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Now that’s more like it. The BC Government Releases Twenty More Recommendations to Modernize the Province’s Liquor Laws

Carlos Mendes

Short on the heels of the tepid public response to Parliamentary Secretary Yap’s first recommendation, the Premier has announced twenty additional ways that her government will modernize BC’s liquor laws, including changes to the province’s licensing and distribution models.  Indeed, after receiving a flood of negative editorials and feedback from industry and advocacy groups for its plan to permit liquor sales in grocery stores, it is telling that instead of a drab press release,  this time around the Premier herself was on-hand at heavily choreographed events to make her government’s two announcements.  Find the glossy press releases here and here.  

As I tweeted the day the Premier made her first announcement, I’m delighted that the government is heeding the recommendations of the BC Brewers Guild discussed below.  Establishing a new LDB marketing and product placement strategy for BC craft beer akin to the one currently used for BC wine will help drive the continued expansion of the industry’s market share and will also strengthen its connection with its existing consumer base.  How this recommendation will actually take shape remains to be seen, but I’m hopeful that we’ll soon see BC craft beer assuming its rightful place alongside VQA wine in a central location in LDB retail outlets.  To this end, following through on the proposed establishment of a quality assurance program for BC craft beer will help the industry further solidify its market niche as the high-quality, artisanal alternative to macro beer.  

The recommendation that government work with industry and tourism authorities to create maps, apps and brochures to develop craft beer tourism is also very welcome.  Stop in at any tourism centre in the Okanagan and you’ll be hard pressed to walk away with less than half a dozen vineyard maps.  Hopefully, the next few years will see the maturation of our craft beer tourism infrastructure, driven by collaboration between government and industry.  Reaching out and educating concierges, servers and others in the tourism and hospitality sectors about the province’s craft breweries will also be important if we are to see anything like the infrastructure that exists in cities like Portland and Denver.

Parliamentary Secretary Yap has also recommended permitting distribution at temporary off-site retail locations.  As I mention below, I’m a big fan of farmers markets, so I’m  pretty excited about the possibility of filling a growler of Blood Alley Bitter or drinking a Black Plague Stout on the grass at Trout Lake next summer.  It’s funny, but with the recent growth of craft beer’s popularity, it can sometimes be easy to forget that most people wouldn’t know the difference between a macro and a micro, let alone between a beer that’s been dry hopped and one that’s been wet hopped.  Every opportunity for the industry to reach out to new customers is welcome, regardless of whether it presents itself at a farmer’s market or at a re-designed LDB retail outlet.

Another area that the province is looking to modernize is licensing.   As someone who regularly navigates the antiquated intricacies of craft beer licensing, on both the production and the distribution side, I’m very pleased that the province is committed to ensuring that these systems become transparent, effective and user-friendly. While licensing is clearly a very important part of making and selling beer, it shouldn’t be the daunting burden that it has been for many of the province’s craft brewers. Much to the industry’s dismay, there is currently a massive disconnect between provincial regulators and  BC’s craft brewers. From bureaucrats who don’t understand craft beer and can take weeks to return e-mails and phone calls, to confusing policy manuals and archaic regulations, the deck can really seemed stacked against our craft beer industry.  A good place to start rectifying this disconnect would be for government to reach out to the industry, meet with brewery owners and front-line staff, and learn how to spur rather than hinder its growth. To this end, I’ve been really pleased to hear from clients and friends in the industry that the dialogue with the Provincial government appears to be continuing beyond the formal review process, and that Parliamentary Secretary Yap and others around him are making efforts to understand what the industry needs and how government can make this happen. I’m hoping that this process will continue, because It’s really critical that the industry be at the forefront of initiatives like establishing the criteria for a craft beer quality assurance program and the development of craft beer tourism.

Unlike the issues discussed above, Parliamentary Secretary Yap’s recommendations on licensed establishments in the hospitality sector have received a fair amount of media coverage and, not surprisingly, have really resonated with the public.  Looking over the second press release, I’m encouraged that the government seems to be applying a common sense approach to its modernization initiatives, focussing on encouraging growth and respecting the choices of adult consumers. As we all know, its common for visitors from other jurisdictions to be absolutely dumbfounded by how antiquated our liquor laws are, and I’m convinced that in no time people will find it hard to believe that things like happy hours and supervised minors in pubs were once prohibited in BC.  Being unable to carry a drink between areas with different types of licenses in the same establishment, or having to order food in an establishment with a food primary license are both examples of the degree to which our bizarre liquor laws have been rooted in the mentality of the temperance movement.  Fortunately, the province seems intent on bringing our liquor laws into the 21st century, and based on this latest batch of recommendations, I’m optimistic that the remaining 49 recommendations will be positive for both consumers and industry.