tl,dr: Click here to open a form letter to send to the government in support of Persephone Brewing, if you’d rather not read my ramblings. However, I’d recommend knowing what you’re talking about before contacting the government 🙂 Note that the link doesn’t work on some computers, so if you’re affected, just copy/paste the email from below.
As some of you might be aware, Persephone Brewing has recently found themselves in a bit of a pickle, and have been ordered by the government to halt their brewing operation at their current location within two years. A little recap for those unfamiliar with the matter.
Persephone Brewing is located on a plot of land designated as part of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). The use of ALR land is restricted, to only allow farming, and a few related activities. For this reason, ALR land is pretty cheap compared to regular unrestricted land. Administering the ALR is the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC)’s job. The ALC does things like set policy governing the ALR, and investigate operations within the ALR for compliance. It is also the government body that has ordered Persephone stop all the beer-making.
“But Chuck,” you scream, “Persephone *IS* a farm! They grow their own hops!” Great point, random BC craft beer geek. They do, in fact, grow their own hops at the brewery. In fact, most of the land Persephone is on is dedicated towards making hop bines slowly get bigger through careful maintenance and upkeep, an activity that we might as well, for lack of a better word, call “farming.”
However, it’s not the farming of hops that the ALC has issue with. That part of the business is just dandy. It’s the other part of the business, where they turn those hops (and malt sourced from other farms in BC) into beer, then sell it to consumers like you and me. The brewery part of Persephone, it seems, doesn’t quite live up to the intention of the ALR.
It’s not that brewing is outright banned. Nope, the ALR allows brewing so long as 50% of the materials used to make said beer is sourced from the land in question. Even though 100% of the hops grown by Persephone are used in their beer, that isn’t good enough. The vast majority of the ingredients in beer, by weight, is from grains like barley and wheat. Since Persephone isn’t growing that grain on-site, their brewing operation isn’t allowed.
Normally, at this point, I would stop caring. Those are the rules, and Persephone should have done their homework before opening a brewery. The ALR exists to stop us from paving over viable farmland, and the materials rule seems like a good one. As hops are a tiny part of the brewing process, if Persephone’s exact scenario was allowed, we would also be allowing Molson to pick up a 150 acre ALR plot, plop down 3 bines to feed their new 149.5 acre horsepiss factory, and call it a day. We don’t want that.
However, while perusing the ALR Regulations as research for this article, I became curious about how wine is treated. As we’re all familiar from living in BC, the wine industry usually gets a pass to do whatever the fuck they want while beer is told to go hang. Because wine is all classy and shit, or something. Or maybe it’s the massive, well-funded wine lobby. Hard to say. So, it came as no real surprise that I found a different section of the Regulations which deal with wine, and even less of a surprise that wine has different rules.
In short, if Persephone was making wine instead of beer, they’d be fine. If, say, they had a couple rows of grapes on site, but were sourcing the majority of their grape must from vineyards in the Okanagan, they could stay in their cosy corner of the ALR, as the section of the Regulations dealing with wineries allows off-farm sourced ingredients, so long the vineyard meets a minimum size and grows at least some grapes. Cider is also lumped in with wine in this section so, well played you apple lovers.
Breweries, distilleries and meaderies, though, have no such clause. Adding these operations to the section of the Regulation written for the wineries would be a trivial edit. It’s good for local BC businesses like Persephone, and the “grown in BC” component is good for farms in areas more suitable for barley, while letting Persephone’s farm focus on a crop for which it is highly suitable: hops. As well, we’re still keeping folks like Molson at bay, because BC cannot supply enough malt (at a low enough price) to make sense for an operation of that scale.
It’s an easy thing to do, and it’s the right thing to do. So now we just need to put some pressure on the decision makers to get this thing done. As I did, way back when, with Brewery Lounges, I’ve made this easy for y’all. Click here and you’ll get the form letter below in your favourite mail client. Customize it as much as possible and hit send. Let’s do this.
To: Ms. Kim Grout, CEO BC Agricultural Land Commission
I am writing to encourage amending the Agricultural Land Reserve Use, Subdivision and Procedure Regulation (B.C. Reg. 171/2002) to allow estate breweries to satisfy the 50% source material requirement by contracting with another BC farm. The proposed amendment is not a novel invention, but is identical to an exemption already granted to estate wineries and cideries under the Regulation.
Please consider amending Part 2, section 2.1 of the Regulation to read:
2.1) A winery, brewery, distillery, meadery or cidery, and ancillary uses, are designated as farm uses for the purposes of the Act if
(a) at least 50% of the farm product used to make the wine, beer, spirits, mead or cider produced each year is grown on the farm on which the winery, brewery, distillery, meadery or cidery is located, or
(b) the farm on which the winery, brewery, distillery, meadery or cidery is located is more than 2 ha in area and at least 50% of the farm product used to make the wine, beer, spirits, mead or cider produced each year is grown
(i) on the farm, or
(ii) both on the farm and on another farm located in British Columbia that provides that farm product to the winery, brewery, distillery, meadery or cidery under a contract having a term of at least 3 years.
and strike Part 2, section 2.3, as it would be rendered redundant with the above amendment.
This amendment will encourage local businesses such as Persephone Brewing to produce products highlighting the best ingredients grown in BC, while honouring the agricultural intent of the ALR. This amendment is good for BC farms, it is good for BC businesses, it is good for BC consumers, and it is the right thing to do.
cc: Hon. Norm Letnick, Minister of Agriculture
cc: Nicholas Simons, MLA for Powell River – Sunshine Coast