Barley Mowat 

Archive for the ‘Beer and You’ Category

Growler Mark-Ups and You

with 4 comments

Oh man. You guys aren’t going to like me very much after this post. Before we get into the hate, though, let’s talk about background. In BC, the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Board is essentially responsible for stopping us from drinking ourselves to death. They write lots of regulations and policies to back this up, and those documents are about as long, confusing and official-looking as you’d expect from a government body whose main reason for existing is to make it hard to have booze-related fun.

As part of all this, the LCLB tasks the Liquor Distribution Branch with charging a mark-up on all booze sold in BC because, well, they can. Actually, that’s not strictly true: they do it to stop booze from being too cheap, and also to generate revenue which they can use to figure out new and better ways to stop us from drinking too much.

And yet they allow shit like the “vented, wide mouth cans” because people just can’t pour awful beer down their NASCAR-watching face holes fast enough

The mark-up on beer made by breweries with less than 15,000hl annual production is currently $1.04 per litre for “Packaged Product” and $0.72 per litre for “Draught.” Let me take a second to stop here and stress that this is not a “tax,” despite what people are putting on petitions or enraged Tweets. The LCLB does not have the legislative mandate to set taxes. They do, however, have the ability to set mark-ups, which in the end is a whole lot better for the LCLB than taxes because they get the money directly instead of having it go through the rest of the government first. It’s just that when you want to yell publicly about something you don’t like, you should at least yell about the technically correct thing. This makes it much harder for the government to dismiss you as ill-informed knobs. But I digress; tax or mark-up, it’s a surcharge that is applied to beer.

“Packaged Product” is beer intended for consumption off-premises. This includes anything you take away from the place where you bought it and intend to drink. Why does “Packaged Product” have a much higher mark-up? I have no idea, but the existence of an effective restaurant lobby and this policy that makes it cheaper for restaurants to sell draught beer cannot be a coincidence. Either that or the government wants to steer us away from staying home, crying and drinking alone and instead force us to go to the bar where, presumably, we can depress other people with our woes.

Pictured: Better somehow

The uproar started when it was revealed by the ever-excellent Paddy from VanEast Beer Blog that the LDB was going to start charging the higher Packaged rate on growler refills instead of the lower Draught rate that was currently charged. Paddy reported this on his blog because, well, that’s exactly what the LDB told him when he asked.

The problem here, though, is that this simply isn’t always the case. Some breweries have been charging the lower draught rate while others had been instructed to charge the higher packaged rate. If you go read that Policy Manual I linked to up there, and specifically read Section 7.6.6*, it’s pretty clear that growlers are currently considered packaged product, refill or no. So this is obviously a massive misunderstanding. I mean, growlers are intended for off-site consumption and are therefore packaged product, right? No change in the mark-up; we’ve been stuck with the high rate all along and the LDB is just corrected a temporary oversight. Well, not quite.

The LDB is changing their mark-up on draft beer as of April 1st. They’re lowering it from $1.04 per litre to $0.97 per litre. So, uh, yay beer just got 7 cents cheaper per litre I guess? Except it’s not: sadly that same April 1st is also the same day we lose the 12% HST and replace it with the good ole 5% GST plus 10% Liquor Tax. Remember those guys? That $10 refill plus $1.20 of tax for 1.8 litres of tasty beer will now cost you $10 plus $1.50. I guess the brewery might pass on the 12.6 cents they saved under the new mark-up on that growler, but frankly it’s not worth the effort.

So yeah, there is a new, higher tax on growlers coming down the pipe next month, but it’s not the one you think. It’s the one you asked for. But wait, there’s more! I ain’t done yet.

All told, this whole “Growler Tax” hoopla is a poorly executed distraction. Oh noes, growlers are getting almost imperceptibly more expensive! Whatever should we do? How about some hard math? If you assume that a small nano brewery produces about 500hl/year, sells 50% of that as growlers, was charging the old rate of $0.72/l, is now charging the new rate of $0.97/l, and that they decide to eat the increase, then they’re looking at $6,250 per year increased costs. They can make that back with 1-2 extra brew days; that would be an issue if they couldn’t sell their product but in this market that ain’t happening.

Yes, I get it, it’s increased costs, and those are bad, but we’re fighting the wrong fight here. Instead of campaigning against minutia like this, how about we get organized and demand something a bit more proactive, like any or all of:

1/ Introducing a new brewery category with production below, say, 2,000hl with dramatically lower mark-ups. The impact on the LDB is negligible because of the tiny volumes, and the cushion to start-up nanos is huge. Wanna talk about boosting a cottage industry?

2/ Introduce a third category of sales, in addition to packaged and draught, again lower. Call it “on-site” or some such, and make it for product sold directly from the brewery. You can justify lower mark-ups because the product was physically never handled by the LDB. This encourages direct interaction with the community by breweries rather the the arms-length approach some take now.

3/ Grant breweries farm-gate eligibility. Farm-gate, for those that don’t know, allow vineyards and distilleries that make products from 100% BC-sourced ingredients to skip charging the tax for sales from their production facilities. Breweries need not apply currently, but why not? Barley would be the big ingredient that’s hard to come by locally, but this would single-handedly create demand for it. Boom, jobs.

So, let them have this tiny mark-up and ask for something bigger instead. That’s how politics works, baby.

* Yes, I know s7.6.6 is for brew pubs, and doesn’t technically apply to breweries, but it’s the ONLY reference to refillable containers I could find ANYWHERE in the LDB policy guides, and I gave up 3 hours and 15 IQ Points in that search. It would be logical for them to use a similar guideline for all license types (I hope).

Written by chuck

March 5th, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Let’s Talk About Cans

with 10 comments

In a recent post I proposed something that proved far more contentious that I would have hoped: that you should drink beer out of a glass. That post also happened to cover a more deserving topic, so I elected to leave further discussion about drinking directly from cans/bottles for a separate thread. This is that thread.

So here we go; I will make my case for drinking beer out of a glass, and folks on the other side of the fence will counter in the comments.

Beer is not intended to be consumed directly from the container in which it was packaged. The fact that a lot of beer comes in single-serving containers might seem to contradict this claim, but the availability of single servings reflect the reality of a product that goes bad much faster that liquor or even wine if left open. Liquor is good virtually indefinitely after opening (26 servings per bottle), and wine can last at least a few days (5 servings per bottle). Beer is lucky to last two, hence 1 or 2 servings per bottle.

But it goes a bit deeper than that. Take liquor or wine: single serving packaging exists for both these items, but somehow you don’t look at those and think “Gee, that means I should use the shipping packaging as serving vessel.” So where’s the disconnect? Why do we treat beer differently?

Or maybe you do drink from the package. I mean, it does cut down on dishes.

The reason basically boils down to brainwashing. We’ve been trained through decades of commercials and macro-style advertising that beer should be consumed straight from the bottle or can. For the advertising executive, having the actor drink straight from the same container on display in the liquor store has an obvious benefit, but it also allowed them to insert an easily identifiable product into exciting new scenes, such as while hiking, hunting, skydiving or jumping ski-doos at each other for mid-air pool-noodle jousting (hey Molson: that last one’s free of charge–get on it).

Awesome aquatic hi-jinx aside, culturally we now envision this as the way to consume beer. But is it really the best way? Does it make a difference whether we pour it into a glass or if we crack a cold one and have at ‘er?

You betcha it makes a difference. Simply put: beer tastes better in a glass. Consuming a liquid is a three sense experience, and by keeping your tasty amber elixir in a can or bottle you’re only getting one of those. In addition to just plain ole looking nice, beer poured into a glass has a chance to release volatile aromatic compounds through the formation and dissipation of a head, and by simply having a larger surface area exposed to the air. Translation: it smells nice, and aroma is a significant chunk of your overall enjoyment of.. well.. anything you put in your beer hole.

If you are in a restaurant and the server doesn’t bring you a glass with your beer: bitch about it, because you’re actually being served a worse product. I have actually been asked if I’d like my Duvel in a glass, or if I’d like a glass with my 650ml bottle of Fat Tug; the fact that I was asked is almost as ridiculous as the image of drinking either of those straight from the bottle.

I’m sorry, there’s just no way to make this cool.

However, we’re not always in restaurants. What about at backyard BBQs? If the “backyard” is attached to a kitchen, get yourself a glass. It’s worth the ten seconds of effort. Hiking? You might not be keen on hauling glassware, but folding camping glasses are cheap, effective and weigh a heck of a lot less than the actual beer you’re carrying anyway. Not keen on bring home dirty glasses? What were you planning on doing with the cans, you slob?

As a general rule of thumb, if you would consider drinking the wine or liquor single-servings discussed above out of the bottle then your beer is fair game. If glassware is available and you elect not to use it, you are making the conscious decision to enjoy the taste of your beer less than you would out of a glass. If you’re doing that, why are you drinking craft beer in the first place?

Maybe you said “because I enjoy the experience of drinking beer out of a can more than the flavour” or something to that effect. If that’s the case, again I question if craft beer is for you. Unlike craft beer, macro beer should be consumed directly from the bottle and as cold as possible. Basically, anything you can do to hide or mask the actual flavour of macro beer will improve your enjoyment of it, so have at ‘er.

Lastly, yes, I am aware that Alchemist Brewing is actually recommending that their Heady Topper be consumed directly from the can. This is a marketing gimmick, plane and simple. The fact that the beer in question is a Double IPA–a style that perhaps benefits the most from glassware–should make this marketing gimmick punishable by law.

Alright, I’m done. Your turn.

Written by chuck

February 25th, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Alibi 400 Beer List

with 4 comments

My hosting provider might call me over this one, but it’s worth it. Okay everyone, here are all the menus for the Alibi Room’s 100, 200, 300 and 400th Beer List Celebrations! These thumbnails click through to very high resolution PDFs so you can print out your very own copy if you’d like, or perhaps just browse online and remember the good times (or forensically reconstruct the good times which you only vaguely recall). Cheers!

It’s beauutiful.

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Written by chuck

February 19th, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Posted in Bars,Beer and You

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