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Brewing Up A Little Zeitgeist: Vancouver City Council Taps Into The Growing Excitement Amongst The City’s Craft Beer Community

Carlos Mendes

(Originally Published July 12, 2013 on my BC Beer Law 1.0 blog)

Following the tireless efforts of the city’s craft brewers and a highly successful last minute social media campaign, Vancouver city council voted unanimously on Tuesday in favour of changes to the Zoning Bylaw to permit on-site brewery lounges. As was clearly evidenced in the room that night, apart from the ultimately fruitless 11th hour intervention of the ‘Campaign for Culture’, the process of amending the Zoning Bylaw to rectify its discord with the Regulations was carried forward by a great deal of positive momentum and admirable cooperation from all parties involved.

Having attended numerous council meetings on behalf of clients in the past, I can attest to the unique atmosphere in the room on Tuesday. With a real fear that so much honest, hard work could be derailed by an unknown fringe group, the atmosphere in the chamber room was initially tense. However, as soon as Councillor Deal began to effectively cross-examine the single speaker who chose to speak against the motion, it became clear that (like other initiatives this council had set its mind on) brewery lounges would soon be coming to Vancouver. Indeed, it was interesting to observe how Councillor Deal thoroughly questioned the deputy director of planning, and then used the information that she gleaned to grill the Campaign for Culture’s representative, illustrating just how little background his group really had on this issue.

The change in the body language of several councillors when Conrad Gmoser rose to speak on behalf of the city’s craft brewers was telling. Setting out the importance of lounges to the future of local industry with eloquence and humour, Conrad’s presentation was a fine example of both the cooperation amongst the city’s craft brewers, and the genuine support that the City of Vancouver has given this initiative in recent months. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the group of small businesses that Conrad spoke for will soon be in direct competition for a share of the local craft beer market. However, throughout this whole process, local industry has worked together to achieve its shared objectives and, in my humble opinion, set the tone for its growth while illustrating one of the things that I admire about the craft beer industry.

Regardless of their location, I have always found people in the industry to share a genuine excitement about their products and their industry, and to be driven by a strong sense of community. The result has clearly been infectious on consumers, as the growing numbers of craft beer ‘enthusiasts’(aka ‘nuts’ or ‘geeks’) will attest. Indeed, apart from the obvious highlight of ten days dedicated to drinking amazing beer, the strongest impression I had about the various events I attended during this year’s Vancouver Craft Beer Week was the number of great people I met, both inside and outside the industry, who shared my excitement about craft beer and Vancouver’s growing craft beer community. These sentiments were clearly evident in the comments of Mayor Robertson, Councillor Affleck and Councillor Carr on Tuesday night; their praise for way local industry came together, and their shared sense that on-site lounges will go a long way to improve the character and quality of life in this great city.

While I would have liked to provide a substantive review of the amendments to the Zoning Bylaw, the city’s drafters went with a minimalistic approach, choosing to only set out a few requisite amendments rather than enumerate a large number of conditions. Specifically, the city amended the M-1, M-2, I-1, I-2, I-3, IC-1, IC-2 and IC-3 District Schedules to provide that, “A lounge use accessory to a Brewing and Distilling Use shall be carried on wholly within a completely enclosed building”, and that “the floor area for a lounge use accessory to a Brewing or Distilling use must not exceed 80m2.” In other words, the city’s drafters stuck with the key elements of the Report and the parameters that arose out of consultations between the city and local industry. Interestingly, the city amended the motion as originally drafted to institute a one-year review process, so that the city can receive feedback and potentially make further amendments to better accommodate local industry. Now that the city is on side, breweries will still need to go through the provincial application process to receive lounge endorsements to their manufacturer license, which can take up to twelve months from the date of application.

Regardless, 33 Acres is now on tap at the Alibi Room and will soon be doing growler fills, Powell Street has put my neighbourhood on the national craft beer map, and on-site lounges are on their way to town. Considering where our craft beer scene was just a few years ago, it’s amazing to see what a small, dedicated group of brewers willing to take a risk on Vancouver can do. Congrats and thanks to everyone who worked so hard to make on-site lounges happen - we’ll all soon be reaping the rewards of your efforts!