beer column

When I first heard about the price hike on 87% of the beers available in this province I, like most people, grumbled about it.  But I said that I didn’t think the price hikes would keep most people from drinking craft beer, and in the short term, I still think that’s the case.  But if the government raises prices, without notice to the brewers or the consumers, what’s to say that they won’t do so again soon?  If prices keep on rising that WILL make a difference in how many people drink craft beer, and how much of it they drink.
Craft beer is a booming industry.  It employs people, it brings tourists to our province, and it brings in tax money to the province.  So why does government seem to be trying to destroy the industry? 

I’m no financial wizard, but even I can see that making craft beer unaffordable for the masses will keep them from buying it.  If people aren't buying the product, fewer craft breweries will open, which will result in fewer new jobs.  And um, how is the government going to collect on those tax dollars if people aren't buying beer?  In smaller communities where craft beer is only just starting to get a toehold, these price hikes may kill the industry before it gets out of the starting gate, meaning new breweries won’t open and jobs won’t be created in areas that could use more jobs - not to mention existing breweries that have been succeeding which might be forced into closing.  Vancouver and Victoria will probably be affected more slowly, but it is of real concern to me, and many craft beer drinkers, that we might lose the beers we love to short-sighted government greed.  As Paddy Treavor puts it in his East Van Beer Blog, it would appear that the government is killing the goose that is laying the golden eggs.  It is just so silly.

Moving on from price hikes before I blow a gasket, let's talk about some more of the ridiculous approaches to modernizing liquor laws in B.C.  Beer festivals are a perfect showcase for how the system makes it more difficult than it needs to be to put on beer events. Last week's Westender article by Stephen Smysnuik about people’s complaints about beer festivals asserted that the lion’s share of complaints were about things organizers can’t do anything to fix because they are legal requirements.
People really hate waiting in line!  And the liquor laws basically force beer festival goers to wait in multiple lines.  First off, you can only have one entrance to a beer festival.  So everyone has to go through one gate – which makes for a long line-up.  You can’t give away beer, so people need to buy tokens or tickets, so that requires that people line up again.  So that’s two line-ups before anyone has even had a drink.  Then the type of licence that is easiest to procure for beer festivals limits the size of beers poured to 4 ounces.  So every time you want another 4 ounce pour, you have to go stand in line again.  Four ounce pours make a lot of sense at a tasting festival as you probably want to have a small sample of many beers.  But it would be nice to have the option of a larger pour when you find a favourite, or if you just want to sit down and relax over a glass part way through the festival – and not have to stand in yet another line!

Then there’s the pricing issue.  People really don’t like paying $1 or more for each token.  There is a minimum price per ounce law in BC.  That minimum price is 25 cents per ounce.  So the minimum price a festival can sell token for a 4 ounce pour is $1.  Most festivals charge more than a dollar per token. They do this because the overhead of running a festival is enormous, not least of which are the prices for government licences:  special event licences, liquor licences, food licences, venue permits...  And keep in mind beer festivals have to be run for charity – so the organizers aren’t making any money from the festival – the money they are charging you goes to cover the high price of beer, the licenses and permits and the rest of the overhead of putting on a festival.  In putting on a beer garden a couple of weeks ago, I saw first-hand how much it costs to put on a beer event.  I’m surprised anyone goes to the time and trouble – and even more amazed that some can manage to make money for the charity.

Finally (for this column anyway), there are corporate sponsorships that preclude alternatives for the consumer that have my knickers in a twist.  I’m specifically talking about FIFA here.  The world has come to Canada to see some amazing soccer and all we can serve them is Budweiser?  What a wasted opportunity for the host cities.  The FIFA fanzone is selling beer, as well as BC Place during matches – can you imagine how many people could be introduced to the varied and delicious craft beers made right here in Vancouver?  But no.  FIFA has a deal with Labatts to exclusively serve their products.  You can find a couple of local craft beers in the stadium if you search hard enough (Red Racer IPA, Parallel 49 craft lager and pilsners from Steamworks and Stanley Park were all available at Game 1, but by Sunday’s game I could only find the Red Racer), but not at the fan zone.  Labatts has provided Budweiser, Bud Light, Stella, Corona and Shocktop for sale, but no Kokanee.  While not a craft beer, at least Kokanee has the air of being a local beer.  FIFA keeps the profits from beer sales, so the City wouldn’t be making anything from the beer sales anyway, but it would have been a boon to showcase local beers and support local brewers during an even the size of the World Cup.

Beer for tasting:

Complaining makes me thirsty!  Let’s move on to happier things, like trying this Collaboration brew from Steel & Oak in New Westminster and Vancouver Island Brewing in Victoria. It is the most recent release in the BC Craft Brewers Guild’s collaboration series.

Braun bier is an old term describing beers made exclusively from barley malt - no wheat malts here.  This beer was aged extra-long for a smooth crisp finish.  The blend of Canadian and German malts give this beer a clean, biscuity flavour.  The flower and citrus notes come from the Centennial and Willamette hops.

United Front symbolizes the historic interaction when New Westminster and Victoria came together, uniting the colonies of Vancouver Island and the Mainland.

VIB has been brewing for 30 years, Steel & Oak for a year. Both brewers love to brew old world styles, so apparently it was easy for them to decide on a German style beer, and then to narrow it down even further to a braunbier.

The beer is available in 650ml bombers at gov’t and private liquor stores.

Beer Picks:

Let’s keep with the collaboration beer theme for the first of my beer picks.

VCBW collaboration beer: The campfire kolsch.  This year’s collaboration between umpteen breweries in the city is a smokey fruity beer brewed at Red Truck from a recipe developed by Main Street and Parallel 49.  Cherrywood smoked malt and tropical hops make for a beer reminiscent of bbq’d pineapple.  Available in 650 ml bombers at private liquor stores.

And then of course I love my sours:

You have got to get over to Strange Fellows to have their sour grisette and her sister the Roxanne raspberry sour (so named for the very red colour the black raspberries impart).  These are limited releases so get them before they’re gone.  You can thank me later.

A grisette is a light saison, usually made with wheat.  It’s a sessionable, light, summer sipper.


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