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|
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.