beer column

these are my notes from yesterday's beer column on cbc radio's on the coast with stephen quinn
wherein i waxed poetic about the (un)happy hour laws in british columbia and sipped some furious friar belgian ipa
if you missed it, you can listen here (just fast-forward to 10 minutes from the end)

Is the new happy hour really a happy rule change for British Columbians?  CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) says no.  And so will most beer drinkers when they do the math.

Several changes were made to the province's liquor laws on June 20th.  Most are pretty much housekeeping changes and not controversial.  Those are: the ability to take a drink from one area of an establishment into another: for example from the pub side of Yaletown Brewing into the restaurant side.  Previously your server would have to carry your drinks over.  Homebrewed beer can now legally be served at family events for which you obtain a Special Occasion liquor licence; food primary licensees must still offer a full food menu, but patrons are no longer required to eat if they are drinking.  Owners of UBrew shops are now allowed to own other types of licensed establishments.  And finally, licensees are now allowed to transfer small amounts of alcohol between similar licensed establishments, i.e. if a pub is running low on a particular type of alcohol, the restaurant down the street can give them some, or from liquor store to liquor store.

Those changes seem to all make sense.  The change that has beer advocates up in arms is happy hour pricing.

You'd think that beer geeks would be dancing in the streets with the announcement that happy hours are now legal in British Columbia.  But if you thought you'd be getting inexpensive beer or a 2 for 1 deal like you do elsewhere in the world, I'm sorry to have to inform you that that is not going to be the case.
The new rule sets the minimum price for draught beer and cider at 25 cents per ounce, before taxes.  If you multiply that out, a 20oz pint is going to cost $5 before taxes.  And those places who serve less than a 20oz pint will have to charge at least $3.50 for a 14oz pour and $4 for a 16oz pour, again before taxes.  These prices may be slightly lower than what you are currently paying for your beer in Vancouver, but they are actually higher than what people in smaller communities are currently paying for beer.  Yup, you heard that right - in many places the new minimum price for beer will be higher than current pricing.  That seems like the exact opposite of a happy hour to me.  As Paddy Treavor, former president of CAMRA Vancouver and now President of CAMRA Powell River says in his blog:  " My local in Powell River, for example, charged, before [June 20th], $4.50 a pint (yes a real pint), tax included, for craft beer on a regular basis. Now that price will have to increase to hit the new minimum standard.  I will now pay more for my pint at the minimum "happy hour minimum" price threshold, before tax, than I was on a regular basis, with tax included, in my local and many other establishments in my town."

The fact that beer will cost many consumers more than it currently does is the biggest concern for CAMRA and other beer advocates.  But they are also not pleased that 2 for 1 offers are prohibited due to health and safety concerns over the appearance of encouraging intoxication.  It feels like we are moving backwards instead of forward in allowing the adults of British Columbia the opportunity to act like the grown-ups that they are.  The government appears to have caved in to pressure from industry and health groups to make a toothless change to the liquor laws.

The craft beer industry is booming.  Beer tourism is a whole new segment of the economy that we could be taking advantage of.  But instead the government is not giving an incentive to travel to Vancouver instead of Portland or Seattle.  And here at home, as Paddy Treavor, and current president of CAMRA Vancouver Adam Chatburn point out, with minimum wage at $10.25, people in rural communities may now not be able to afford to go to the pub.  How is that an improvement in the liquor laws?  The government states that "Allowing licensees, such as pubs, restaurants and lounges, to alter their liquor prices throughout the course of the day is a pocket-book friendly change for British Columbians that will help the industry attract customers at times when business may typically be slow." but if you are forcing places to charge more than they were before, your business is probably going to be slow all day and the pocket-books of British Columbians who do still go to the pub will be lighter, not fuller as the government suggests.

And it is not just outlying areas that will see liquor prices have to rise to meet these new minimums, there were pubs in Vancouver offering drink specials (which were allowed on a daily basis as opposed to the new hourly basis allowed) that were lower than the new current minimum pricing.  Paddy Treavor points to Martini's on Broadway as an example.  On Wednesdays their pints were $3.50.  Now they will have to raise that special price to $5 - a price hike of 43%.

Beer tasting:
Stephen mentioned a beer to me the other day, saying it was his new go to summer beer, so I thought I would bring him in a slightly different style to try as well.  He enjoyed the Russell White Rabbit, which is a hoppy hefeweisen.  This is the Dead Frog Furious Friar belgian IPA.  It is a reformulation of their popular Valiant IPA from last year.  It is a 
"deadly combination of West Coast hops and traditional Belgian spices. Known for an intense tropical fruit and phenol aroma that is followed up by perfectly balanced flavours of citrus, coriander, clove, and spice".  

55 IBUs, 9% alcohol, made with wheat as well as the four traditional ingredients.

Beer picks:

Let's keep with our theme here - hoppy wheat beers:

Russell White Rabbit hoppy hefewiezen, available in 650 ml bottles at private liquor stores

Dead Frog Furious Friar belgian IPA, available in 650 ml bottles at private liquor stores

Deschutes Chainbreaker white IPA, available in 6 packs at private liquor stores

from the gov't release:

Allowing licensees, such as pubs, restaurants and lounges, to alter their liquor prices throughout the course of the day is a pocket-book friendly change for British Columbians that will help the industry attract customers at times when business may typically be slow.

Additional changes stemming from the Liquor Policy Review also came into effect today - cutting red tape and simplifying liquor licensing rules.

Food-primary establishments must continue to offer a full menu, but if patrons simply wish to order drinks they are not obligated to order food as well. Also, customers can now move freely with their beverage from one adjoining licensed area to another, such as from a pub to an adjoining restaurant - a common-sense change from the previous rules, which required staff to carry customers’ drinks for them.

Licensees may now transfer small amounts of liquor between similar types of establishments. For instance, if a pub is experiencing a shortage of a specific liquor product, a nearby restaurant can transfer liquor to it, or a liquor store can transfer alcohol to another store with the same kind of liquor licence.

Hosts of family Special Occasion Licence (SOL) events may now serve homemade and UBrew/UVin beer, wine or cider - offering further flexibility for consumers. Also, owners of UBrews and UVins, as well as their family members, are now permitted to own other liquor-related establishments - an out-of-date rule that has been updated under modernized liquor policies.

Paddy Treavor's blog

Paddy's letter to Susan Anton


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