a restaurant sending tweets to people sitting within speaking distance of me sounded a little too much on the social-media geek side of things, but since the word beer was included in the title and the beers included locally-brewed cask-conditioned beers, I thought I'd give this tweetup thing a go.

And I have to tell you, I was more than pleasantly surprised. I would even go as far as to say that I am now a #YVRBeerTweetup kinda guy and am working on those thumb-typing skills so that this 40something techno-dinosaur can produce witty, 140-character-or-less thoughts and observations to keep up with the young, hip Twitter crowd at the next event to be held at Smiley's Pub, on May 2nd at 5 PM.

The #YVRBeerTweetup is a concept dreamed up by Twitter users @JonnyBeers and @VancityBeerGuy, otherwise known as Jonny and Nick, who wanted to create a social networking event focusing on craft beers. The idea was to get a group of Twitter users together, in the same room, luring them there with the promise of great craft beer, prizes and the chance to meet other Twitter users face-to-face. The event at the Sunset Grill, held Wednesday, April 4, was the third #YVRBeerTweetup and by from what I saw, the idea is one that has taken off faster than you can tweet, @vaneastbeerblog loves IPA. According to @JonnyBeers, the first event, held at Doolin's Irish Pub Feb 1, drew around 100 people while the 2nd event, held at Malone's Urban Drinkery March 7, and the Sunset Grill event drew close to 175 each.

"It's been very popular from the start and keeps growing," said @JonnyBeers. "We have a good core group of people who have been to each tweetup. It's a really good mix of everyone from Twitter. There's a few regular people from the craftbeer community as well as lots of new people so it's good to put the two together to help grow that community."

It truly was a good mix of folks really enjoying themselves, with brewers, brewery owners and craft-beer industry shakers and movers tweeting and drinking it up amongst many who are not among the usual suspects found at local craft beer events. I know from a CAMRA Vancouver point of view, the event was a great way to attract non-CAMRA members, who do not usually attend craft beer events, and expand the local craft beer scene beyond the already converted and it is the type of event, as CAMRA Vancouver President, I would love to see CAMRA support more and more.

#YVRBeerTweetup organizers hope to keep things fresh and  keep growing the event, while maintaining the focus on local craft beer.

"In terms of growth we have a few ideas up our sleeves, and some exciting announcements to come in the next few months," states @JonnyBeers. "One of our goals is to have at least one cask (Sunset Grill had three!!) at each event, but also we like the idea of launching new beers, new breweries or venues. There's also the possibility of having actual trips or tours. Eventually we'll expand the tweetup outside of Vancouver as there's lots of great things going on all around BC."

To keep up-to-date on #YVRBeerTweetup events and information, check out their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter @YVRBeerTweetup or email If you can, I highly recommend making the effort to get to Smiley's for the next event May 2nd. Smiley's has a very decent line-up of beers on tap and if the three casks present at the last tweetup are any indication, there will be some great real ale to sample as well. And don't worry if the Canucks are playing as Smiley has televisions located around the room so you won't miss out on the action while tweeting and tippling.