Everyone is abuzz with the news that the price of craft beer has gone up in British Columbia.
I’m definitely not in favour of increasing beer prices, but I also can’t say that I’m surprised by the increase. Beer advocates have been saying since the announcement of “leveling the playing field” that the policy was going to result in an increase in beer prices. And here we are, a mere two months after the change and prices on 90% of the beers at the government liquor stores have increased, some by 10%. But just because it is expected doesn't mean that craft beer drinkers aren't very annoyed by the price increase. Especially when the increase is not even across the board. Craft beer has definitely seen a higher price increase than macro beers.
Molson Canadian, Labatt’s Blue and Kokanee beers haven't seen a price increase. I think the people who are looking for a bargain beer will continue to buy the least expensive beers they can find. Those who have been converted to the quality and flavour of craft beer will grudgingly fish deeper into their wallets for the beer they love.
Not that I’m saying there’s a conspiracy out there, but it does seem pretty fishy to me that the beers that were least affected (some even got a price decrease) are macro lagers – those made by the people who have clout with government – and the rest of the beers made by smaller breweries are the ones to increase in price. Back when the wholesale pricing model came into effect the government said this was due in large part to increased prices from the breweries themselves. Gary Lindsay, director of marketing and sales for Driftwood Brewery, says that isn’t the case. Their line up of beers has had a price increase of 7%. "The increase comes at the cost of the customers. We didn't increase our price and we didn't increase what we get paid by the LDB."
Increasing costs across the board are hard for a lot of us to absorb without feeling the pinch. But it is not going to mean that I think twice about rushing out to buy the newest offering from breweries, or keeping my fridge stocked with radler to stave off the heat this summer. There are many other things I would give up before I give up my beer! And I don’t think I’m alone in that philosophy. I do think that people will keep the price increases in their minds when they go to vote in the next provincial election. And according to the Liquor Distribution Branch, people are buying more craft beer than ever before “in the past two months alone, craft beer sales have grown by approximately 40 per cent in BC Liquor Stores.” (Liquor Distribution Branch spokesperson April Kemick)
Besides giving up your beer, the only way I can think of to get around the rise in prices is to brew your own beer. And this doesn’t have to be a big space issue in your home. There are plenty of books out there about brewing single gallon batches rather than ten gallon ones.
Provincially it all appears to be doom and gloom, but I like to keep in mind that we now have tasting lounges. These have done wonders for the craft beer industry and are a bright light in the morass of changes that were supposed to improve liquor laws in the Province but have failed miserably.
And then there are a couple of things the City has offered Vancouver beer drinkers this year – extended patio hours and special occasion licences for outdoor beer gardens.
Restaurants in Vancouver were allowed to apply to have their patio hours extended to 1 a.m. PT between April 1 and Oct. 31 this year. Previously all patios had to close at 11 p.m. The change could see all 599 Vancouver patios staying open late.
Non-profits can now apply for public special occasion licences to hold outdoor beer gardens. My softball league applied for one of these and held our beer garden this past weekend. There were a lot of hoops to jump through, including working with the police department operational planning unit and the Parks Board, but it all came together in the end, and feedback has been positive. Take that critics who call this No Fun City!
Another happy note is the arrival of craft beer at Vancouver's stadiums. I was at the FIFA games last night and got to enjoy some craft beer while I watched. The selection at BC Place is still quite small, and you have to hunt for it, but they do have Steamworks pilsner, Parallel 49 lager, Central City IPA and Stanley Park pilsner. I would have thought that an international event like FIFA would have encouraged the powers that be to show off our great homegrown brewing talent, but they appear to have missed that opportunity. Still, it was nice to have an option other than the Budweiser line of products at the games.
My beer picks this week are all winners. These four beers won medals at the Canadian Brewing Awards this past weekend in Niagara, Ontario.
Yellow Dog Belgian ISA – won the silver medal winner in the session ale category.
Strange Fellows won gold in the wheat beer category for their hefeweisen.
Vancouver Island Brewing's Beachcomber Summer Ale - took silver in that same wheat beer category
Category 12 Brewing of Saanich who took the gold medal in the American style black ale category for their Disruption Black IPA.
Last, but far from least, a big shout out to Four Winds Brewing who won the coveted Best Brewery in Canada award this year, and the rest of the British Columbia breweries who took home 47 medals (out of a possible 135 - or 35% of the hardware).