Thursday, December 12, 2013

CAMRA BC Craft Beer at Farmers Market Campaign Close to Reality

Yesterday, Premier Christy Clark made an announcement highlighting government support for 12 recommendations made by Parliamentary Secretary John Yap in his report to Justice Minister and Attorney
Clever CAMRA BC campaign, spearheaded by Vancouver
president, Adam Chatburn, put craft beer at farmers markets
on the Liberal radar
General Suzanne Anton related to liquor policy changes.

One recommendation endorsed by Clark's Liberals, the allowance of tastings and sales of craft beer at local farmers markets, has the executive for the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) of BC smiling from ear to ear and I should know as I am one of those executive members.

In a press release from the Office of the Premier and Minister of Justice, it was announced that, "(m)anufacturers will be able to sample and sell their made-in-B.C. liquor at venues such as farmers’ markets, festivals and off-site tasting rooms."

This announcement, which the government hopes will help, "growth of the wine, craft brewery and craft distillery industries by allowing the sale of products at locations like farmers’ markets," and help promote BC tourism, as many visitors to our province take in local farmers markets and festivals, is one CAMRA BC has been pushing for and I do believe CAMRA's campaign to get BC craft beer into BC farmers markets has played a huge role in making this idea a reality.

It all started last March when CAMRA BC representatives met with several NDP MLAs in Victoria to present a list of wants to who CAMRA thought were going to be the ruling party after May's provincial election.

On that list was the idea of having craft beer and wine made available for sale at local farmers markets, an idea, that at the time, was a pipe dream at best.

Well, as we all know, the NDP failed miserably in the election, but that did not deter CAMRA BC, specifically Vancouver president Adam Chatburn who took this on and pushed further by securing booth space at several Vancouver-area farmers markets this past summer.

Chatburn cleverly drew people to the CAMRA booth by having an empty cask of beer on the table with a sign, "Free Samples", and once at the table, market goers could see in fine print, "not available here" at which time Chatburn and his CAMRA representatives educated their audience on how BC liquor policy made this sort of activity illegal and offered them form letters to sign requesting that craft beer be allowed for sale at farmers markets.

According to Chatburn, that letter writing campaign resulted in Yap and Anton receiving over 400 letters, a number large enough to immediately get the attention of any politician and in this time of liquor policy review in the province, I can guarantee you Yap and his team were looking at this idea before the consultation even began.

In fact, I had been told from a very reliable and well connected source that beer and wine in farmers markets had already been rubber stamped as a "go" before the consultation was even in full swing and that this would be one of the first announcements, something that appears to be true. The fact that Clark herself made the announcement tells me this is a done deal as Anton is not going to upstage and over-rule her boss by watering down the recommendation or by putting the kibosh on the idea.

The farmers market idea was also apart of the CAMRA BC presentation to Yap and his team during the stakeholder meeting phase of the review and I can tell you the idea was very well received and I, for one, was surprised when it became apparent that the Liberals were considering allowing free samples to be given out as well, which, as you can see by yesterday's announcement, seems to be what is coming down the pipe.

I know this is apparent victory is not 100% due to CAMRA BC and Chatburn pushing as the wine industry were advocating for BC wine sales at the markets as well, and now that Christy Clark is representing Westside-Kelowna, prime wine country, the wine folks will even have more influence on the Liberals than before. Having said that, CAMRA BC members should be proud of what their executives have done to put this on the Liberal radar, especially Chatburn and his Vancouver Executive who took this on and raised awareness by getting the booths at the markets.

This is why CAMRA exists, to advocate on behalf of the craft beer consumer of BC, and it appears they have chalked up one major victory for those of us who enjoy great BC craft beer.

Lets hope they have many more successes!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Recommendations for Booze in Grocery Stores Miss the Mark

In a week where the BC Liberals got hammered for allowing BC Hydro to raise rates 28% over the next five years and for letting BC Ferries executives keep their ridiculous bonuses while cutting ferry services to isolated, ferry-dependant, coastal towns, Parliamentary Secretary John Yap announced that he has recommended to the Attorney General and Justice Minister, Suzanne Anton, that liquor policies should be changed to allow alcohol to be sold in supermarkets.


But before you start dreaming of skipping down the aisles of your local Safeway, plucking bread off the self with you right hand and your favourite craft beer off the other shelf with your left, read the official new release here and realize that this recommendation is not quite what it appears to be and, when you get right down to it, is quite disappointing.

After looking at this, my previously posted "cautious optimism" has been dampened as it looks like instead of being brave, bold, and truly going for it, Yap is going to play it safe with his recommendations.

It is one of those announcements that looks brilliant when you read the headline, but when you actually get to the details as to what is happening you realize the government is just attempting to pull one over on the public, like when the Liberals announced, "Ferry Executives Have Bonuses Cut," when in fact what really happened was that the bonuses were just rolled into the executives' wage packages and had not been cut at all.

In fact, if Anton follows Yap's recommendation, it will achieve, at best, little more than just switching the physical location of private retail liquor stores (LRS), making it more convenient for some and less for others, depending on their shopping needs and, at worst, will have little impact at all as the hassle, cost and logistics of putting alcohol in retail grocery stores will not be worth it for most.

Let's start by looking at the recommendation and play out what this whole thing will look like assuming it gets past the Attorney General.

Yes, Yap is recommending that alcohol be sold in grocery stores, but the news release states that, "in doing this, B.C. should maintain the current cap on the total number of retail outlets in the province."

Say what?

So Superstore may be allowed to soon sell booze, but only if they can manage to buy up an existing liquor retail license, a license with an already-inflated value, which will increased ten-fold in price because those who have them know that there soon will be people with very deep pockets who want them. 

It also means that convenience of getting your beer with your groceries may be at the cost of you being able to go into your small, uncrowded, private retail liquor store (LRS) when you only want to buy a six pack and don't want groceries because that LRS may no longer exist due to having sold their license for stupid amounts of money to a large retail grocery chain. 

What Yap has heard is that consumers want to have the convenience of being able to buy booze with their groceries. I am sure not many of those same consumers he heard from said, "but please take away some of the LRS locations so that I am forced to go into a crowded grocery store even when I don't want to." 

Yap has put the lid on liquor retail outlets to keep those who think more liquor retail outlets will lead to decreased public safety and increased public harm off the backs of the Liberals. 

And even if someone is willing to sell their valuable LRS license to a grocery store, there are current restrictions in place as to how that license can be transferred, those restrictions, which were announced just last February, being, "(LRS) licensees can continue to apply to relocate their store anywhere within the same municipality or up to 5 kilometres away provided the proposed site is more than one km from an existing LRS or LRS relocation application already in progress."

Think about small, isolated towns, like say, Powell River, where I live, where there are less than a handful of LRS locations, one being within a kilometre of all the grocery stores in town. If one of those grocery stores wants to sell alcohol, they have to buy that one LRS license, which is close by, or forget about it because they would be violating the above mentioned policy. This distance between LRS locations will come into play frequently, both in rural and urban settings, and really limit which grocery stores can get involved in the sale of alcohol and which cannot unless Yap is recommending to change that policy as well, which very well might be the case.

And even if the grocery outlet manages to find an LRS license to buy, and has a location to which it can be legally moved to, they then have to look at building a "store within a store" in order to segregate the booze in order to keep it away from minors and those who find alcohol offensive or too much of a temptation. I am not sure just how separate from groceries Yap feels the alcohol needs to be, but if you go by the track record of the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) and the Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB), stores will have to build a full-on bank vault to ensure little Johnny doesn't get his hands on the booze, even though we have laws in place requiring two pieces of ID be shown if the customer appears under 25 years of age.

You have to be 18 to buy cigarettes, yet all you have to do is ask the cashier to get you some, show ID and off you go. For alcohol, you need complete separation for some reason.

So add the price of store renovation on top of buying a LRS license to the tally for the grocery store.

Next consider that the price of the booze is still going to be highly regulated and profit margins dictated by the LDB who basically set the price structure for alcohol in BC. Alcohol cannot be used as a lost leader to get folks in the store, like in many places in the US, because minimum prices will be set and the stores have to stay competitive with existing LRS locations and government liquor stores (GLS), therefore keep their prices in line with other LRS-GLS outlets, so profits may be marginal.

Add to the cost of being able to sell booze in grocery stores the added hassle of having the LCLB and their often overzealous liquor inspectors lurking about, not to mention the undercover, under-aged, 18-going-on-36 folks the LCLB send into LRSs to try to entrap them to sell booze to minors, which brings about massive fines.

This idea sounds less and less attractive if you are a grocery store owner, doesn't it?

Don't get me wrong, I am all for alcohol to be sold in grocery stores. In fact, I am all for the more Quebec style where beer and wine can be bought in corner stores, which is truly convenient. I feel downcast and disheartened by the restrictions and cautiousness of these proposed recommendations. It sounds to me like Yap really did not hear what the consumers wanted and if he did, was too afraid of criticism from those opposed to really make meaningful recommendations for change.

Lets hope I am wrong, this all works out and the rest of the 69 recommendations he has passed on to Anton are truly inspired, bold and actually will bring about some modernization to our liquor policies.

Next post...a look at the alarmist arguments against this idea.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

My Guesses Re Liquor Law Changes - Part II

A few days ago I wrote a post about some of the "quick win" changes I thought we would see come out of the BC liquor policy review and now I want to look at some of the bigger, more complicated and controversial changes I think will occur down the road.

It seems I am a day late in posting though as Mr Yap has stolen the thunder and announced that he has recommended that booze be sold in BC supermarkets, due to overwhelming public support for the idea. Mainstream media, blogs and and social media are all onto Yap's lone reveal in regards to the 70 recommendations he put in his report to to Attorney General and Justice Minister Suzanne Anton.

It became very apparent to me and others who met with Yap and who followed the #bcliquor review process that the sale of alcohol in BC supermarkets, once thought to be an impossibility, was definitely one the table and being considered. But Yap's announcement does not guarantee anything as the idea has to be approved by Anton and the rest of the Liberal brain trust.

Personally, I think it will happen, but we will only see alcohol sold in larger retail chains, with them having to build a store within a store, to ensure limited access to minors and to segregate the booze from shoppers who may struggle with addictions issues and from those who find the presence of alcohol troubling. As well, the store will have to secure a liquor retail license, which looks like it will be no easy task as Yap has recommended not to increase the number of licenses above what now exists.

I also think you will see the government keep a stranglehold on minimum pricing for booze so that these large retail chains do not sell alcohol at rock bottom prices. It will take the government until 2015 to roll this out, working out the bugs with few trial runs, but I honestly think you will see at least some version of booze in supermarkets, Costco outlets, Walmart,  etc., by the end of 2015.

I also do not think as many outlets will not even bother looking into selling booze as it is going to be a major hassle and expense to build a segregated area for booze, deal with the LDB, put up with liquor inspectors and all the other joys that come with selling booze in this province.

And, of course, they are going to have to obtain a license to sell booze and, as I mentioned, this will not be an easy proposition.

I am going to write another post in the next day or to talk about the whole concept of booze in supermarkets and address some of the ridiculous ideas being floated by those against the idea, like the Alliance of Beverage Licensees (ABLE), health authorities and temperance movements.

Another change I think will be implemented, but that will take a long time to come into play is one that simplifies the liquor license system. I think the government will move towards a one-license system, but will start the move by making changes that will allow food primary licensees apply for endorsements to their existing licenses that would allow them to operate as a liquor primary after a certain hour in the evening and that will allow liquor primary licensees apply for endorsements that will allow them to have minors in their establishments, in the company of responsible, sober adults, up to a certain point in the day.

In the end, I think the Liberals will work towards a license to simply sell booze and the licensee will decide what type of establishment and clientele they want. The restrictions will be listed on the license, an example possibly being "mixed ages until 6 PM, +19 only after", so as to put all licensees on a level playing field. I think you will also see the silly restrictions on dancing in restaurants, music in restaurants, etc., removed.

The lines are so blurred right now as to who is a bar and who is a restaurant. Think about it. The law allows me to take my 3-year-old daughter into a restaurant with dozens of beer taps, a large selection of wines, spirits and hundreds of seats, even when it is packed and happening at 8 PM, yet the law forbids me to take her into a quiet, mellow neighbourhood pub on a Sunday afternoon to enjoy a brunch.

Another major change I think we will see is the process for getting a listing in government liquor stores (GLS) modified to help support small, local manufacturers and to better give BC consumers access to locally produced beers, wines and spirits.

Many local breweries, smaller wineries and artisan distilleries cannot sell via GLS outlets because they do not meet the outdated production thresholds that are in place to get a listing. The current model is based on large production manufacturers, you need to produce enough of a product to supply 40 GLS locations, virtually making it impossible for small, local breweries, wineries and distilleries to sell via the BC Liquor Stores. Some GLS outlets are forced to break the law to put their local products on their shelves.  I think they are going to give the local GLS management more freedom to stock what they want to stock, as opposed to what they are told they can sell by LDB head office, giving the consumers what they want, as opposed to allowing some bureaucrat with little-to-no-knowledge of some products decide what the consumers want.

To compliment this, I think the LDB will be directed to create special areas to highlight BC products, beyond the current BC wine sections, and put more emphasis on promoting BC products. I think local manufacturers will also be able to deliver directly to GLS locations.

Lastly, I think you will see the LCLB and their liquor inspectors be stripped of some of their current powers. The LCLB and their enforcement folks have long been the law, END of STORY. Liquor inspectors now have huge discretionary powers to interpret the often ambiguous and poorly worded liquor policies as they see fit and to enforce as they see fit. There is no current appeal process if a liquor inspector nails a licensee with an infraction and only through an expensive judicial review can a licensee defend themselves.

Because the liquor inspectors operate without fear of being held accountable for their often bizarre and random rulings, there is a fear amongst licensees in regards to getting on the wrong side of the LCLB and their inspectors. I think you will see an independent review board set up that will be relatively inexpensive to access and which will deal with licensee appeals to decisions made by inspectors. Yap seemed very interested in the subject of curtailing LCLB powers and increasing training and knowledge among liquor inspectors to help rid the province of this culture of fear among business owners selling booze in regards to their often random and arbitrary liquor inspectors who can currently shut them down with no recourse by the licensee.

These ideas are not based in fact, just my thoughts and they are just a drop in the bucket compared to what may be in Yap's recommendations. As I mentioned, there have been 70 recommendations put forward and no one but Yap, his team and the office of the Justice Minister and Attorney General know exactly what they are. I hope they make the report public soon so we can have some real debate and discussion about what may happen in the next few years in regards to liquor policies in this province.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

My Guesses as to What Will Come out of the Liquor Review

Yesterday, Parliamentary Secretary and Liberal MLA, John Yap, handed over his report to Attorney General and Justice Minister Suzanne Anton with his recommendations for modernizing BC liquor policies based on information collected via the massive consultation with BC citizens and stakeholders in the BC alcohol world.

I have been asked by many folks what changes will come from the whole process and I have to be honest in saying that I really have no freaking clue what Anton will implement on behalf of the BC Liberals.

Yes, I was apart of a group that met with John Yap and his crew and I have been on more than a few radio programs talking about the move to sensibly modernize BC liquor policies, but other than making educated guesses based on reactions during CAMRA's conversation with Yap, reading Yap's blog posts and the submissions of others to his committee found on the review website, I have no more official information than the next person.

For what it is worth, here is what I think may happen.

First off, I am getting the impression that BIG changes are coming and the Liberals are seeing this as their chance to be THE government to make one of the most important marks on culture and society in BC history by modernizing the way we perceive and deal with alcohol in this province. Suzanne Anton and her crew know they have the attention of a very wide cross section of the BC citizenry, from big business folks to Joe Sixpack, and I don't think much is off the table at this point as far as what the government is considering. The government will proceed with caution, with some of the more controversial changes being considered, as they cannot give the impression they are disregarding negative health impacts and the possible risks to public safety attached to liberalizing liquor policy, but I really do believe they will go further with changes than the average person believes.

I believe, as do many others, that the changes will not all come at once. There are some "quick wins", a term John Yap is avoiding like the plague, that will not be that hard to implement and which already have a proven track record of popularity and success in other jurisdictions. Down the road, we will see a second wave of changes, those dealing with the more sensitive and controversial ideas being considered.

Here are a few changes I think you will see implemented in the next year.

Happy hours, or discretionary pricing, as CAMRA BC framed it, is, in my mind, a slam dunk. It will take little to bring this popular concept back and as of right now, BC is the only province that continues to  prohibit licensees from being able to change the prices of their alcoholic beverages during the course of a day. The way it works now, a licensee must set the drink price each day and stick with that price from opening to closing. I think you will see controls and limits set as to how low the drink specials will be allowed to go and as to what hours "happy hours" are allowed be held, so as to cut down on the binge drinking concerns those against the concept have, but I honestly believe that we will see the return of this consumer favourite which also benefits the businesses, drawing customers into their establishments during traditionally quite times.

Farmers Markets allowing the sale of alcohol I think will be another change that will be phased in sooner than later. I do think you will see the government make the changes necessary to allow for local craft breweries, wineries and possibly artisan distilleries to provide limited amounts of samples to consumers at farmers markets and sales of packaged products for consumers to take away to be consumed elsewhere. The idea is a popular one, one that fits with the farmers market concept of direct sales from the manufacturer-producer to consumer and this has been very popular in jurisdictions like Nova Scotia and Oregon to name a few places. I do not think you will see actual on-site consumption areas, like beer gardens, at the markets, at least not at first, but I can see this being a part of a long-range master plan. And because the wine industry is behind this concept 100%, the government will immediately give it a second look, especially now that our beloved Premier is the MLA for a riding smack-dab in the middle of wine country.

Liberalization of the rules around serving alcohol at festivals and special events, is another concept the Liberals seem to be considering, especially as some of the law enforcement folks they spoke to support this idea.

It appears the government is considering making changes that will make beer gardens and festivals more family friendly. As it works right now, many festivals that may allow minors, have segregated areas, commonly known as beer gardens, where alcohol can be purchased and consumed. These areas, also referred to as "beer ghettos", only allow +19 folks, which means if a family is attending a local festival in their city-town and Mom, Dad or both want to stop to have a drink with lunch they either have to split up, as kids are not allowed in the alcohol consumption areas, or they just simply decide forgo the pleasure.  By allowing minors into these areas, responsible parents can enjoy an alcoholic drink, in the company of their kids, just like they can in a restaurant, bowling ally, wedding, family reunion event, etc. It is also thought that by making the atmosphere more family oriented, the frat party, beer garden, atmosphere will lessen and rowdiness will decrease, as beer swilling twentysomethings get the evil eye from old man dads like myself.

The other concept out there is to do away with the requirement to have a segregated beer garden area and allow festival goers to walk around with their drink in hand to be enjoyed where they want within the confines of the event. This would rid events of those segregated booze ghettos, where everyone consuming a drink is packed into a confined space. It is this effect and the more family-oriented atmosphere that I have heard has law enforcement supporting these changes.

Alcohol in parks and at the beach is another change that may happen on the provincial level but that does not mean local governments will be on board and pass by-laws allowing for the same in their jurisdictions. Much like the battle fought by Vancouver breweries to have local by-laws amended to be allowed to have on-site beer lounges after the province gave the go ahead, I think you will see some communities bulk at allowing adults to enjoy a glass of wine with their picnic meal at the park.

Licensees buying direct from manufacturers and private retail liquor stores (LRS). As it is right now, licensees must go through the government liquor stores (GLS) to buy their stock...well in theory, as many are cheating and going to their local LRS outlet to get speciality products that the government stores don't stock or to fill up shelves on busy nights after the GLS outlets are closed. Restaurants and bars would be free to order cases of wine from small BC wineries or buy a bottle or two of wine or a few bombers of a limited release craft brew from their local LRS without having to go through the restrictive and bureaucratic beast that is the LDB. Breweries are already allowed to deliver, on behalf of the government, as I believe artisan distilleries are as well, directly to licensees, which helps some, but by allowing licensees to buy from LRS's, it frees them from the restrictive GLS hours and sometimes limited inventory and takes to burden off breweries from having to make these deliveries direct to the licensee's location.

There are a host of other changes I believe will occur, but the above are the changes that I think, in the short term, will grab most of the headlines and be most noticeable. In a few days I will lay out some of the changes I think will happen, but which will take some more time to implement due to their complexity and controversial nature, such as booze in supermarkets.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Storm Back to Full Force After LCLB's Quick Action

Luckily this sign was only in place for about 48 hours as LCLB
worked quickly to do the right thing
Storm Brewing's owner, James Walton, breathed a sigh of relief this afternoon after he was given the go ahead from the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) to carry on with business as usual after receiving his on-site retail endorsement and passing the LCLB on-site inspection.

This brings to an end a mercifully short and very unpleasant chapter in Storm's history after Walton was contacted Monday by a LCLB liquor inspector and advised his sales of kegs and growlers to the public, which make up 50% of his business, were in contravention of his license therefore he had to cease these sales immediately or he would be completely shut down (read here for background detail).

The tone of the cease and desist command and the often slow response times of the LCLB scared Walton and had him believing his business of 19 years was in jeopardy.

The root of the problem was a memo Walton received in 2008 (see end of post) notifying him  the LCLB had taken over the responsibility for direct sales and on-site retail for breweries from the Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB) and that licensing requirements were changing.

"I should have read the memo (more closely) a long time ago," admits Walton who has never dodged the fact he is ultimately responsible for the mess he found himself in this week. "I just assumed that the liquor board (LCLB) would just carry on with what was in place."

"The heavy handedness (of how he was treated by liquor inspectors and LCLB initially) made me pissed off," says Walton who believes, like myself and many others, that this could have, and should have, been handled differently, without the unnecessary threats to his livelihood as it was an honest mistake and he was doing all he could to comply once he found out he was in contravention of his manufacturer's license.

This is a prime example as to why our BC liquor policies and the way the LCLB and LDB operate need to be reviewed and overhauled. It is obvious from this example, and trust me, there are many more, that the LCLB do not communicate very well with the LDB and where one says, go ahead and sell and make the province money, the other says stop selling, that is illegal.

It is also an example of how liquor inspectors have far too much power and can make decisions, acting as the enforcement, judge and jury with little accountability as licensees are terrified of being targeted. These decisions often have huge, far reaching impacts on people who have not necessarily been trying to contravene LCLB policies.

Walton had no idea he had been selling illegally, believing that because he had been selling kegs to the public since opening in 1994, without issue from the either the LDB or the LCLB, and had recently been giving a sku by the LDB allowing him to fill growlers and sell them directly from the brewery to the public, that he was doing everything by the book.

I want to take the high road and say that the liquor inspectors involved and the LCLB expedited the process and fixed things for Walton in less than 48 hours because it was the right thing to do but rarely have I seen the LCLB respond so quickly or have I had politicians respond to social media the way they did in this case, which leads the cynic in me to think they realized this was a public relations nightmare.

The social media storm, public pressure and the attention from some major media outlets that occurred after the story got out certainly got the attention some high-ranking politicians and, no doubt, the LCLB brass who do not want this type of controversy during the current province-wide liquor policy review which has current LCLB policies and methods of operation under a microscope, along with everything else associated with alcohol policy in BC.

Yesterday, John Yap, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Justice Minister Suzanne Anton, reached out to me on Twitter to tweet, "I (Yap) understand that LCLB is expediting the process & expects the manufacturer will have the proper endorsement within 3 days," in response to my blog post and the social media support for Storm. Yap, is in charge of the liquor policy review and reports directly to Anton, who is ultimately in charge of both the LDB and LCLB.

Walton, despite his feelings that his treatment was heavy-handed, believes the LCLB acted in good faith but does acknowledge the public support played a role in holding the LCLB accountable for how they handled things.

"(The liquor inspector) said he would expedite the application and he did," states Walton. "The pressure from the public on social media was likely a factor but I've always had a good relationship with LCLB in Victoria. The guy that sent my receipt for the payment was downright friendly."

Before putting this to rest, I just want to clear up a few things.

Firstly, Walton did not approach me or ask me to write the original post. I was notified by someone in Powell River, where I live, who thought I might know what was going on because I have Walton for 15 years. My experience is that Walton is one not to seek the media spotlight. He is also one who owns his mistakes openly, as he has here. But this is a story with two sides and it is important that we, the public, hold politicians, and the bureaucrats who work under them accountable for their actions.

I will also say that the only voices of decent I had were from a people in the craft beer industry. Some thought I was making a mountain out of a mole hill and told me so. I was told "same law for all" by more than one person and my response is, yes, this is true, but when the interpretation and enforcement of those laws are arbitrary and inconsistent, as they often are with the LCLB, no one is safe, no matter how hard they are trying to comply with policy and regulations.

I'll be sure not to come on too strong with my support, r my efforts to mobilize support, for those who feel I was making a big deal about nothing when the liquor inspector knocks on their door and tells them black is white and up is down, jeopardizing their businesses and means of making a living.

On that note, on to more important things like cracking this growler of Brassneck white IPA that made its way up tot he Upper Sunshine Coast last weekend.

Memo from 2008

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Storm of Bureaucratic Red Tape Threatens Iconic East Van Brewery

If you are headed done to Storm Brewing this week to fill your growler or to order a keg for your next party, you may want to call ahead.

Storm's owner-brewer, James Walton, was told Monday by a Liquor Control and Licensing Branch liquor inspector that he is to cease selling his beer to anyone but licensees, meaning pubs and restaurants, until he applies for and is approved by the LCLB for an in-store retail license.

That's right, no growlers to take away from the brewery for home consumption, no kegs for events or parties unless those buying are licensees in the eyes of the LCLB.

That's right, no Storm growlers or kegs for you says LCLB liquor inspectors, unless you are a licensee
Walton has been selling kegs for private parties and to event organizers for 19 years without issue. The Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB) has been well aware of Storm's sales to non-licensees and has been quite happy to give him sales skus for his products and take their cut from those sales, which make up about 50% of Storm's business.

The only thing that has changed in the past 19 years is that recently Storm jumped on the growler train and started doing fills at the brewery. Walton has been quite pleased with the results, having filled about 120 growlers last week. He thought he had done things properly by getting a cash register to record growler sales and applying for and getting a sku with the LDB for his growlers before commencing sales.

Enter the other bureaucratic arm of the BC liquor industry, the LCLB who appear to not be so enthralled  as the LDB are with Storm contributing to government coffers by harmlessly selling kegs and growlers from his iconic brewery.

This is a classic case of one bureaucratic branch of the government not talking to the other even though they both deal with alcohol sales in BC. One approves the sales by granting skus, processing the paperwork and collecting the government's cut while the other says that the sales are illegal and must stop until the proper approval is given.

Apparently, in 2008, control of brewery store fronts, tasting rooms and retail stores, were shifted from the LDB to the LCLB and this is where the confusion lies in regards to what Storm can and can't sell.  

"The LDB has known and never had a problem with Storm selling to individuals," stated Walton. "Bulk or counter sales are half of my business. I just assumed that the liquor board (LCLB) would just carry on with what was in place."

But last Wednesday, Oct 2nd, two liquor inspectors showed up, without warning, at the brewery and they right away noticed empty growlers. 

This caught the liquor inspectors' attention.

Walton, believing all his ducks were in a row and that he was in compliance with the law, proceeded to show the inspectors his cash register, LDB list of skus for his products and his LCLB license. Monday, Oct 7, Walton received a call from one of the inspectors who had popped into the brewery and was told that Storm was in contravention of their LCLB license and Walton was threatened with a total suspension of his license to sell beer if he did not cease selling to non-licensees immediately.

Walton has already sent in the paperwork to apply for the proper retail license he believed he already had, but is worried about the processing time. "The wait time for some of these things is six months," states Walton who believes his business, that has taken 19 years to build is, "facing extinction" if things don't get cleared up soon.

Walton pleaded to be allowed to carry doing as he has done since opening his doors in 1994, while things are being processed, but to no avail. He is not disputing the ruling made by the liquor inspector, or the fact that he may have made a mistake in not reading the fine print of a memo sent in 2008, and is trying to cooperate, but is worried that 50% of his business is now not accessible to him for an undetermined amount of time due to some bureaucratic red tape and an honest mistake.

"I just don't like that they won't let me continue even though I was very polite and agreed to do everything they wanted," says Walton. 

This is a prime example of how the LCLB  and their inspectors seemingly make what is legal one day illegal the next. It is also a prime example of how the LCLB are punitive when they don't have to be and why licensees fear them as their livelihoods are in the hands of liquor inspectors who have way too much power. Walton was doing what he has always been allowed to do, but suddenly his business is threatened and his livelihood threatened because of an oversight. And it is just as much an oversight on the side of the government bureaucracies as it is Walton. 

Why have they let him operate as he has for the past 19 years only to now be told it is wrong? Why have the LDB given him the go ahead to sell kegs and growlers, taking their cut, without telling Walton he has the wrong license to do so?

This is the exact kind of bureaucratic nightmare that John Yap and his liquor policy review need to eliminate. 

How is potentially crippling Walton's business due to a technicality suddenly in the interest of public safety?  

Shame on the LCLB and LDB for allowing someone to build up a business by operating a certain way for 19 years only to suddenly pull the rug out from under their feet?

Let's hope the LCLB inspector does the right thing and either expedites the application process so that Walton can get back to running his business,  paying his bills and selling beer, or allows Storm to carry on selling kegs to non-licensees, while his application for the proper license is being processed.

Get this sorted before you lose a one of the iconic businesses in the city, one that has helped spark a vibrant and thriving craft beer community in Vancouver!

This is an established business whose very existence is being threatened because it is conducting business as it has been allowed to do for almost 20 years by the same government bureaucracies that are now threatening to close them down.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

BC Craft Brewers Guild Mobilizing: Great News for Consumers

Since I started posting on this blog about three years ago, a major source of frustration for me has been the inert and inept nature of the BC
Craft Brewer's Guild (BCCBG).

 Here in BC we have one of the quickest growing and most vibrant craft brewing communities in North America, possibly the world, despite the fact that the BC industry association itself has been fragmented, unorganized and one who, well quite frankly, couldn't organize a piss up in a brewery.

My frustrations have been well documented, and if you are so inclined you can read my rantings here and here, but this post is not about me pulling on my double-soled, steel-toed Dayton's to once again put the boots to the Guild.

No, this is a post is one of positivism and hope.

In August, with little fanfare, the BCCBG may have made a move that will change the face of the industry here in BC. Realizing that they were too busy and too disinterested to even change their website to reflect the fact they had changed their name from the BC Craft Brewer Association several years ago, the representatives from the few member breweries still involved with the BCCBG decided it was time to regroup, reorganize and hire someone to try to breath some life into the BC's craft brewery organization.

Enter Ken Beattie, the new Executive Director of the BC Craft Brewers Guild.

I have met face-to-face with Beattie and spoken to him over the phone and his enthusiasm and charisma are evident. But he is more than just a magnetic, people-person, having started in the BC beer industry in 1987 and having worked selling Molson Canadian, Okanagan Springs and Shaftbury brand beers. Beattie understands how to sell beer in this province, knows the system and knows how the big boys work. He has watched the craft side of the industry grow from infancy in BC, chipping away at the market share of those breweries he was working for.

He is no longer working for a particular brewery, having started, in 2012, his beer education company, Eureka Beer Guide, which represents the Prud'homme beer certification program in Western Canada. This means he has no vested in promoting one brewery over another, which, quite frankly, has been a major problem with the guild in recent years, at least in my opinion.

"My primary goal is to harness the entrepreneurial spirit, craftsmanship and innovation that the BC craft brewers exhibit in their individual success and to manage that success into one collective voice," wrote Beattie in a communication with VEBB.

"One voice will grow the BC craft beer industry into a sustainable business environment supporting each other. The power of the guild moving forward needs to showcase that the brewers all work together to educate and promote 'Made in BC' beer in the government stores, private retail stores and the on premise channels."

Music to my freaking ears!!!

Let us hope it is to those who represent the 55+ craft breweries that are now operating in BC, and the 15 or so who are slated to open their doors in the next 15 months, feel the same way.

In a few short months Beattie has not only managed to give focus to the BCCBG but has began galvanizing the industry members. He has reached out, on behalf of the guild, to all the BC craft breweries he could find contact info for. He has the website being reconstructed (with the proper name I might add). He held a meeting during the Great Canadian Beer Festival where 26 breweries were represented and has a goal of signing up 80% of BC craft breweries with the guild in the next year. He also helped put together a very slick and well thought out presentation (read here) which was submitted to the current BC liquor policy review  by the BCCBG.

Why is this important to me and other craft beer consumers you ask?

Well often, but not always, what is good for the industry is good for the consumer. If the guild can organize the industry and establish an all-for-one attitude, it could become a powerful voice, one the government cannot ignore, lobbying for changes to our liquor policies and laws. We may see many changes that benefit us, the consumers. Just look at their presentation to Yap and Company where the BCCBG pushed for more access to "Made in BC" craft beer in BC Liquor Stores (something CAMRA BC pushed as well),  removing mark-ups from products bought directly by consumers from brewery store fronts, supporting and encouraging tasting rooms and developing an education program for LDB employees to learn about BC craft beer to better serve consumers in BC Liquor Stores.

Who doesn't want more access to great BC brewed beers in local liquor stores, lower prices, more tasting opportunities and more knowledgeable sales people in retail outlets?

And there are times that a powerful industry voice can help support groups like CAMRA BC when it is in the best interest of both groups.

I am very excited about this prospect, but wish it had happened a few years ago so that both the industry and consumers could have been working together more leading up the the current liquor policy review.

Better late than never, I guess. For the sake of the BC craft beer industry, for the sake of BC craft beer consumers, I wish Mr Beattie well.

See below for his immediate plans for the BC Craft Brewers Guild

  • Firstly we (BCCBG) need to increase membership, it is currently below 40 % and we need it to be over 80 % .We need the members to work together on committees focusing on achieving our goals. 
  • We need to increase our visibility and relationship as a Guild with local and provincial government to work together as the review of the liquor policies in BC gets underway to encourage entry into the market and restrict red tape.
  • We need to target and develop a Tourism based strategy that supports and promotes the BC Craft Beer industry in the marketplace.
  • Design and implement a new social media program that will allow our messaging to gain greater access to the BC craft beer drinker.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

BC Liquor Policy Review Appears Genuine

right to left: myself, Adam Chatburn, Rick Green, John Yap, Ken Dawson
note the growler and Boston round we presented to the committee
& yes, they were full of  
Last Tuesday I was lucky enough to be invited to be a part of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) British Columbia team who took part in a face-to-face meeting with Liberal MLA and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General for Liquor Policy Reform, John Yap, as a part of the stakeholder meetings being held in during the current BC liquor policy review.

CAMRA BC President Rick Green, CAMRA Vancouver President, Adam Chatburn and myself, representing CAMRA Powell River, put together a 90 minute presentation (see bottom of post for CAMRA BC submission) which was heard by Yap, Ken Dawson, Cabinet Director in the Office of the Premier, and Suneil Karod, Executive Assistant in the Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice. To date, Yap's committee has met with 19 different "stakeholder" groups, a list of which you can see, along with their submissions, on the above linked government website. I am not going to go into details of what we presented, as you can see for yourself, but want to talk more about the tone of the meeting and the impressions I took away from it.

Going in, I saw this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to speak directly about liquor law reform to those who actually have the influence and power to make changes, but was sceptical about the process, with the cynic in me not letting me get my hopes up as to how well our ideas would be perceived and received. If you would have asked me before the meeting how confident I felt that our message would be received, I would have told you I was confident we were presenting solid suggestions based on solid reasoning but that I was more than expecting to meet glazed-over looks and yawns from Mr Yap and Company.

I can tell you, I came out of our meeting feeling optimistic as the great reception, feedback and engagement from the government committee beat my inner cynic into submission. I am here to say right now, I believe this policy review is real, genuine and that there is a greater-than-not chance we will see real and significant changes made to our liquor policies in regards to liberalization and modernization, bringing us in line with the rest of Canada and much of the world where alcohol is allowed and legal.

I was encouraged by the fact that intelligent questions where asked by the committee. I was encouraged by the fact they were taking what appeared to be detailed notes. I was encouraged and impressed that many points we made were said to be supported by submissions of groups like the police (supporting families in beer gardens/festivals) and health care who apparently pointed out, like we did, that alcohol abuse is a complicated issue and related to more than just availability and price and that factors such as mental illness, socio-economic issues and social issues enter prominently into the equation.

I was also impressed with the relaxed, yet professional, atmosphere and candid discussion we had.

And it was a discussion.

It was very much a to-and-fro conversation and, at times, the committee asked tough questions or asked us to give examples of what we were talking about to back up our arguments and we were able to respond intelligently and professionally, something that was commented on by Dawson at the end of the meeting. At times, we used strong language and examples that were not too complimentary to the government and the bureaucrats who work under them.

Despite this, it was a cordial affair, not us-against-them, which we joked about as we walked into the board room, at the Labour Relations offices, where we found a large table with a bible sitting on it where, no doubt, many adversarial hearings and meetings have been held. Maybe the relaxed atmosphere was a result of the growlers full of beer from 33 Acres Brewery that were plunked down on the table by Chatburn and the CAMRA BC membership he gave Yap as we were introducing ourselves.

It was also very interesting to hear how closely Yap and his gang are tracking social media. They were quite pleased (and surprised) at the massive amount of feedback they received in regards to selling beer and wine in corner stores and supermarkets and as a result of the this, I think this idea may not be as dead in the water as some think. Yap also mentioned to me, after I introduced myself, that he had noticed the long Twitter conversation I was involved in regarding serving sizes a few days prior to our meeting which tells me that he and/or his team are looking at what is going on on a broader scope than we may think.

As a result, I would really encourage anyone who has an idea or an opinion on BC liquor policy to get on the site and get involved. In my humble opinion, we are, for the first time in a long time, being listened to. Maybe the experience of the HST disaster has the government listening to its citizens.  Or maybe they realize that this past election has given them a very unexpected chance to redeem themselves.

Whatever the reason for this process, it really doesn't matter for it is happening and they appear to be listening. Let us just hope that they will indeed follow through.

It is a time of anticipation for those of us who having been pushing hard for liquor policy reform and an exciting process to be a part of.

CAMRA BC Submission to the BC Liquor Policy Review

Saturday, September 21, 2013

CAMRA BC Has Something to Yap About

This past August the BC Liberal Government began what they are calling the "BC Liquor Policy Review"  headed up by John Yap, Parliamentary Secretary to the Attorney General and Justice Minister, Suzanne Anton.

According to the website, the consultation will be conducted in two phases, with Phase 1 having begun in August 2013,  when Yap, the Liberal MLA for Richmond-Steveston, sent letters "to key industry groups and stakeholders, and more than 10,000 liquor licensees and liquor agency stores, seeking input on making practical, common-sense change to B.C.'s liquor policy."

Phase 2, which began mid-September and runs until October 31, 2013, is where the general public have their say, with Yap asking for feedback from British Columbians, inviting them submit their "ideas and comments," with the website stating, "your ideas and comments will be considered in the final report to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice."

If you haven't checked out the policy review website, it is quite comprehensive and well thought out and worth a look.

And to further prove they have not already made up their minds as to what changes will be made, and are not just going through the motions, the Liberals are, according to their website, inviting "stakeholders from local governments, First nations, police, industry, health and social policy groups" to meet with Yap face-to-face. 

One of the "social policy groups" meeting with Yap is the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) BC after Vancouver Branch President, Adam Chatburn, contacted the consultation organizers and insisted CAMRA BC, who are now representing close to 1400 total members from five active branches, be heard. 

Next Tuesday, Sept 24th, Chatburn, CAMRA BC President, Rick Green, and myself, as CAMRA Powell River President, are meeting with Yap, along with other government types, Ken Dawson and Suneil Karod, who are representing the office's of the Premier and Attorney General respectively. It is our hope that we can get the government types to listen to reason and make some of the changes CAMRA has been pushing for in this province over the past few years.

Chatburn has submitted a brief letter outlining what CAMRA is aiming to talk about and our group will present our ideas for change in more detail, and reasoning for why they are good changes for BC and the BC craft beer consumer, during the meeting. You can check out CAMRA Vancouver's page dedicated to the process here.  

A few of the things CAMRA wants to push are not surprising, such as getting the growler mark-up reversed (lowered), trying to ensure consumer protection in regards to misrepresented serving sizes and allowing craft beer to be sold at farmers markets, all active CAMRA Vancouver campaigns. 

Another change we want to push for is ensuring greater consumer access to BC-brewed, craft beers by pushing for automatic listings for beers brewed in the province, if the brewery so wishes to sell their beer in their local BC Liquor Stores and having the BC Liquor Stores feature BC craft beer in a distinct section of the store similar to how wine is marketed. CAMRA is also looking at having the government allow licensees to be able to have the ability to change the price of their drinks throughout the day, something that was banned in the 1980's in this province but which is allowed, with government guidelines and restrictions, in most provinces.

For a complete list of what is on the agenda, look at the letter linked above.

I know some will disagree with our list or have their own spins on the issues we are addressing, but we came up with what we thought was best and, to tell you the truth, when we put out the call to members to give us feed back on what they wanted, we got very little feedback. 

Regardless if you agree or disagree with CAMRA's agenda, I encourage you to go to the site, post your comments and/or ideas and be heard.

This is probably the only chance, for decades to come, to be heard in regards to liquor policy and the government says they are listening, so speak. If you are like the majority of us who enjoy a drink here and there, you have most likely complained about our outdated and restrictive liquor laws so this is your chance to complain directly to those who have the power to make changes instead of whining to the barfly seated next to you at your local.  

If you do not get involved in a process you have been invited to participate in, you have no grounds to complain about the outcomes from that process later on if you ignore that invitation.

If Twitter is more your thing, look for the Twitter town hall meeting on Sunday, September 29, 2013 1800-1900 hours (6-7 PM) where you can tweet your suggestions and comments to @John_yap  

I'll let you know next week how our meeting went when I get back from Vancouver. I am hoping I can get a read on how Yap & Co feel about our ideas during the meeting and really hope we get lots of questions and feedback and not yawns and glazed looks.

In the meantime, make yourself heard.

Monday, August 12, 2013

My Tribute to a Vancouver Legend - RIP Dan

I cannot remember the exact date I met Dan Small but I do remember the circumstances surrounding our introduction to each other and unlike many in the craft beer community who are currently mourning his passing, our meeting had nothing to do with brewing beer.

It was about 12 years ago and I was working for Storm Brewing, which was located in the same building as Dan's Homebrewing Supplies at the time, at the corner of Commercial and Franklin. I was busy loading up Storm's delivery van with kegs for the day's deliveries when I suddenly heard a voice yelling angrily, "turn that shit down, I am trying to run a business over here".

It was only my second or third day working at the brewery so I had no idea who was attached to the red, angry face that was poking through a two-foot square hole in the wall that stood between Storm Brewing to Dan's shop next door. I did not blame this person for yelling, as James, Storm's owner-brewer, had German techno music cranked to ear-splitting decibel levels, as was his habit at the time when brewing, and anyone within two city blocks would have been within their legal right to make a formal noise complaint.

"Who the fuck was that, James," I asked.

"Just Dan, don't worry.," replied James. "He is always complaining about noise."

Little did I know at that time I was being screamed at by someone who would go on to be one of the most, if not the most, influential people in the home brewing and the craft beer community in Vancouver. Dan's Homebrewing Supplies is on the radar of everyone who brews beer in the Greater Vancouver area and, in my opinion, the local craft beer scene and the current craft beer craze owes a lot to Dan and his staff who have guided, advised, encouraged and supplied the majority of home brewers in the Lower Mainland. I guarantee you that many who turned their passion for brewing beer from a hobby to a profession and who are now creating some of the great local craft beers at commercial craft breweries were once among them.

By encouraging home brewers to understand the science behind brewing beer properly, helping them understand the brewing process, helping them create their own recipes and supplying them with quality ingredients, Dan played a huge role in developing more sophisticated palates among local beer lovers. Dan convinced many lager drinkers, looking to make cheap imitations of the mainstream beers they were used to drinking, into trying to brew different beer styles and once many of them experimented and tried different beers than was their norm, they never looked back

It is no coincidence that Vancouver has the biggest home brewing club in Canada and a very vibrant home brewing scene. Dan's is not just THE place to get supplies, whether you are a novice looking to brew for the first time or an expert brewer looking to create a new recipe, but it is a place to gather, meet like-minded people and exchange ideas.

Back when working at the brewery, I used to love Dan's tastings, when he would invite his customers to come bring beers they had brewed of a particular style  so that they could share with others to get feedback, tips and talk about brewing beer. Mainly it was about drinking lots of beer, but that goes without saying. I wasn't brewing at the time, but Dan usually invited me over to the shop, or let me in on the fun if he was using the brewery space. One particular tasting I remember (up to a point) was a stout tasting that included oysters to pair with the home brewers' offerings, one being a Russian Imperial Stout that were superb...I don't remember who brewed the beer but I sure remember the beer itself!

Dan and I quickly got over our rocky introduction, although his angry face would often appear in the hole between his shop and the brewery, usually with good reason, and I soon found myself spending time hanging out in Dan's store, chatting, smoking and drinking beer either from the brewery or one of the two or three kegs Dan always had tapped in the back of his shop. Our talks were often about subjects other than beer and Dan always had an opinion or a story to tell.

Many people have described Dan as crusty, grumpy  and a curmudgeon, and yes, he was all those things at times, but he was also quick with a smile, and generous with his advice, time, smokes and beer and I was lucky enough to know that Dan more than the other. He had a love-hate relationship with us at Storm, screaming at us one day and helping us out one way or another the next. One of the things I liked about Dan was you always knew where you stood with him. He was straight forward and did not suffer fools lightly. If he had something to say, he would say it.

I got to know Dan quite well during time I worked at Storm. I meet and drank beers with his brothers Tom and Bill, went see Dan play music with his band and visited him at his apartment on Union St where he lived above a friend of mine who used to drive him nuts with loud music and noise as much as James did. I didn't see him around much after I left my job at the brewery to return to school to study psychiatric nursing. I saw him a few years after quitting, just after he had relocated his shop from Commercial Drive to 692 East Hastings in the Heatley Block building. He was closing up, but he invited me in, proudly showed me around his new store and it wasn't long before we were out back smoking, drinking beer and chatting away like old times on Commercial Drive. I ran into him again last year, again in his store, when I was picking up supplies to brew up an Imperial IPA. He looked great and as usual had time to stop and chat and laughed about some of the goings-on at Storm years before that had aggravated him to the point of almost having a stroke.

That was the last time I saw Dan. Like many, I did not know he had fallen ill again until I heard the sad news of his passing. And like many, I have hoisted a few pints in his memory.

Rest in Peace Dan. Your premature departure from this world leaves a huge whole in the Vancouver brewing community. Your legacy of helping create a passionate brewing community in Vancouver will be with us for many years to come. You were one of the good guys. A straight shooter. I hope, where ever you are, there is a great home brewing supply shop so you can carry on brewing the beers you love.

And when I think of you, I will always remember our long afternoon chats where we clouded up your shop to the point of it being inhabitable and drank copious amounts of great beer.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

BC Craft Beer News Publishes 1st Edition!!

British Columbia craft beer folks may have noticed  a new publication lying around their local craft beer friendly spots over the past few weeks with the BC Craft Beer News (BCCBN) having published
their first addition which is currently being distributed to as many craft beer friendly locales as possible around the province.

The publication, launched by craft beer lovers Kenn Dubeau and Julia Chalifoux, is, according to the introduction in the newspaper, "dedicated to the promotion, growth and enjoyment of craft beer and brewing culture in BC," and features contributions from many well-known personalities from the BC craft beer community including the Thirsty Writer, Joe Wiebe, who is currently touring the province promoting his new book, Craft Beer Revolution: The Insider's Guide to BC Breweries and well-known beer blogger/rantmaster extraordinaire Chuck Hallett, better known as Barley Mowat.

See below for a complete list of contributors for the first edition.

"I think the timing for BC Craft Beer News is right," wrote Chalifoux in an email to VEBB. "There is a lot going on in the world of BC craft beer (and spirits and cider) at the moment. Having a dedicated source by which people can be informed, educated, entertained, heard and have the opportunity to connect is very important."

The BCCBN has printed 15,000 copies for their first edition, which, as the name alludes to, focuses on BC craft beer, but not exclusively so. Page 12 is dedicated to craft cider, with an informative article by Cinder Monger. Future editions will also include articles about the BC artisan distillery industry as well, as the newspaper understands that those who are interested in craft beer recognize quality products and most likely support the other local craft alcohol industries.

But make no mistake, this is a BC-based publication focusing on our vibrant and growing craft beer industry.

As Joe Wiebe states in his book's introduction, "welcome to the revolution".

BC Craft Beer News contributors (in alphabetical order):

Chris Blanchette, Joanna Chabot, Adam Chatburn, Lundy Dale, Ari Giligson, Rick Green, Chuck Hallett, Lynn McIlwee, Cider Monger, Paddy Treavor (VanEast Beer Blog), Joe Wiebe, Rebecca Whyman (Beck's Beer Blog), Kevin Wood

Communities where BCCBN can be found (complete distribution list will be made available ASAP)

Cranbrook, Creston, Fernie, Invermere, Kimberley, Nelson, Pemberton, Powell River, Rossland, Squamish, Trail, Vancouver, Victoria, Whistler

Interested in distributing the BCCBN, contributing, advertising or receiving a copy, contact

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Love-In at City Hall

The smile on Mayor Gregor Robertson's face and sigh of relief from Brassneck Brewery's Nigel Springthorpe Tuesday night said it all.

Vancouver City Council had just embraced the idea of on-site lounges in breweries with open arms.

As most of you reading this know, Vancouver City Council voted unanimously to amend zoning and development by-law to accommodate lounges as an accessory use to breweries and distilleries. 

In layman's terms, they voted to change zoning by-laws to allow us to drink beer in lounges located on-site at breweries.

This massive step forward for the craft beer culture in Vancouver came at us travelling at lightening speed with the motion put forward April 23rd, a mere 11 weeks ago, by NPA Councillor George Affleck to have, "(City) staff report back to Council on the required changes to the relevant regulations within the City of Vancouver that would permit micro-breweries, wineries and distilleries on industrial land to sample products produced on-site, thus being consistent with provincial liquor policy," which was debated and passed that night. Since that time city staff looked at what needed to be done, came up with recommendations, presented them to council who approved the recommendations and Tuesday the whole process came to and end with the public hearing.   

Much of the reason for this is that the City and brewery representatives have basically been on the same page since the motion was tabled. This fact was highlighted several times during the public hearing with Brassneck co-owner Conrad Gmoser thanking the mayor and his council for being so accomadating and with the Mayor Robertson and several councilors thanking the brewers for being so darn nice and easy to work with.

Both sides met twice in consultation meetings which by all accounts, went very smoothly and without much, if any, conflict. Even though I did not attend the meetings, I may have been the only source of aggravation, as I was told by a few who attended the first meeting that staff from the mayor's office asked the brewery contingent if any of them knew who Paddy Treavor was, probably as a result of my open letter to Mayor Robertson and City Council, which was described by Clr Affleck as "nasty", and my subsequent meeting with George Affleck who responded to my letter by contacting me.

It has been a pleasure to see all the Vancouver craft breweries band together and forget about competition for a few moments to work on getting this passed whether they were planning on having a lounge or not. 

It was great to see Vancouver City Council play nice with each other and work quickly to get this done.

And it was great to see the local craft beer supporters come out of the woodwork to support this motion  when possible opposition came into the picture this past weekend and myself, Barley Mowat and CAMRA Vancouver started rallying the troops. That cry for support resulted in 773 form letters, sent by supporters via Barley Mowat's blog, and 58 individual letters, sent in over a 48 hours, clogging up the city clerks in-box.

And as a result of everyone playing nice and getting along, almost everyone has basically gotten what they want in what I have described over and over as a win-win-win situation.

Clr Affleck, the only NPA councilor on City Council, received overwhelming support from the Vision Vancouver-heavy council and had his motion passed, which he joked, "hasn't happened very often".

Mayor Robertson, who was joking and laughing at the end of the meeting and his Vision council will be remembered as the gang that brought beer lounges to Vancouver.

The brewery owners and brewers, well, they are still pinching themselves to make sure this isn't still all a dream.

Consumers are giddy and just itching for these lounges to open.

The only group that really didn't get what they wanted were the "possible threat" I mentioned, Campaign for Culture, who although they support the idea of lounges in breweries wholeheartedly, did not support this motion as they felt it was too restrictive.  As a result of their opposition to some of the restrictions, they started an email campaign of their own which resulted in 70 form letters being registered in the "opposed" column.

But even they walked away from Tuesday's public hearing smiling as two of the three restrictions they want lifted, hours of operation and the amount of special events that can be held, are to be reviewed in a year's time and if things look good, could be made less restrictive. The only restriction CFC wanted lifted that council refused to look at was size of the lounges which will stay fixed at 80 sq metres.

Even I came out a winner, as Mayor Robertson thanked me for bringing this issue to City Council and did not throw one single brick or sick one single security guard on me during the evening.

But come to think of it, know he knows what I look like...

For those of you who have lots of time on your hands, I have added the links of the City's presentation to City Council, which outlines everything you need to know about this subject and the changes being made in a PowerPoint presentation. I have also linked the video broadcast of the whole public hearing where you can see exactly was said by all parties.

And on that note, I promise not to blog on this subject again until I actually have a beer in one of these highly anticipated lounges...


Video of meeting,005

Vancouver Approves On-Site Lounges in Breweries - Provincial Red Tape May Delay Openings For Several Months

Last night the City of Vancouver took a huge step forward in modernizing their liquor policies by unanimously approving zoning changes to allow breweries, distilleries and wineries to have small, licensed lounges on-site where they can sell their products to be consumed. 

The by-law changes removes the roadblocks (read here) in Vancouver that were preventing breweries from taking advantage of a recent provincial liquor policy changes allowing breweries and distilleries to apply for endorsements to their manufacturing licenses to run on-site, licensed lounges giving them equal footing with wineries who have had this opportunity for years.

As of today, breweries can apply to the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch for their lounge and special event endorsements (see link above)| with the knowledge that they have clear sailing as far as Vancouver City Council is concerned.

That is the good news which has the local craft beer industry and craft beers consumers hoisting a jar of their favourite local brew in celebration.

The bad news is that according to a LCLB spokesperson, "(t)he application process for a designated lounge is similar to the application process for a bar or pub, in that it requires a resolution from local government and the gathering of views from the public.  A general estimate is 7 – 12 months from the time we receive a complete application."

Before we get all up in arms about the proposed 7-12 month wait, it was clear last night that  Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vancouver City Council are totally on board with these lounges and want to see them open ASAP, so there should not be any resistance in the process at the municipal level. But the application (see here) is a seven-page monster which outlines several steps that must be completed with reviews, inspections, more reviews, more get the idea.

But for now, we rejoice!

It has been just over two months since NPA Councillor George Affleck met with yours truly (read here) and decided to put a motion together requesting City staff to look into what changes need to be made to allow brewery lounges to exist. In political time, two months is a blink of the eye to get such changes made and Mayor Gregor acknowledged this by thanking Clr Affleck for tabling the motion, Vancouver City city staff for their quick work in putting together the recommendations, the local craft brewers for working so amicably with the City to come to an agreement in regards to restrictions and Vancouver City Council for moving so quickly and to get things done.

Heck, he even thank me for bringing the issue to the attention of Clr Affleck and City Council.

Maybe I didn't have to move to Powell River after all?? 

Stay tuned for a full report about the Public hearing, reactions, restrictions etc...I have to hit the road right now to embark on a two-ferry journey with my wife and three-year-old to head home... I think I am going to need one of these beer lounges by the end of the day!

As a final word, thanks to all who made this happen: George Affleck, Mayor Robertson, Vancouver City Council, local Vancouver brewery folks who work together as a group and with City Hall, Barley Mowat who helped rally the troops, CAMRA Vancouver for getting word out support was needed and to all the craft beer lovers who took the time to write City Council and/or come out to the public hearing.

A job well done!!!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Opposition is Mounting Against Beer Lounge Recommendations - Public Hearing Tuesday, July 9

Ever since NPA Councillor George Affleck set in motion the chain of events that has Vancouver on the verge of allowing on-site lounges in breweries, distilleries and wineries, there has been overwhelming support for the idea.

Tuesday night the final step in the process takes place with a Public Hearing, held at 6 PM in the City Council Chamber, where submitted letters and emails will be reviewed and those who feel the need to voice their thoughts directly to City Council will have their opportunity to speak.

Despite the support, their are a few who do not like the proposed changes to Vancouver's by-laws and the restrictions being placed on the lounges outlined in a report received by Vancouver City Council from the Vancouver City General Manager of Planning and Development Services.

Campaign for Culture (CFC), who describe themselves as, "an association dedicated to the enhancement of the social and cultural fabric of British Columbia," believe the proposed changes don't go far enough and have started an email campaign in an attempt to get Mayor Gregor and his crew to lift some of the restrictions recommended for on-site lounges, specifically the size limit of 860 square feet, the 11 PM closing time and the limit of having only ability to host only 2 special events per month. CFC organizers believe that lounges should have the ability to be much larger, open later and host more events if they so desire, more in line with Provincial regulations.

At the time I am writing this post (Sunday, July 7) there are 13 items of correspondence related to this issue that have been sent for the Public Hearing and 12 of those are in the "oppose" column, all identically worded letters that have been generated by the CFC email campaign (read here). Despite the fact the CFC are not against the lounges existing, but instead are opposed to the restrictions being imposed on the lounge and special event areas, the letters are being considered by Vancouver City Council as opposition. Having spoken to the CFC folks, I have been told many more letters supporting their campaign are going to be sent to Vancouver City Council.

The problem with CFC trying to bring about these changes in this way is that by showing strong opposition to the recommended changes, especially when only one letter of support (read here) has been received, the whole process could grind to a halt and be rejected, meaning the status quo would remain and no on-site consumption lounges within Vancouver City limits even though Vancouver City Council passed Affleck's original motion and accepted the recommendations made by the General Manager of Planning and Development Services.

And although they have not made any official opposition known via the Public Hearing website, the Alliance of Beverage Licensees of British Columbia are not too keen on these lounges existing and could still mobilize their opposition. If ABLE gets rolling, it could be the death of the proposed changes as they are very well connected politically and have a lot of sway in the province when it comes issues related to alcohol.

Personally, I am okay with the regulations being proposed. I see these lounges as being small, intimate places, family friendly, where you go for to taste a few of your favourite brews right at the point of production, not places to go out with large groups of friends to get swacked on a Friday night until the wee hours.

I know the local craft beer industry is okay with moving forward as is in regards to the recommendations as they were part of the consultation process and were well aware of what was happening. For the first time in a long while those from the Vancouver craft brewing industry organized and worked together to help get Vancouver City Council to this point by making the Vancouver craft beer industry wants and needs known in regards to on-site consumption lounges. All brewery owners in Vancouver I have talked to do not want to have a lounge open until 2 or 4 AM at their brewery and would not staff one and stay open until those late hours even if they were allowed.

I am very disappointed that there has only been one letter of support and that did not come from any of the brewery owners who would benefit from these changes. I am also embarrassed to say that until I found out that there was no official support being shown for the changes save the one letter, I had not written in despite the fact it was my yelling and screaming about the issue that got the attention of George Affleck which resulted in a meeting between us and the motion that set all of this in motion.

I have rectified this and written my letter and if you love craft beer in Vancouver and want to support your local breweries and have the opportunity to enjoy some of their great beers in lounges at the breweries, I recommend you do as well. It takes 30 seconds to write an email of support that could result in permanent and positive changes to our local liquor policies. This type of thing is specifically what groups like the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) are designed for and members should get active and support the cause. Getting these recommendations through the Public Hearing and changes made is a win-win-win situation for Vancouver, the local craft beer industry and craft beer consumers.

Email and let's get this thing done! Remember the hearing is Tuesday at 6 PM so emails should be sent before 4 PM on Tuesday.