Wednesday, March 6, 2013

on the coast

my notes from last night's beer column on cbc radio one's on the coast:

and we're back with more liquor law news this week.
alas, this time it is not good news for beer lovers in the province

i talked about some new liquor laws last show. i was very excited about the loosening of the tied-house rule and cautiously optimistic about the opportunity for breweries to apply for tasting rooms and special event venues. it looked like the province was finally making some positive changes to archaic and overly restrictive liquor laws - most of which hadn't changed significantly since the repeal of prohibition.

alas, my joy was short-lived. i am still happy about the progress made, but we seem to be in a one step forward, two steps backwards situation.

Rich Coleman and the BC Liberals, through the BC Liquor Distribution Branch, have decided that they need to collect even more tax on craft beer by increasing the markup on Growler fills. There is still a lot of confusion around this change though. Paddy Treavor (beer blogger about town and past-President of CAMRA) has spent a whole lot of time and effort corresponding with the Liquor Distribution Branch to get the details of the taxation change. What he has found out has been news to many brewers , (see Rebecca of Crannog Ales' Facebook post yesterday) and it would appear that current rules have not been evenly applied. But first, an ode to the growler to ensure that we all understand what i'm talking about here, and what the big deal is.

i have spoken previously about growlers, those wonderous 2 litre vessels that you can take to a brewery or brewpub to get filled and then take them home, or to a party, to consume. currently you can purchase growlers and get them filled at four establishments in vancouver, steamworks, yaletown brewpub, parallel 49 and powell street brewery, plus central city in surrey and bridge brewing in north vancouver. opening in 2013 will be several other locations for growler fills.

what's so special about buying your own big glass bottle and taking it to be filled at a brewery? and how did growlers get their name?

Growlers are glass jugs which hold 1.89 litres (64 fl.oz) of beer, which is slightly under six bottles of beer.
  • Growlers are environmentally friendly as the bottle can be refilled again and again rather than being recycled
  • Growlers cut the mileage that your beer needs to be transported – reducing the carbon footprint
  • Growlers are filled with fresh beer
  • getting your growler filled enables you to engage with the people who have made your beer, sometimes even the brewer themself
  • access to seasonal and special releases that might not make it to liquor stores.
  • Growlers are a great size for sharing, especially for taking to parties
  • Often filling a growler is less expensive than buying bottles or cans at the liquor store
as for why they're called growlers, there is a myth that takes us back to the early 1900s, when beer was bought directly from the local brewery. Beer drinkers would bring their own buckets, fill them with beer, and seal the bucket with a lid. Then, when you went to drink the beer and removed the lid, the sound of the carbon dioxide escaping created a “growl”, and the buckets became known as “Growlers”. (source)

growler culture is on the rise in all over - i introduced my mother to the joys of growlers in the Fall when I was in Ontario and she is now addicted! With the increasing popularity of growlers and the new liquor laws that came into effect on friday which in theory allow for more breweries to offer growler fills, the government sure picked an opportune time to increase taxation.

So, what is this new taxation rule?

Paddy Treavor confirmed with the Liquor Distribution Branch that currently, when you make your first growler purchase, the brewery pays the LDB the packaged cost per-litre markup. Every fill thereafter is considered as draught and the brewery pays the LDB the lower draught rate. For most craft breweries in BC, who fall in the 15,000 Hectalitre and less category, the first growler fill, is currently marked up $1.04/L (packaged), which totals $1.87 per growler ($1.04/L x 1.8). Subsequent fills, are then marked up at $.72/L (draught) totaling $1.30 ($0.72/L x 1.8), $0.57 less than the original purchase. Under the new rules, which come into effect in April, all growler sales will be marked up at the higher, packaged price, no matter if it is the first sale or the 100th refill. That means smaller breweries, under 15,000HL, will be charged the extra $0.57 on refills, a 30% markup increase. With some breweries averaging close to 1,000 growler sales some months, this increase quickly begins to add up to big dollar amounts. But does the brewery eat that increase come April? Or will they risk upsetting their customers by passing along the increase to them?

CAMRA Vancouver has launched a campaign to "Save the Growler". The campaign features a petition to the provincial government "to remove the discriminatory new "Growler Tax" on craft beer". You can sign the petition on their website, camravancouver.ca, in its first 24 hours the petition attracted 200 signatures, and by the time you hear my voice, the number will be at 700 in only five days.

While a 57 cent difference doesn't sound like a lot, it is just another increase in the cost of fun in Vancouver. While I don't think this is on a scale with homelessness, clean water or pipelines, I do think it is important to take a stand against taxes that will affect small businesses in our community. Governments should be finding ways to build communities rather than finding new ways to tax us all. So I encourage you to sign CAMRA's petition.

Adam Chatburn, President of CAMRA BC – Vancouver Chapter said, “The fact that this tax targets smaller craft brewers who have invested heavily in growlers and growler filling equipment is particularly unfair. It’s hypocritical for a government purporting to support green initiatives to punish consumers and small businesses for pursuing environmentally responsible behaviour.”

Paddy Treavor, CAMRA Vancouver’s last President said in his beer blog: “I cannot see how some of the nano-breweries, who rely on growler sales as part of their business plan, would have any choice but to raise their retail prices eventually. This increased markup, which really only impacts craft breweries (how many growlers of Molson Canadian do you see out there), shows once again that the government is not being very supportive of the craft beer industry as they continue to make it difficult for these smaller breweries to operate, be profitable and grow. “

Beer Picks:

Driftwood Brewing's 20 Pounder double IPA is back. you can get it in 650ml bottles at specialty liquor stores, and on cask and tap at several beer joints around town, but hurry, its a limited release. 9%

Gigantic Brewing's The End of Reason - this is a belgian-style petit quad and its 8.3%, available on tap at St. Augustine's and in bottles at specialty liquor stores

both of those are big beers and limited releases, so get them quickly, but drink them slowly!

and for St. Patrick's day, how about Russell Brewing's Luck of the Irish - a red malt forward beverage perfect for celebrating all things Irish

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