The government went and made it official: Grocery stores will be able to sell liquor as of April 1, 2015. This latest announcement comes as part of a slew of changes around wholesale pricing and government store restriction-loosening, and was met with about a 50/50 split reaction of “wee! booze while you shop” and appropriately skeptical hate-screaming over how impractical the imposed restrictions will make this.
To recap, even though the title of the presser might say “Liquor in grocery stores a reality” the nitty gritty details previously spelt out paint a picture of a red tape nightmare that will likely prevent anything along those lines. Here are the specifics:
- No new Licensee Retail Store licences will be created; grocery stores must purchase an existing license and move it. Despite a growing population and local liquor industry, the government has elected to keep the hard cap on retail licenses because… uh… the children, I guess? New licenses for the “Wine Store” license type though, will absolutely be issued as part of this.
- The old 5km restriction on how far you could move a license is gone. This has raise fears of all the grocery stores in cities like Vancouver draining liquor outlets from the hinterlands. I will show you below why that won’t be the case.
- Grocery stores must be at least 10,000 square feet in size to apply. This basically rules out your local produce store from getting in on the action, because selling liquor is a Big Retailer Game only.
- Liquor and beer must be sold via a store-within-a-store model, with separate checkouts, staff and security. There are several government and private stores already immediately beside the grocery store, so really this just prevents you from having to go outside. Also, note that I didn’t say “wine” there. More on that below.
- And the big one: grocery stores wishing to sell liquor must be a minimum of 1 kilometre from other, existing, Licensee Retail Stores (private liquor stores) or Government Liquor Stores. Again, note the curious absence of BC Wine Stores in that exclusion. It almost seems like they’re going somewhere with this, doesn’t it?
Rather infamously, all this information was summarized by the Vancouver Sun in an article a few months ago, pointing out that these rules effectively ruled out booze in grocery stores for every sufficiently large store in the City of Vancouver except two: the Choices Market on W 57th and another Choices Market on W 16th. Curiously, the W 16th location is actually about 960 metres from the Kitsilano Liquor Store, but perhaps the government is rounding up.
Also curious is the fact that the Kitsilano Liquor Store is not the closest booze outlet to the W16th Choices. Nope, at just over 700 metres distant is the Broadway International Wine Shop. However, being a Wine Shop (and not a Licensee Retail Store) they are excluded from the 1 kilometre rule. Now isn’t that interesting? It gets even more interesting when you consider that wine (specifically BC VQA wine) will be exempt from the store-within-a-store restriction above as well.
With all this info, we are beginning to develop a much better picture of how this whole “booze in grocery” stores thing will go down. On April 1st, grocery stores will be faced with two prospects.
Prospect 1: Buy all the LRS licenses within one KM of your store. This could be as high as 5 or 6 (using the Whole Foods at 8th and Cambie as an example), and the going rate for such things is high six digits each and will only go up dramatically once you start buying them all. Then, spend millions of dollars renovating your store to effectively build a liquor store, buy new point of sale and inventory systems, and then hire and train up new employees to use them. When this is done, Bob’s Discount Grocery not only has an attached liquor store, but Bob also has several spare licenses he can use out in his rural stores to ensure a consistent brand experience for consumers. All Bob’s Stores have liquor. Safeway doesn’t.
Prospect 1 is the exact opposite of what the fear mongers are throwing around. Instead of rural BC being drained of licences to put liquor in every Vancouver store, the 1km rule effectively means that Vancouver will be drained of licenses to populate rural grocery stores with grog. Don’t despair, though, as the costs of doing this for even one store are so astronomical so as to be fiscal suicide.
However, if one store does take the plunge, it’s game on. As expensive as licensing that Safeway at Commercial and Broadway will be, the cost of not licensing with be much, much higher when the Whole Foods down the street IS licensed and there aren’t any liquor stores anywhere near by because freaking Whole Paycheque bought them all and moved them to the strip malls ringing Kelowna.
Effectively, as of April 1st every grocery store chain with an interest in Vancouver will be engaged in a corporate Mexican Standoff–all assuring us that they won’t take the plunge while making secret plans to launch an all-out LRS buying blitz in a heartbeat if the competition moves first. It’s sorta like Mutually Assured Destruction, only way worse than nuclear war because this one is screwing with our beer.
After that nightmare scenario, Prospect 2 will seem downright sane. Prospect 2 is an elaboration on that whole, odd, wine exemption. Instead of buying those expensive LRS licenses with their screwed up store-within-a-store and 1km exemption rules, Bob’s could just focus on BC VQA wine and snap up a few of the 54 Wine Store licenses scattered around BC, or simply apply for a new one from the government for a small fee (since the years’ long license freeze seems to be over for Wine Stores).
Grab, say, one license per store and then relocate them into your local Bob’s. No 1km exclusion rule, and no 5km relocation limit to worry about. Next, Bob goes out and buys some BC VQA wine, and puts it on the shelf right next to the cereal, because who doesn’t like some Pinot Cheerio? No new renovations, no new systems, no new staff. Bob can sell that grog like it’s peanut butter, so long as it’s BC VQA wine. No other liquor can be sold this way.
I think it’s pretty clear which of these two scenarios will play out. The laws are so heavily skewed towards making ready access to BC VQA wine cheap and easy (for the retailer; BC VQA at a grocery store will be shockingly expensive for the consumer), while making arguably less-ready access to beer, spirits and non-BC VQA wine that I’m not even mad. Nope, I’m impressed. The BC VQA lobby strikes again, twisting BC liquor laws even further in their favour. Us beer folk, we’re fucking amateurs in comparison.
Despite having brewery and distillery and importer representatives included in the consultation process, the resulting legislation is a giant Fuck You to anyone who isn’t a BC VQA Vineyard. So thanks for that, BC Liquor Control and Licensing Board, way to take an overwhelming mandate for what should have been a relatively simple thing to implement (better access to booze), and turn it around into a massive pay out to your lobbying buddies.
The BC Beer Awards occurred last Saturday. As awards ceremonies go, it was a decent one. Organizers requested that folks dress up to give the event a sense of occasion, and about 50% of the audience complied.
Even with 1 in 2 attendees wearing t-shirts and jeans, the effort did give the evening a bit more class, and I approve of the approach. As well, breweries were requested to brew a cask of Purl for a day-of award, and the “multiple-breweries-tackling-the-same-style” type competition is one of my favourites in craft beer.
Plus, my beer won first in the category. Any awards evening that hands me something shiny is clearly a well thought out, perfectly executed event.
What I’d really like to talk about, though, are the awards themselves. I walked out of the event that evening promising both myself and one of the organizers that I wouldn’t write it up because, well, everyone else would beat me to the punch and my story wouldn’t add anything.
And yup, everyone else did beat me to the punch. No less than four articles have been posted, but they all just linked to the list of winners. It’s as if they’re taking the list as-is and not giving it any thought. Let me be clear; I don’t have issues with any of the winners, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t interested stories behind the list that should be told.
So, shall we?
The back story is up first. Last year there were about 300 entries. This year that number swelled to 500. On the surface that seems great, and it certainly is indicative of the swelling local craft beer scene. However, more than one event judge commented to me that the number of truly awful beers being submitted also swelled proportionately. More craft beer is being made in BC than ever before, but just because a beer is craft doesn’t mean it’s any good.
Now for the winners, which presumably are good.
Light Lager — 22 Beers Entered
1. Turning Point Brewing — Stanley Park Noble Pilsner
2. Okanagan Spring — 1516 Bavarian Lager
3. Hoyne Brewing Company — Helios Dortmunder Golden Lager
I have comments on all three of these. First, Helios largely flew under the radar when it was released earlier this year, but more than a few beer geeks tried it and noted how frankly excellent this beer was. It’s another hit from Sean Hoyne’s brewery, and underscores his ability to produce quality lagers—a beer style most breweries don’t give much thought.
Okanagan Spring wins, again, for 1516. Craft Beer is here to stay, and arguably OK Spring is on the outside looking in vis-a-vis that scene, but somehow 1516 keeps getting awards. It’s like they know how to brew a light lager or something.
Turning Point placed for their Pilsner. It’s not a bad beer, but seeing a Pilsner in the Light Lager section is a bit confusing. Oh well, I guess there just wasn’t a dedicated Pilsner category.
Pilsner — 22 Beers
1. Steamworks Brewing Company — Steamsworks Pilsner
2. Barley Station Brew Pub — Canoe Creek Pilsner
3. Russell Brewing Company — Lager
Speaking of breweries that Just. Keep. Winning. Steamworks Pilsner pulls down another gold. Good to know that their move to the massive production facility in Burnaby hasn’t hurt their lager production capabilities. Also, Russell makes a lager? Huh.
Special Lager — 17 Beers
1. Tree Brewing Company — Captivator Doppelbock
2. Pacific Western Brewing — Pacific Schwarzbock
3. Persephone Brewing Company — Black Lager
Whoa. Tree wins gold? I thought we’d left Tree in the ditch of the craft beer highway, but here they are pulling down a prize for the always difficult-to-perfect Doppelbock style. Are they back? Have they quietly been making excellent beer this whole time? I’ll have to investigate.
And speaking of breweries pushing past their reputation! Pac West pulls off a showing with their Schwarzbock! Holy crap! Looks like the makers of Cariboo can actually crank out something decent if they try.
Hybrids — 37 Beers
1. Steamworks Brewing Company — Steamworks Brewpub Kolsch
2. Phillips Brewing Company — Slipstream Ale
3. R&B Brewing Company — Sun God Wheat Ale
This list is a bit of a mishmash for me, mostly being comprised of beers I’m fairly familiar with but frankly don’t care for. I’m curious about how these beers tasted on the day of (R&B notably tastes pretty good when fresh), but also what the other 34 beers were. Judging beer is hard work, and I think this category would have been one of the hardest/most interesting of the day.
German Wheat / Rye — 10 Beers
1. Moon Under Water Brewery — This is Hefeweizen
2. Moon Under Water Brewery — Moon Berliner Style Weisse
3. Big Ridge Brewing Company — Big Ridge Dunkleweizen
Moon dominating the German Wheat category should come as no surprise here. Hefeweizens in BC have largely broken into two categories: Big crafty beers that are sugar forward and popular with the masses, and actual hefeweizens brewed by The Moon.
UK Ales — 40 Beers
1. Tin Whistle Brewing Company — Stag Apple Scotch Ale
2. Bowen Island Brewing — Snug Cove ESB
3. Moon Under Water Brewery — Wee Woody
The story here, for me at least, is Bowen Island landing a medal. Bowen isn’t a real brewery; rather, they’re the down-market brand of Northam Group, whose better known up-market brand Whistler Brewing Company notably didn’t place. Bowen Beer comes in cans and generally tastes freaking awful. Maybe it’s time to try their ESB again?
North American Ales — 48 Beers
1. Main Street Brewing Company — Main Street Sessional IPA
2. Phillips Brewing Company — Coulrophobia IRA
3. Rossland Beer Company — Paydirt Pale Ale
And here come the new breweries. Sure, it’s a kitchen junk-drawer of a category (basically all the leftovers that didn’t have enough competition to make their own style-based category), but that makes rising to the top even harder. A subtle beer like Main Street’s low-ABV Sessional isn’t usually a favourite to win such a mass grouping, but there you are.
Porter / Brown Ales — 30 Beers
1. Yellow Dog Brewing Company — Shake a Paw Smoked Brown Porter
2. Powell Street Brewing Company — Dive Bomb Porter
3. Lighthouse Brewing Company — Road Trip Fresh Hopped Dark Ale
Now Yellow Dog shows up, and not for their amazing IPA. Showing that the boys from PoMo can solve beer problems with more options than “add more hops” this is a balanced, nigh perfect Porter. Also of note here is Lighthouse with the only fresh hopped beer to place, and even in a not massively hop-forward category. Maybe the 2014 hops crops weren’t as good as 2013?
Belgian / French — 45 Beers
1. Driftwood Brewing Company — White Bark Witbier
2. Dageraad Brewing — de Witte
3. Four Winds Brewing Company — Juxtapose Brett IPA
I’m surprised by this category, to be honest. White Bark is a nice light wit, but I feel there are better options out there, and those better options are also contained in a notable absence on this short list: Dageraad Blonde. Also, Juxtapose didn’t feature over in the Specialty category, which I find odd.
Vegetable / Spice Beer — 27 Beers
1. Parallel 49 Brewing Company — Lost Souls
2. Howe Sound Brewing — Pumpkineater Imperial Pumpkin Ale
3. Fuggles & Warlock Craftwerks — Bean Me Up Espresso Milk Stout
I guess Howe Sound’s Pumpkineater is back on form then, after spending a year in the “distressing, chemical aftertaste” wasteland. That’s good news. Also, Fuggles & Warlock being able to crack the medal lineup after producing a series of beers I found distressingly homebrewy shows either an improvement in brewing capabilities or random luck. Check back next year for the answer to that query.
Stout — 24 Beers
1. Persephone Brewing Company — Dry Irish Stout
2. Dead Frog Brewing Company — Commander Imperial Stout (2013)
3. Dead Frog Brewing Company — Commander Imperial Stout (2014)
Persephone makes a fine stout, and I feel it could very well be the best in BC. Dead Frog also makes a fine imperial, and Commander was a standout for me when I sampled it. No real complaints here, but I will make mention that for 2015, for some random reason, the BCBA will not allow multiple vintages of the same beer to be submitted. Strange.
North American IPA — 44 Beers
1. High Mountain Brewing Company — 5 Rings IPA
2. Four Winds Brewing Company — Four Winds IPA
3. Central City Brewers and Distillers — Red Racer IPA
Okay. Welcome to The Show. IPAs are the most popular style of beer in North America, and the NA variant is the most popular sub-style of those. Needless to say, pretty much every brewery has an IPA simply due to market demand.
Again, I have no issues with this result. High Mountain is one of those breweries where, when you’re in Whistler, you drink the beer, think “damned that’s great” and then promptly forget all about it the second you blow past Function Junction. Four Winds, on a good day, is deserving of a medal and Central City has frankly been killing it in their new brewery.
For the Tug Heads out there, the absence of Driftwood from this list is likely due to the massive variability that has crept into Fat Tug in recent months. Hopefully Jason figures it out, and restores BC’s King of IPAs to its former glory.
Imperial IPA — 14 Beers
1. Brassneck Brewery — One Trick Pony
2. Central City Brewers and Distillers — Red Racer Imperial IPA
3. Bomber Brewing Company — SuperPest
For a province that loves IPAs as much as we do, we sure suck at DIPAs. There are the occasional great offerings (like Persephone DIPA Batch 1 or One Trick Pony) but usually we’re stuck with the likes of CC or Bomber which, while certainly fine beers, are not as good as you’d hope. For the naysayers, go to the US and grab five DIPAs from the grocery store at random, then report back.
Fruit / Sour — 24 Beers
1. Driftwood Brewing Company — Bird of Prey Flanders Red
2. Parallel 49 — Schwarzwald
3. Brassneck Brewery — Peach Changling
No complaints again (see a theme?) but I’m more excited about imagining what this category will look like next year. Driftwood throwing out the odd sour and Brassneck’s inconsistent Changling series offer some relief for the hard core sour addicts out there, but everyone with a product or interest in this category is quietly biding their time while looking towards Clark and Terminal for the imminent opening of Strange Fellows Brewing. No pressure, Iain.
Strong — 16 Beers
1. Steamworks Brewery — Steamworks Blitzen
2. Townsite Brewing Company — Biere d’Hiver
3. Howe Sound Brewing — Wooly Bugger Barley Wine
So, uh, why aren’t Blitzen and d’Hiver in the Belgian category? As a tripel and dubbel respectively that’s where you think you’d find them. Wooly Bugger? UK style Barley Wine. Sure, it’s based on where the brewers submitted their beers, but maybe that system is flawed?
Specialty — 29 Beers
1. Granville Island Brewing x Barley Mowat — Lost in the Barrels
2. Moon Under Water Brewery — Year 2
3. Parallel 49 — Salty Scot
Smoke / Wood — 16 Beers
1. Central City Brewers and Distillers — Thor’s Hammer Barrel Aged
2. Parallel 49 Brewing Company — Braggot
3. Brassneck Brewery — Inertia II
Am I the only one that looks at this list and thinks “Wait! They made the Braggot again?” P49’s Braggot was amazing, and continues to improve. Alas, hopes be darned, this doesn’t indicate an impending batch two. This was an old bottle submitted for judging since it missed the deadline last year. Sigh.
Best in Show — Yellow Dog Smoked Porter
This is the most telling result. Think about it for a second: an upstart brewery out in the wilds of Port Moody, barely two months old, has produced a Best in Show-class beer. They haven’t even dialled in their brewing system yet. Sorry, Steel & Oak, you’re no long the Hot Shit New Brewery. Hope you enjoyed your four months at the top.
Note: People’s Choice, Homebrew, and Purl Cask awards omitted due to lack of snarky commentary.
Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of an urban snob. At least I came upon this trait honestly, though. You see, I grew up on the island, and I’m not talking Victoria. Nope, I’m talking “The Island” as in thinking “let’s all drive our trucks into the woods, build a giant bonfire, and chug Lucky Lager until we pass out” to be the height of societal discourse.
You see, I’ve had to discover and appreciate urban culture for myself rather than have it handed to me as my birthrate like some bloody hipster. Heck, if I hadn’t come to Vancouver for school just in time for the craft beer revolution, I’d likely still be there today. Maybe even with a bigger truck. Definitely with a bigger gun.
So when we start talking about beer what’s made in small towns, I get a bit skeptical as to quality. If the general populace of that small town don’t know shit about good booze (as I certainly didn’t way back when), then they’ll buy whatever crap is brewed locally and talk a good streak about how awesome it is.
In short, small town brewers have a tendency to put out mediocre beer and never know better, because no one knows enough to tell them. Eventually, they get big enough to ship a few bottles down to Vancouver, then they get panned, and subsequently go out of business, leaving Smithers brewery-less again… uh… you know, in general. I’m not talking about anyone specific here.
Thus, when I spied a screen-printed bottle of Barkerville Brewing’s 18 Karat Pale Ale in the local LDB a few months back, I reluctantly bought it expecting it to be bottled shit, or something even worse, like DMS-laden shit. Even though the brewery isn’t actually located in Barkerville, calling Quesnel home doesn’t exact get you big city cred.
Imagine my surprise, then, when the beer turned out to be pretty damned good. No, not just good, great. Now double the surprise you’re imagining when I stumbled over a bottle of their 52 Foot Stout and found it equally great. Well, crap, there just might be something here.
So I set out to get the rest of their beers into my mouths. The chaps up in Quesnel were nice enough to send along their Golden and Brown ales, and luckily my local Rogue Wetbar had a keg of their Wandering Camel IPA on tap.
Five beers brewed; five beers consumed. Are they all great? Nope, but they are much better than anything I’d expect to come out of Quesnel, and honestly better than about half the beer us Lower Mainland beer snobs are drinking on a daily basis. Are they worth driving to Quesnel for? Fuck that; nothing’s worth that. However, they are worth making some poor schmuck drive a delivery truck from Quesnel to Vancouver for. Heck, if I hadn’t moved to the city, that schmuck might be me.
Prospector’s Peril Golden Ale
Clear as a bell golden colour. Likely highly filtered.
Thin cara malt (some Pilsner?). Simple light hops.
Smooth round mouthfeel, some diacetyl, gives way to a tad too heavy hopping.
5.4% ABV / 24 IBU / Blonde Ale
Meh. There are better local Blondes around.
3.5/5.0 (Above Average)
Hound of Barkerville Brown Ale
Rich, beautiful, opaque, auburn; tight off-white head.
Light nose, some caramel/rye? Pepper.
Sweet malt, with metallic finish and slightly chemically hops.
5.9% ABV / 17 IBU / Brown Ale
Decent example of a brown, a style lacking popularity. So sure, buy it.
3.5/5.0 (Above Average)
Wandering Camel IPA
Light aromatic hops. Citrus, light pine.
Pours cloudy orange/yellow. Thin tight head. Long persisting.
Little bit watery but good hops integration. Nice jackfruit citrus freshness. Creamy mouthfeel.
6.5% ABV / 48 IBU / English IPA
If fresh, yes. This guy goes over a serious cliff after about a month.
3.5/5.0 (Above Average)
18 Karat Pale Ale
Light caramel. Some slight c-hops.
Pretty much perfect bitter/pale body with a tight persistent head.
Bam. Great slight roast malt. Well matched hops. Good finish. Great stuff.
5.0% ABV / 33 IBU / American Pale Ale
Some bottle variation, but I’ve had some killer samples.
52 Foot Stout