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DRINKER: What You Need to Know About the Final Report on BC Liquor Law Reform

Carlos Mendes

I recently wrote a piece for Scout Magazine on Parliamentary Secretary John Yap's Report. Just in case you missed it the first time around, follow the link or read it here.  

As you’re probably already well aware, the government of BC has been undergoing its first major review of our antiquated liquor laws in over two decades, and after holding 65 stakeholder meetings, and receiving 76,255 site visits and 3,587 e-mails over a six-week public consultation period, Parliamentary Secretary John Yap released his highly anticipated final report this past Friday. Find it here. The report contains a total of 73 recommendations that touch on everything from how alcohol is sold and purchased to how it’s licensed and distributed, and the Province has announced that it fully supports every one of them. 

So just what kind of changes are coming to BC? Well, many of the report’s ‘big ticket’ items were previously released back in November and December, but are worth mentioning again. These include things like liquor sales in grocery stores, the return of happy hour, accompanied minors in pubs, and my personal favourite: liquor sales at farmers’ markets. The report also contains a number of new recommendations that are sure to resonate with the drinking public. First of all, the liquor consumption ‘holding pens’ at the festivals you frequent (otherwise known as ‘beer gardens’) will soon be a thing of the past. Starting this summer, you should be able to walk around with a pint at events instead of being segregated behind a fence. For those of us who would prefer to drink a $12 rum and coke instead of a $9 glass of Canadian when they watch the Canucks at Rogers Arena, you’re in luck, because alcohol sales at sporting events will no longer be limited to just beer and wine. And finally, if you’re like me, and filling up a growler at a local brewery is how you get your beer, you’ll soon have even more choices, as government and private liquor stores will now be permitted to sell and fill growlers.

Speaking of growlers, the report also contains a number of good things for the fine people who labour every day to make the beer we drink. The first of these is the creation of a new craft beer marketing and product-placement strategy for government liquor stores, similar to the one currently used for BC wine. The government also plans to start working with BC’s craft brewers to create maps, apps and brochures to develop craft beer tourism, plus it wants to simplify the archaic rules that regulate liquor production and distribution in the province. There’s even talk of setting up a quality assurance program for BC Craft beer like the VQA program used by our province’s wineries.

 At this point, a fair amount remains to be seen about what a number of these recommendations will actually look like when put into place, as several will take a fair amount of time to study before they can be implemented. The real test will be in the look of new legislation, policy manuals, license applications and, of course, in how quickly we can start to enjoy the changes announced on Friday. While the province didn’t go as far as some of us would have liked and permitted things like public consumption at parks and beaches or liquor sales in corner stores, it’s nonetheless pretty amazing to think about how far we’ve come in such a relatively short amount of time. Consider the following quote from a provincial review of our liquor laws back in 1952, “we do not look with favour on, and very definitely recommend against, the exotic, dimly lighted, voluptuous type of cocktail bar which creates the delusive impression of opulence and social distinction.” Think about that the next time you find yourself enjoying happy hour at The Keefer or wandering about in the sun at Folk Fest with a pint of Old Jalopy, or simply having a meal with your kids at your local pub.

 After years of window-dressing and baby steps, it looks like we just might finally be getting 21st century liquor laws in BC. Let’s drink to that.

Welcome to the 21st Century: The BC Government Finally Releases Parliamentary Secretary Yap’s Full Report

Carlos Mendes

On Friday, a little over three months after the end of public consultation, and two months after it was submitted to the Attorney General, the Province released Parliamentary Secretary John Yap’s Final Report on BC Liquor Policy Review (“Report”).  Find it here. For those of us wondering if the Province would be endorsing all of its recommendations, the Ministry of Justice sent out a press release shortly after the Report  was made public announcing the government’s full support for all 73.  

Back when the Report was submitted to the Attorney General on November 25th, many liquor law reform advocates thought that it would be immediately released to the public.  However, in a bid to avoid the embarrassment of releasing the Report and then having to explain why it didn’t support all of its recommendations, the Province waited a few months to review (and possibly modify) its contents.  As discussed in greater detail below, during this time the Province released a number of the Report’s recommendations, and apart from its ill-conceived grocery store liquor sale model, these were generally well-received by the public and industry alike. They included:    

  • permitting licensees to offer time-limited drink specials (aka ‘happy hour’), subject to government prescribed minimum prices (Recommendation 16);  
  • permitting liquor sales in grocery stores (Recommendations 19-22);
  • improving marketing and product placement for craft beer in LDB outlets (Recommendation 23); 
  • working with industry and tourism authorities to create promotional materials to assist with the development of craft beer tourism (Recommendation 24);
  • discussing the establishment of a quality assurance program for BC craft beer (Recommendation 26);
  • reviewing the minimum requirements to obtain a brewery license with industry and considering how these requirements are regulated by the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (“LCLB”) and the Liquor Distribution Branch (“LDB”) (Recommendation 30); 
  • permitting manufacturers to offer their products for sample and sale at temporary off-site locations such as farmers’ markets (Recommendation 31); 
  • allowing accompanied minors in certain liquor primary establishments (Recommendation 34); 
  • permitting patrons to order a drink without ordering food in establishments with a food primary license (Recommendation 36); and
  • permitting patrons to carry liquor between adjoining licensed establishments (Recommendation 63).

While there was little surprise at the inclusion of these recommendations in the Report, I’m disappointed by the way that several are characterized.  Specifically, I would have liked to see a firmer commitment on BC craft beer product placement and marketing in LDB outlets, the development of craft beer tourism, and the establishment of a quality assurance program for BC craft beer. These three recommendations were the direct result of lobbying efforts made by the BC Craft Beer Guild and CAMRA, and as I mention below, they would go a long way to helping our craft beer industry grow and flourish. I’m hopeful that, despite the way the government chose to characterize these recommendations in the Report, it will continue to work with industry to see them get implemented.

The Report contains a total of 49 new recommendations, and not surprisingly, most of the media’s attention has been focussed on the two that were highlighted in the Ministry of Justice’s press release: ‘beer gardens’ and special occasion licenses (“SOLs”).  To this end, the government has indicated that it hopes to have new rules in place this summer to permit ‘whole site licensing’ at festivals so that festival goers will no longer have to be segregated behind a fence if they want to enjoy a drink (Recommendation 51).  The rules surrounding SOLs will also be simplified, creating an annual SOL for organizations that hold multiple events throughout the year, and license holders will now be permitted to store unconsumed liquor for future events (Recommendation 45).  There’s also good news for BC’s home brewers, as the Report recommends permitting the issuance of SOLs for homebrew competitions where homemade beer can be sampled by both judges and the public (Recommendation 50).  

Considering its recent growth in popularity, it wasn’t too surprising to see that the humble growler managed to make it into the Report.  As several people in the industry had predicted, Licensee Retail Stores (“LRSs”) and LDB outlets will soon be permitted to sell and refill growlers (Recommendation 68).  While the benefit to consumers of this change to our distribution model is clear, I’m slightly concerned by the effect that it could have on the many craft brewers who rely on revenue generated by growler fills.  If, for example, LRSs and LDB outlets start offering out-of-province beer for growler fills, it’s not unreasonable to expect a decline in direct sales at breweries, lounges and tasting rooms. Indeed, over the last few years, tasting rooms and lounges have become important local meeting places in many of BC’s communities, and catching up with your neighbour while filling your growler have become synonymous.  Personally, I hope that LRSs and LDB outlets will focus on BC craft beer for their growler programs so that these sales augment industry revenues and don’t threaten the important role that lounges and tasting rooms play in many of our communities.  Regardless, I’d be surprised if we see growler stations in LDB outlets any time soon. Considering what will be required to install stations (from water lines and cold storage, to counters and the towers themselves), and the bureaucracy that will need to be navigated to get these kinds of leasehold improvements done in multiple LDB outlets, my guess is that they’ll be coming to LRSs first, but that we probably won’t see them for some time.  

The Report also contains a number of promising inclusions for those of us who spend a fair amount of time working within the LCLB’s licensing and the LDB’s distribution systems.  While the vague commitment to ‘reduce red tape’ (Recommendation 73) is encouraging, I was happier to see a handful of practical changes being considered.  The first of these is an end to the requirement to report changes in licensee corporate share ownership to the LCLB when no new shareholders have been added to a company’s share registry (Recommendation 71).  Take, for example, a family-owned brewery where mom, dad, and several siblings own the shares.  If dad wants to retire and transfer his shares to the kids, why should the corporate licensee be in violation of the LCLB’s regulations if they forget to let LCLB know about the change? I was also pleased to see that the government is looking at streamlining local government and First Nations approval in the application processes for  tasting lounge endorsements and liquor primary licenses (Recommendation 39).  While it is rare for a liquor primary license application to be turned down by a local government or First Nation, getting their approval can nonetheless be extremely difficult and time-consuming.  Being able to get the requisite approvals at the same time that an application is submitted to the LCLB would make the licensing process much easier.  Establishing target timelines to resolve applications (Recommendation 42) would also give start-ups a little bit more certainty in the stressful and confusing process of getting licensed.  Finally, the establishment of a new, independent decision-making body for applicants and licensees seeking a review of the LCLB’s decisions (Recommendation 15) would provide comfort to licensees and applicants that they would have some recourse if they feel they are being dealt with in an unfair or arbitrary manner.

Then, of course, there’s the LDB.  The LDB’s labyrinthine warehousing and distribution system is an endless source of frustration for many in the industry, and unfortunately, the rules that regulate it are often unclear and can be hard to get a hold of.   Getting products from a brewery to LRSs or LDB outlets (especially for out-of-province manufacturers) can be an unnecessarily long and costly process. Finding ways to streamline and modernize this system (Recommendation 58) would be welcome, but considering the likelihood of push-back from bureaucrats and the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union, it’s doubtful that we’ll be seeing changes to the LDB any time soon.  

Striking the right balance between harm reduction and liberalization was never going to be an easy task, and there are several noteworthy absences in the Report, chief amongst these being the continued prohibition on public consumption in parks and beaches and on liquor sales in convenience stores. Indeed, for all of its efforts to liberalize our antiquated liquor laws, the Report does contain a number of recommendations that centre on harm reduction.  While many of these are positive, a few caught my eye.  In the section on pricing, the Report recommends that the LDB consider tying minimum alcohol prices to alcohol by volume (“ABV”) (Recommendation 18).  In other words, drinking a 20 oz saison or Russian imperial stout would cost you more than the same amount of kolsch or ISA.  This recommendation was delivered to Parliamentary Secretary Yap by several harm reduction groups, and similar steps in other jurisdictions have been shown to reduce alcohol-related harm.  While I can understand the larger social value of this recommendation, if it were to be implemented it would have a detrimental impact on the sales of numerous styles of craft beer, and could also have negative spinoff effects on the industries that support our craft brewers, such as BC’s fledgling hop farmers.  While ‘beer geeks’ and ‘hop heads’ will continue to order higher ABV beer at places like the Alibi Room and St. Augustine’s, price is a very determinative factor in dictating consumer spending, and should this change be implemented, sales of higher alcohol beer will surely be affected.   Over time, this would undoubtedly have a negative impact on consumer choice, and some of the craft beer industry’s recent growth could be stunted if fewer taps of styles like IPA, eisboch, or imperial red ale are offered at BC’s pubs.  

In the end, notwithstanding this recommendation and a handful of others, our province’s first review of its antiquated liquor laws in over two decades has resulted in a number of positives for consumers and industry.  Obviously, the real test will be in the look of new legislation, policy manuals, and license applications.  In other words:  implementation - how long it will take to see these changes made, and how many of them will actually get put in place.  Unfortunately, the public’s attention span can sometimes be short, and many of the Report’s recommendations could easily be forgotten if there isn’t an honest desire for change in government. Indeed, while certain recommendations will take some time to study and implement (or may never be implemented at all), I’m hopeful that the simpler ones to implement (like direct sales at farmers’ markets, happy hour, and ‘whole site’ licensing for festivals), will be in place this summer.  The immediate implementation of these recommendations would show that the Province is serious about the changes set out in the Report and that the public funds used to facilitate its preparation were well spent.  Let’s hope that the unprecedented public engagement this initiative received is put to good use, and that the modernization of our liquor laws continues to build on the significant momentum it currently enjoys. 

Look out for my upcoming articles in BC Craft Beer News where I’ll be looking at a few of the Report’s recommendations in greater detail. 

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.   

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back? Parliamentary Secretary Yap Recommends Liquor Sales in Grocery Stores

Carlos Mendes

It looks like those of us hoping to see Parliamentary Secretary Yap’s full report will have to wait a little bit longer to get our hands on it.  Last Thursday, the Ministry of Justice sent out a press release stating that the full report, which contains over 70 recommendations, won’t be released until it has been reviewed by cabinet and some additional ‘policy work’ has been undertaken.  The tentative date for its full release is early 2014. Until that time, the Ministry will periodically release a few individual recommendations, and as was widely reported last week, the first of these concerns liquor sales in grocery stores.  

While the Ministry’s press release was short on details, it does contain a few indications of what Yap’s new distribution model may look like.  The first thing I noticed, and with some disappointment, was that BC won’t be adopting a Washington State or Quebec-style model and permitting liquor sales in convenience stores, nor will it allow retailers to use existing shelf space to sell liquor. Instead, they’ve opted for the ‘store within a store’ model currently used in some jurisdictions, where small, segregated liquor retail outlets are located within larger grocery stores.  

The principal component of Yap’s model, (and the one that has received the most attention from liquor law reform advocates), is the maintenance of the current Licensee Retail Store (“LRS”) license cap.  Driven largely by the concerns of harm-reduction groups, the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch won’t be issuing any new LRS licenses after the Liquor Control and Licensing Act (“Act”) is amended or replaced to implement Parliamentary Secretary Yap’s recommendations.  Instead, grocery stores wishing to sell liquor will need to purchase an existing LRS license, and then transfer it to their retail location.  While the transfer of an LRS license is currently subject to a number of restrictions, I anticipate that these will be simplified once the Act is amended or a new Act is brought into force. Regardless, the retention of the current LRS license cap raises numerous issues, the principal one being cost. The current market rate for an LRS license is between $1,400,000.00 and $1,600,000.00, and with the maintenance of the cap, this rate will likely increase.  With the costs of acquiring an LRS license being prohibitive to all but the largest retailers, it is likely that going forward the majority of new private liquor retailers will be located in big box grocery retailers.  

Having spent a fair bit of time negotiating commercial leases and helping property owners get municipal approvals for redevelopment projects, the practical implementation of the ‘store within a store’ model raises a number of concerns for me.  The first matter that will confront grocery retailers hoping to sell liquor is whether to expand their premises or maximize existing space.   I would estimate that less than 5% of all large retail outlets are situated on land owned by retailers.  Consequently, any expansion of currently demised floor space will need to first go through the landlord, and will require a modification of the retailer’s lease.  Getting a landlord on-side, and then re-negotiating the terms of a lease, (especially when you’re dealing with a large retailer and a large commercial landlord), can take a fair amount of time.  If a retailer manages to modify their lease, they will then need to work with the landlord to get the requisite approvals from the local municipality.  Local government often moves at a slower pace than private enterprise, and getting their approvals for redevelopment plans and permit issuance can also take some time. Add in the costs of professional fees for architects, engineers, and lawyers to get the foregoing issues addressed, and expansion could be prohibitive, even for large retailers.

Consequently, most retailers will likely need to maximize existing floor space by creating small, segregated boutiques. The industry group representing LRS licensees, the Alliance of Beverage Licensees, has expressed concerns that this will lead to decreased consumer choice by forcing many retailers to overlook local craft beer, wine and spirits in favour of imported and mass-produced products. These types of concerns have been echoed by many craft beer and liquor law reform advocates, who fear that recent gains in consumer choice will be diminished, and that we’ll return to a time when only low-quality macro beer and imported wines are available for purchase in our local private liquor retailer.  Ironically enough, should this type of scenario come to fruition, the clear winner would be the Liquor Distribution Branch, which (especially in smaller markets) would come out as the only real option for consumers looking for quality, local products.  The clear losers would be consumers.   

While I’m disappointed with what I’ve learned so far about Yap’s ‘made in BC’ model, I’ve tried to suspend my judgement as best as I can.  As the press release notes, the new model still needs to be developed, and a lot of work will need to be done to iron out its many inherent kinks.   Ultimately, the true nature of this change to BC’s liquor distribution model won’t be clear until the full report is made public and, more importantly, the new Act comes into force. Until then, let’s hope that the government does a good job of listening to industry feedback and dealing with the multiple issues it faces, so that when we start seeing liquor in grocery stores in a few years’ time we won’t be left looking at other jurisdictions and wondering what might have been.

Craft Brewers Unite! The BC Craft Brewers Guild Takes Shape & Starts Advocating On Behalf of The Province’s Craft Beer Industry

Carlos Mendes

After holding 65 direct stakeholder meetings and receiving 76,255 site visits and 3,587 e-mails over the course of a six-week consultation period, Parliamentary Secretary John Yap submitted his final report on the modernization of BC’s liquor laws to Attorney General Suzanne Anton yesterday.  While we anxiously await its public release, I thought that I’d discuss a related topic that’s been pretty big news inside the province’s craft beer industry, but that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.  Much to the delight of industry watchers and advocates, the BC Craft Brewers Guild recently came together in earnest, and on September 30th met with Parliamentary Secretary Yap to put forward a unified message on behalf of 39 BC craft brewers. Having worked with industry organizations in the past, I can attest to the value they bring to independent and small businesses. By creating a single voice that can be harnessed for everything from marketing to advocacy, industry organizations offer a great example of what can be achieved when businesses work together to realize their collective goals.  The benchmark set by BC’s wine industry is telling.  From Vintners Quality Alliance ("VQA”) sections in BC Liquor Distribution Branch (“BCLDB”) stores, to a well-established tourism industry, BC’s wine producers have long benefited from having strong industry organizations championing their needs. 

Headed by industry veterans like Matt Phillips of Victoria’s Phillips Brewing and Tod Melnyk of Kelowna’s Tree Brewing, the BC Craft Brewers Guild has now started doing this important work for the province’s craft brewers.  Their polished submission to Parliamentary Secretary Yap provides a good overview of the industry’s recent successes, and makes a few excellent suggestions to encourage continued growth.    Find it here. The first thing that struck me was the current data on sales, which shows a positive continuation of the robust market performance I discussed earlier this year in BC Business Magazine.  In the last four years, craft beer’s market share has more than doubled, going from 9% of all BCLDB beer sales in 2009, to an estimated 19% in 2013.  The BCLDB’s retail sales numbers are even more impressive, with craft beer sales showing 17% growth between 2012 and 2013, and estimated to come in at around $165,093,000.00 this year.  The economic benefits of this strong growth comes through in the industry’s job creation numbers, with 94 new jobs created between 2012 and 2013, and over 1,200 people directly employed by the province’s 58 craft brewers. 

The Guild’s submission to Parliamentary Secretary Yap contains several recommendations, the first of which concerns increased visibility in BCLDB stores.  Modeled after the highly successful VQA program, the Guild is calling for the creation of a “Made in BC” beer program in BCLDB stores that would bring attention to BC craft beer by shelving it apart from macro beer and use special signage to highlight its quality and local character. Indeed, a quick walk through any BCLDB store illustrates the clear discrepancy between how BC craft beer is marketed and how BC wine is marketed.  When I buy wine, I typically gravitate to the VQA section because, like the signage says, I like to buy local. Unfortunately, craft beer is often crammed into an overcrowded corner of BCLDB stores, and is mixed in with domestic and imported macro beer.  Having a distinct and central area of BCLDB stores that showcases craft beer would go a long way to broadening its market share and promoting its value as a local, high-quality product.  Another suggestion that would spur further growth is sustained government support for craft beer tourism. The rapid development of Vancouver’s craft beer scene since Parallel 49 opened its tasting room in 2012 has been impressive, and in that time I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a drink with visitors from the interior, Washington state and even Portland who have come to experience it.  With the kind of government support BC’s wine industry and Oregon’s craft brewers enjoy, the numbers of craft beer tourists visiting Vancouver and beyond will only increase, making the pie just a little bit bigger for everyone in the industry. 

Like many other industry advocates, I’m optimistic that the Guild’s submission to Parliamentary Secretary Yap is just the beginning of a long and successful body of advocacy for BC’s craft brewers.   Hopefully, the coming months and years will see more BC craft beer sampler packs, and further collaboration with the Provincial government and other industries.  As I’ve said before, with a world-class product and an increasingly sophisticated and passionate consumer base, BC’s craft beer industry is well positioned to continue the impressive growth it has enjoyed for the last number of years.  With the help of the BC Craft Brewers Guild and (hopefully) the Provincial government, things could soon get even better for BC’s craft beer producers and consumers.

Mount Pleasant’s Craft Beer Revival Continues: Brassneck Has Finally Arrived

Carlos Mendes

(Originally Published October 22, 2013 on my BC Beer Law 1.0 blog)

For those of you out there who haven’t already heard, Brassneck Brewery recently opened its doors at Main and 6th here in Vancouver. Probably the most eagerly anticipated opening amongst the city’s craft beer community, Brassneck is the brainchild of two of the local scene’s heavyweights, Nigel Springthorpe, the part owner of the Alibi Room, and Conrad Gmoser, the award-winning brew master who spent the last 17 years brewing for Streamworks. Considering their well-deserved stature, it’s not surprising that a massive groundswell of local support has quickly turned their tasting room into a bustling community fixture and forced Conrad and his team to put in some long hours to keep up with the huge demand. Having toured the space during the construction phase and talked with Nigel and Conrad about the numerous challenges they’ve had to overcome to realize their shared dream, it’s really nice to see the success they’ve enjoyed since opening their doors earlier this month.

The room itself has a warm, welcoming atmosphere and looks brilliant, with a reclaimed wood motif and long communal tables. When I dropped in late one afternoon it was already bustling, and it was nice to see Conrad and Nigel circulating about the room and talking to their customers. The brewery setup itself is open for all to see from Main Street, and is a micro/nano hybrid, with a few 20 and 10 hectolitre fermenters and cellar tanks, along with some 350 litre fermenters and conditioning tanks. This setup gives Conrad free reign to experiment with smaller batches (which have clearly been a hit with local consumers), and when I caught up with Conrad at the BC Beer Awards on Saturday it was great to hear how excited he is about the possibilities available to him at Brassneck. Nigel and Conrad plan to offer a revolving slate of about eight beers, ranging from a corn lager and single hopped pale ale, to an English Porter and a Russian imperial stout. One custom element of the brewery design that I found pretty interesting is the system of lines that run from the tank storage room to the 8 growler filling stations and the taps in the tasting room. Designed by none other than Conrad himself, the system transfers beer directly from the tanks to your growler or glass. Now, that’s about as fresh as you can get.

I had the pleasure of trying four of their offerings when I stopped in, and my favourite was the Old Geezer English Porter. Now, I’m a big fan of porters, and like my two local favourites, Dive Bomb and Lost Souls, Old Geezer is pretty exceptional. The first impression is made by the roasted malts, which give the beer a pronounced smoky character. Being a big fan of peaty single malts, I tend to have a pretty big appetite for smoky flavours, and Old Geezer doesn’t disappoint. Subtle espresso and burnt toffee notes are also present, adding a slight bitterness. However, despite its strong character, Old Geezer remains smooth and well-balanced. It pours a rich, dark mahogany colour with a golden-beige head, and for a porter the body is not too heavy. All in all, Old Geezer is a pretty excellent beer, especially for those crisp autumn nights that have crept up on us so quickly as of late. Having a pint at home the other night reminded me that it’s just about time to break out my trusted English meat pie recipe again, and this winter I'll know exactly what to pair with my favourite cold weather meal.

Unfortunately, the two beers that I’ve heard the most about and was most excited to try, the Passive Aggressive Extra Pale Ale and the Inertia Imperial Stout, were sold out when I dropped in, so I’ll be following their twitter feed closely and counting on my friends in Mount Pleasant to let me know as soon as they’re back.

Next up for Brewery Creek is Main Street Brewing Co., which is currently slated to come on line this winter.

Being spoiled for choice is pretty great, isn’t it?

Getting With the Times: BC Launches A Complete Review of its Archaic Liquor Laws

Carlos Mendes

(Originally Published September 25, 2013 on my BC Beer Law 1.0 blog)

On June 7th the Province announced that it would begin its first review of BC’s liquor laws since 1999 in an effort to modernize a regulatory regime it acknowledges is ‘archaic’ and ‘inefficient.’ The first phase of the review began on August 7th when Richmond MLA John Yap, the newly appointed Parliamentary Secretary for Liquor Policy Reform, sent out thousands of letters to major stakeholders throughout BC, including manufacturers, importers, harm reduction groups, the food and beverage industry, and liquor agency stores. The second phase of the review seeks to engage the broader public in the consultation process, giving average British Columbians an opportunity to speak to their elected representatives on a topic that most of us have pretty strong opinions on. Launched on September 13th, the BC Liquor Policy Review website (located at gives users numerous ways to give feedback, from e-mailing the Minister directly, to commenting on one of his blog posts and participating in a twitter town hall on September 29th. The review will conclude on October 31st, before Yap submits his report to the Attorney General and the Minister of Justice by November 25th. The Province intends to bring in a new Act next spring.

After numerous rumours of its coming, the Province’s long-overdue review has been welcomed by the craft beer industry and its advocates. As was evidenced with the recent changes to the Act involving tied-house rules and on-site brewery lounges, BC’s liquor laws have too often been updated in an ad-hoc, one-off basis, which has led us to the current labyrinthine system that can be so difficult to navigate. Although instituted after the repeal of prohibition, BC’s current liquor laws have remained grounded in the temperance movement’s equation of alcohol with immorality and social decay, and as a result, control has been centralized in a Provincial regulator, and citizens have been barred from enjoying certain freedoms enjoyed in numerous other Canadian and international jurisdictions. Fortunately, from permitting sales in grocery stores and farmers markets to consumption in parks, everything is currently on the table and under review.

Having canvassed the opinions of several players in the industry, a few issues of concern seem to stand out. As noted above, due to the poor interplay between numerous ad-hoc and out of date regulations, the current regime is very difficult to navigate, and the bureaucratic hurdles to getting licensed are well known. It’s no surprise that so many ‘pubs’ are actually operating with Food-Primary licenses because, much to the frustration of anyone who’s tried to open a pub in BC, it can take an eternity to get a Liquor- Primary license in this province. Indeed, as we saw with on-site lounges, despite the amendment of the Regulations, licensees still have to wait at least 6 months to get an endorsement on their Manufacturer Licenses (which is why we still don’t have any brewery lounges in Vancouver). As someone who has helped clients navigate numerous regulatory regimes in various jurisdictions, I can attest to the difficulties of working within the current regulatory regime in BC. Clearly, the Province needs to make it easier to open and run breweries and pubs, and for manufacturers to distribute their products and sell directly to customers. Cutting red tape, reducing the time it takes to get licensed, and making the regulatory regime user-friendly would all go a long way to improving the current regime.

Another area of concern is distribution. Being centralized in the Liquor Distribution Branch, small producers can often have a difficult time getting their products into the hands of local consumers. One update to the current distribution model that, much to my delight, seems to have gained a lot of traction is farmers markets. As a cook and a foodie, I frequently visit my local farmers market at Trout Lake with my family. It’s always a pleasure to pick up the freshest produce, meet the farmers who grow my food, and expose my kids to something that you just don’t get at a big box grocery store. Why not fill up your growler or enjoy a pint on the grass while you’re picking up your heirloom tomatoes and homemade kimchi? While not a farmers market, the Saturday Craft Market in Portland gets it just right. When I was there this past April, Rogue had a stand set up where you could fill up your growler or have a glass of Dead Guy Ale. Combined with an excellent meal from one of the multiple food trucks on site, it was a great way to enjoy a sunny spring afternoon with some friends. Hopefully, this experience will soon be coming to BC.

Keeping with distribution, another issue that has generated a lot of feedback is liquor sales in grocery and convenience stores. On a recent visit to Seattle, I was amazed to find a better craft beer selection in the local gas station than you can often find in smaller government stores in BC. Common throughout Europe and parts of the US and Canada, selling beer and wine in corner and grocery stores provides far greater choice and convenience for consumers, and acknowledges that both products can be part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle if consumed in moderation by responsible adults (who make up the vast majority of alcohol consumers). While my particular tastes would mean that I would likely keep getting my beer from breweries, it would still be nice to be able to walk into my local convenience store and pick up a bomber or a six pack when in a pinch. Giving smaller producers another commercial outlet in their local communities would also be really beneficial to their growth, and with the increasing commercial focus on local products, it’s not hard to imagine bombers of 33 Acres or Brassneck on sale at the Union Market or the McGill Grocery alongside freshly baked goods, milk and soda pop.

Another issue that has generated a fair amount of debate is public consumption. A few weeks back I found myself with some friends down at English Bay enjoying the last vestiges of summer by having a picnic dinner with our families. Looking around at all of the other families doing the same thing, it just seemed silly how many of us were drinking wine and beer out of opaque plastic cups, trying to hide a part of our meal like we were engaged in some kind of subversive act. Clearly, it’s time for the Province to move past the outdated moral underpinnings of our liquor laws and let responsible adults consume alcohol responsibly. Even if the Province were to permit broader public consumption, with the right amendments to local bylaws, (such as imposing restrictions on where and when alcohol could be consumed), it would be relatively simple for municipalities to keep public consumption in check and remain mindful of important harm reduction concerns.

Let’s hope that the first review of our liquor laws in more than a decade can take our province into the 21st century and encourage growth in the industry, while also balancing a respect for individual adult consumers with harm reduction. Don’t forget to make your voice heard, and I’ll give my thoughts on Minister Yap’s report once it’s made public.

Mount Pleasant’s Craft Beer Revival Begins: 33 Acres is Now Open for Growler Fills and is On Tap Across Town

Carlos Mendes

(Originally Published August 1, 2013 on my BC Beer Law 1.0 blog)

I had the pleasure of popping by 33 Acres Brewing Co.’s brand new digs at 8th and Ontario yesterday to have a chat with Josh and Dave and to take a look at their tasting room and brewing facilities. Josh’s background in design is clear as soon as you walk through the door, and the thoughtfulness and attention to detail that he put into creating a such an impressive space seems to be infused in everything that he and Dave are doing. If you haven’t had a chance to pop by and check out their tasting room I’d highly recommend it. The space is clean, with a large communal table, plants tastefully spread throughout, and what sounded like Ma Rainey playing through the speakers when I popped by. The aesthetic carries through the back to the brewery floor (where the music is also piped). Josh is clearly passionate about what he does, and has put a great deal of thought into every aspect of his new business. From the importance of creating a welcoming community space that both customers and employees will want to share and enjoy, to his appreciation for the history and traditions of craft brewing, 33 Acres is a great example of the movement that I discuss above.

Against the backdrop of a culture of disposability and detached indifference, craft brewers like Josh and Dave represent a welcome return to sincerity, idealism and a traditional respect for hard work and honest craftsmanship. Josh clearly understands the value that an interconnected community sharing their local and handmade goods can bring, and I have no doubt that his tasting room will soon become an important community meeting place.

But enough about the space and the business. What about the beer, you ask?

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try either of 33 Acres’offerings at the brewery yesterday as I had to run after chatting with Josh and Dave. However, I did manage to grab a few pints of their 33 Acres of Life California Common at the Whip later in the day, and I’m happy to report that, like everything else Josh and Dave are doing with 33 Acres, a great deal of thought and care went into this beer.

33 Acres of Life California Common is a distinguished, complex beer with well rounded malt characteristics and mild hints of floral, spice and citrus. It’s balanced and full of subtle character, displaying a nice copper and amber colour. Caramel and toffee notes are also present, and it has surprising body for a beer of its kind. Although coming in at 4.8% ABV, it reminds me of a session ale in that I could drink it all day long (and well into the night). I’ve recently been enjoying Anchor’s Liberty Ale, Golden Badger’s Champion Ale and GIB’s Uncle Monty’s Best Bitter, as all three are easy drinking ales full of subtle character that go down very nicely on a hot summer day. 33 Acres of Life California Common fits squarely into this group, and I look forward to going back with one of my growlers soon - a perfect addition to our great summer.

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!

How About A Little 'Prize-Fighting' With Your 24 oz Glass of Beer? Vancouver Moves Closer to Permitting On Site Brewery Lounges

Carlos Mendes

(Originally Published June 13, 2013 on my BC Beer Law 1.0 blog)

As reported in Tuesday’s article in BC Business magazine, since counsellor Affleck’s unanimously supported motion directing city staff to harmonize the Zoning Bylaw with the Regulations, local industry representatives held a series of productive meetings with city staff. The result was a policy report prepared by the General Manager or Planning and Development Services (“Report”) that went before council yesterday. 

Further to my post below, the inability of Vancouver’s craft brewers to have on-site brewery lounges lay in the discord between the Regulations and the city’s Zoning Bylaws, and specifically how the Bylaws characterize both liquor licenses and areas with industrial land-use designations. Thankfully, (and largely due to the tireless work of local industry), the city now understands that on-site lounges are not ‘brewpubs’ or ‘bars’, but are a use ancillary to a Manufacturer License. To this end, the Report sets out several highlights of the province’s changes to the Regulations, (which will likely play a role in the final amendments to the Zoning Bylaw). These are as follows:

  • Lounges cannot exceed a floor area of 860 square feet (80 sq metres);
  • All liquor consumed must be produced on-site;
  • Permitted hours for liquor consumption are 9:00 am to 4 am the next day (the city has proposed 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., which local industry has supported);
  • The maximum serving size is 24 oz; and
  • Permitted entertainment includes ‘recorded music, radio, and televised prize-fighting' (what I’ve long thought Parallel 49’s tasting room was lacking - a little televised ‘prize-fighting’).

At this point, and not surprisingly, the Report is short on substantive changes to the Zoning Bylaw, with only two proposed amendments listed.One is the requirement that lounges be in completely enclosed buildings (meaning no patios), and the other is the proposed floor-space ratio of 80 sq metres. Importantly, these changes will apply to all the districts where they city’s newest craft breweries have existing operations or will soon be setting up shop, including ‘I-2’ (Parallel 49), ‘M-2’ (Powell Street), ‘IC-2' (Brassneck) and ‘M-1’ (33 Acres and Main Street).

Once they are ready to go before council, I look forward to reviewing and then discussing the final version of the amendments to the Zoning Bylaw here. I anticipate that they will maintain the spirit of what was discussed with industry, and am hopeful that they’ll also incorporate key elements of the province’s changes to the Regulations (including the various forms of permitted entertainment noted above).

Considering the industry's recent support from Mayor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver council, it's not surprising that city council voted unanimously yesterday to implement the recommendations put forward in the Report. The next step will be public consultation, with hearings likely to happen in the near future.While some industry advocates are predicting push-back from established interests in the hospitality sector at the hearings, with momentum, public opinion and city council on their side, there is optimism amongst the city’s craft brewers that on-site lounges are on their way to Vancouver.

Having a couple pints with your growler fill just got a little closer.

Red Tape Peeling Off Craft Breweries - My Article For BC Business Magazine

Carlos Mendes

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

With its success at Vancouver City Council yesterday and the brilliance of Vancouver Craft Beer Week, BC's craft beer industry has been receiving a lot of good press lately. I added a few more words to the mix yesterday in BC Business Magazine. Find my article at:

Just a Twelve Ounce Taste For Me, Thanks. Recent Changes to Provincial Liquor Regulations Undermined by Vancouver’s Zoning Bylaw

Carlos Mendes

(Originally Published May 17, 2013 on my BC Beer Law 1.0 blog)

On the same day that the province relaxed its ‘tied house’ rules (see below), another welcome change to the Regulations also came into effect. Prior to March 1st of this year, on-site consumption at breweries was limited to ‘tasting rooms’ where brewers could only sell a maximum of 12 ounces of their products to each customer per day. Consequently, and despite strong community support and a wide array of award-winning products (as most recently illustrated in last week’s impressive showing at the Canadian Beer Awards), Vancouver’s fledgling craft beer industry hasn’t been able to take advantage of a valuable marketing tool that is probably taken for granted in more established markets.

The rules that previously regulated on-site lounges were a constant source of frustration for the province’s craft brewers, who saw them as an impediment that placed their industry in a disadvantaged position to outside competitors. To understand their position, you only need to look about 5 hours to the south, where the contrast with the craft beer mecca of Portland is striking. As a frequent visitor to the Rose City, I can attest to the way that on-site lounges give breweries an invaluable opportunity to directly connect with their customer base and grow their market share. Indeed, it seems like every time I take the I-5 and cross the Columbia River, I find myself casually enjoying a pint or two with a brew master at an on-site lounge. Being able to connect in this way with the maker of my beer often leaves a strong and lasting impression about the passion, creativity and attention to detail that defines their products. As you could expect, the direct marketing and brand loyalty that this kind of experience can create is invaluable, and the craft beer tourism that Portland enjoys due to experiences like these benefits all segments of the local economy.

Thankfully, s. 18.2 of the Regulations now allows the province’s breweries to have an endorsement on their existing Manufacturer's License that permits on-site consumption, and does not impose the kind of strict limits that were in place under the previous regulatory regime. This change has been warmly received by brewers and enthusiasts alike, and has had an immediate impact on the operations of some of the provinces’ craft brewers. Consider the case of Surrey’s Central City Brewing Company, the makers of the popular and award-winning Red Racer line of craft beer. Following the implementation of s. 18.2, the company’s plans to include a small tasting room in their new 65,000 square foot brewing facility were quickly replaced with plans to build a 2,500 square foot lounge in the same facility. Clearly the province got it right here, and the industry and its supporters will soon be reaping the benefits.

Unfortunately, these benefits may not be enjoyed by everyone. In Vancouver, the jurisdictional interplay between the Regulations and the city’s Zoning & Development Bylaw No. 3575 (“Zoning Bylaw”) has created a state of legal limbo for the industry, and a bureaucratic headache for its proponents. Parallel 49’s tasting room is a case in point. Despite the implementation of s. 18.2, the city’s Licenses and Inspections department has advised the brewery’s owners that they will need a Liquor-Primary License from the LCLB to operate an on-site lounge, which they view as akin to a pub. The reason is simple: the Zoning Bylaw only recognizes two types of establishments that are permitted to serve liquor, those with Liquor-Primary Licenses and those with Food-Primary Licenses. A Manufacturer's License with lounge endorsement is thus a kind of 'hybrid license' that is not currently recognized in the Zoning Bylaw.

To make matters worse, Parallel 49’s brewery is located in the northern tip of Hastings Sunrise on lands that are zoned ‘I-2’ under the Zoning Bylaw. ‘I-2’ is an industrial land-use designation that currently permits various types of manufacturing (including brewing and distilling), artists' studios, and even certain types of restaurants. However, businesses with a Liquor-Primary License are not permitted to operate on lands zoned I-2, and businesses with a Manufacturer’s License are not permitted to operate outside of lands that carry an industrial designation, thus leaving the owners of Parallel 49 in their current state of legal limbo. To rectify this situation, the city’s Licensing and Inspections department advised the brewery that their only current option is to make a re-zoning application, a process which could involve extensive community consultation, and which would undoubtedly be costly and time-consuming. Unfortunately, while the city’s position appears to contravene the Regulations, it does have the authority to stop the implementation of s. 18.2 by exercising its licensing powers under the Vancouver Charter and its ability to regulate land use under the Local Government Act.

As expected, the city has received a fair amount of bad press on this issue, and has been on the receiving end of a passionate advocacy campaign spearheaded by the local chapter of the Campaign for Real Ales (“CAMRA”) and CAMRA’s past-president Paddy Treavor (writer of the popular Van East Beer Blog). While the Licenses and Inspection department’s current position on this issue is clear, there have been some strong indications that city council would like to rationalize the Zoning Bylaw with the Regulations. The most promising of these was a recent motion by NPA councillor George Affleck, unanimously supported by city council, ordering city staff to determine what is required to harmonize the Zoning Bylaw with s. 18.2. Since the motion was passed, Alibi Room regular and Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson used his twitter account to inform his followers that city staff were currently working on new regulations that would allow tasting lounges and offer additional support to the city’s craft brewers, and further, that he expected a report on this matter to come before council in May. Members of the city’s craft beer community are hopeful that amendments to the Zoning Bylaw will soon be in place to rectify their discordance with s. 18.2. You only need to look south to Portland to see what could potentially lie in store for our great city if they do.

A Pint of Gypsy Tears at St. Augustine’s? The Relaxation of BC’s Tied House Rules Finally Starting to Benefit the Province’s Craft Brewers

Carlos Mendes

(Originally Published May 15, 2013 on my BC Beer Law 1.0 blog)

As part of the provincial government’s ongoing and much needed revitalization of its antiquated liquor laws, on February 8, 2013 the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Brach (“LCLB”) issued Policy Directive No: 13-13 (“Directive”). The Directive, which also concerns certain trade practices such as sponsorship and promotion, outlines several legislative changes to the Liquor Control and Licensing Act Regulations (“Regulations”), including a welcome end to the province’s prohibition on ‘tied houses’ in the craft beer industry.

A phenomenon dating back to the end of prohibition in Canada and the US, ‘tied house rules’ as they are colloquially known were originally intended to stop large commercial breweries from using their financial clout to engage in unfair trade practices by either opening up bars that exclusively sold their products or by providing existing establishments with financial incentives to do the same. While these laws thankfully managed to stop Molson from opening up branded bars that exclusively serve Canadian in every town across the province, they unfortunately also had a detrimental impact on some of the very parties they were intended to protect.

The example of Vancouver’s Parallel 49 Brewing Company and St. Augustine’s Craft Brew House and Kitchen has become well-known. Both operations share common ownership, and although the award-winning beer brewed at Parallel 49’s brewery in Hastings Sunrise is on tap at numerous pubs across the City, under the previous tied house regime, you wouldn’t be able to find it at St. Augustine’s on nearby Commercial Drive. It’s a situation that has caused endless frustration for the common ownership of the two businesses, and has led many of the city’s beer drinkers to shake their heads.

Thankfully, recent changes to the Regulations have changed all of this. Specifically, s. 50(2)(e) of the Regulations now provides an exemption to the tied house rules set out in s. 18 of the Liquor Control and Licensing Act (“Act”). While these changes are unfortunately too recent to be shown on the version of the Regulations posted online, I was provided with the relevant Orders in Council by the LCLB and can confirm that they were approved and ordered on February 7, 2013 and that they effect the changes to Act and the Regulations set out in the Directive. Consequently, and pursuant to s. 50(2)(e) of the Regulations, breweries licensed under s. 57(2) of the Act whose annual production volumes do not exceed 300 hectolitres (30 million litres) can now apply to change the terms of their licenses to permit the sale of their products in up to three establishments licensed under s. 12 of the Act (which includes those with liquor primary and food primary licenses and private liquor stores) that they either own or have an association with. Although the production volume limit will permit brewers that produce on a much larger scale than ‘craft brewers’ to enter into tied house arrangements, considering the fact that, despite the former prohibition, mass produced beer has largely monopolized the taps in most bars (especially in smaller markets), the change to the Regulations has been welcomed by many in the craft beer industry as a step in the right direction that could be of benefit to smaller producers.

Since the change to the Regulations set out in the Directive, the LCLB has received numerous applications from players in the craft beer industry to change the terms of their liquor licenses so as to permit tied house arrangements. As widely expected (and hotly anticipated by many of Vancouver’s craft beer lovers), St. Augustine’s now offers several of Parallel 49’s finest amongst its 40 rotating taps, and I am very happy to report that at the time of writing, it still has 100% remaining of its on-tap supply of one of my personal favourites, Gypsy Tears Ruby Ale.