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My Take on Bring Your Own Bottle

with 4 comments

Normally, I don’t really do the whole politics side of beer in BC. Instead, I tend to leave that sort of competent reporting up to CAMRA, and CAMRA YVR’s President Paddy Treavor. You can read his recent coverage over on his site, the VanEast Beer Blog.

On the rare occasion that I do talk about the LDB, it’s usually in profanity strewn rant form, which I post here and then leave it at that. However, when Paddy recently appealed to BC beer consumers to write the government in support of including beer in the BYOB initiative, I changed my stance slightly and sent them a very polite, and very un-Chuck letter. Here it is:

To: Karen Ayers (General Manager of BC LCLB), Rich Coleman (Minister Responsible for LCLB)
Subject: BYOB — Inclusion of Beer

Hello Karen & Rich,

I am quite obviously writing to you today to express my support for the inclusion of beer in the potential upcoming legislation change to allow consumers to bring their own bottles of wine to restaurants. That this discussion is proceeding with only consideration for wine is as much a testament to the quality of the BC wine industry as it is a slap in the face of the many hard working British Columbians who are engaged day to day in investing in and improving our still-growing local beer industry.

But perhaps my case is best illustrated via anecdote. Recently I had the privilege to receive an invite to an underground restaurant not far from where I work in Gastown. This endeavor was the result of two young chefs eager to branch out from the bland menus of their day jobs, and their enthusiasm was plainly evident in the quality of local food they elected to present.

The reason I mention this encounter at all is their liquor policy. They not only allowed, but actively encouraged guests to bring along both wine and beer to pair with their excellent menu of locally sourced game and produce. With a bit of research, I took their BC-sourced theme and produced a selection of BC wines and beers that was thoroughly enjoyed by all in attendance.

The fact that this gastronomic celebration of everything BC could only be offered by an off-the-grid restaurant is largley due to our overly restrictive liquor laws should be a point of shame for anyone in a position of governance.

British Columbia has much more to bring to the table than just an excellent wine; we have the whole meal, and I hope you will make the correct choice and allow us to do just that.

Perhaps even more surprising than my out-of-character civility is the fact that I got a response! Yup, I open my inbox today and take a look, and it turns out that message I thought was spam (seriously, check the from and subject) is actually a mass mailed form letter to everyone who wrote about in about beer in BYOB. Given how reclusive this branch of the government tends to be, even a form letter can be considered a massive improvement. Here’s the response.

From: Minister, EMH EMH:EX
Subject: 483035

Dear Mr. Hallett:

Thank you for your June 22, 2012 e-mail regarding allowing customers to bring their own beer into a licensed establishment, in addition to wine. Your comment is noted and we appreciate the time you have taken to make us aware of your view.

As you know, the public may bring wine into licensed restaurants that wish to offer this option. Government has received a number of requests over the past several years to allow customers to bring their own bottle of wine to a restaurant. In some cases, people have purchased wine while travelling or are saving a particular bottle of wine to allow it to age and would like to bring it out to mark a special occasion. The Canadian and BC restaurant associations have also written in support of this “bring your own wine” initiative.

One of the significant considerations for government is also the huge number of wine varietals available from around the world. The Province has substantially more active listings for wine than beer. While we appreciate the evolving nature and uniqueness of the variety of beer, it is not in the same category as wine. Therefore, as in other provinces, there are no plans to allow “bring your own beer” at this time.

Thank you for writing.

Sincerely yours,

Rich Coleman
Minister of Energy and Mines

The fuck? Raise your hand if that makes sense. Yeah, me neither. More active listings at the LDB for wine means… that… you shouldn’t bring beer… to a restaurant? Um… ooookaaaaay. Rather than summarize my thoughts, I’ll just include the email I wrote back. I fully understand that I’ll never, ever get a reply to this email, but perhaps by posting it here I can at least start the discussion with someone.

Hello Rich,

Thanks for taking the time to respond to me.

While I understand that the law has been written in such a way as to be wine-specific, I really wish your argument as to why this was done made sense. In effect, you make two points in support of a wine-only law:

1. That customers privately import and cellar special wines, and wish to consume them in restaurants.
2. There are more wine varietals listed in the LDB than beer styles.

To point 1, many customers also privately import and cellar special beers to enjoy during celebrations. I am one of these people; my beer cellar currently has almost 200 bottles from a mix of BC, Canadian, American and European producers. Without exception, all 200 of my bottles are not available for purchase in restaurants, and have never been listed by the LDB. To be able to bring a bottle of my cellared beer to a celebration at a restaurant would be fantastic, especially considering that some bottles I have cellared based on important dates in my and my friends’ lives (marriages, birth of a child, etc).

To point 2, I suspect the aim of this statement was to say that the larger variety available for purchase means that the restaurant could not possibly offer sufficient wine selection to satisfy the public. I concur, but I also believe this when it comes to beer. Very often I find myself in an excellent restaurant that has a truly pathetic beer list. This has caused me to not patronize certain restaurants in the past, and will do so again in the future.

Even though the LDB only has 560 listings for beer, the private stores provide easily 10x this selection, meaning that thousands of BC residents will be forced to leave that special purchase at home because it was made with barley instead of grapes.

However, these are all soft arguments and we can go back and forth on them all day without making much progress. The one thing I’m curious about is if I’m missing something here. Would including beer in the BYOB initiative have been as simple as having added “and beer” to the legislation when it was drafted, or is there a massive amount of work behind the scenes to include beer that I’m just not seeing?

I could absolutely understand basing this change upon existing legislation in other provinces, and thus causing an easily overlooked lapse to propagate further. However, I cannot understand the notion that beer was given serious thought, and left on the side of this change simply because “it is not in the same category as wine,” leaving thousands of BC residents to wonder if their government even takes their professions and passions seriously.

Thank you for your time,

I truly want to believe these guys have a good reason to have omitted beer, or that they just honestly forgot and by the time someone pointed it out it was too late. But with responses like that, which verge on ludicrously grabbing at any reason at all to justify keeping beer at home, I have to seriously consider the possibility that these folk fall into the group of people who just cannot possibly imagine beer being anything but what’s depicted in macro beer ads.

Sure, wine has a much better consumer lobby, and we have them to thank for even getting this discussion on the table. However, once the bill was drafted it would have taken just a few seconds to open the file, put the cursor after “wine” and insert “or beer.”

Yet they didn’t. Why? Because fuck beer, that’s why.

Written by chuck

August 8th, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Tagged with ,

Get a Fat Tug in Public

with 6 comments

Congratulations are due to Driftwood Brewing, who have managed to get their grubby hands on that mythical beast, the fifth BCLDB SKU slot. For most small breweries, the LDB rather oddly limits them to four products, and only four products. This makes getting seasonal releases onto the shelves awkward at best. Howe Sound, for instance, seems to keep three permanent beers in stock and rotates in a seasonal for the fourth. Other breweries, like R&B, seem stuck at four permanently.

Thus, I was very very pleased when, starting a couple of weeks ago, Driftwood’s Fat Tug IPA began making it’s way onto store shelves next to White Bark, Crooked Coast, Farmhand, and their eponymous ale. Of course, Fat Tug then just as quickly made it way off said shelves and into the bellies of delighted beer fans everywhere. I’m not kidding; actually finding an LDB with Fat Tug in stock has proven rather difficult. I have been confronted with an empty slot on the shelf 3/4 of the times I try to buy it, and have to walk away disappointed.

And who can blame beer geeks? Fat Tug is at the LDB for a cheap, cheap $5.00 a bottle. Now that’s a product/price point I can get behind. Again and again. And really, isn’t over consumption what the LDB is all about?

With the addition of Fat Tug, the LDB Great BC Beer List has grown to a healthy five in my opinion:

  • Red Racer IPA
  • Phillips Hoperation Belgian IPA
  • Lighthouse Deckhand Saison
  • Driftwood Fat Tug IPA
  • Driftwood White Bark Wheat Ale

The addition of Fat Tug means that CC’s Red Racer should be feeling a bit nervous in its position as Best Beer Available At The LDB. I know I’ve gone on record saying it’s the better beer of the two, even if only marginally. However, I haven’t had a Red Racer v Fat Tug drink-off in a while, so perhaps I’ll re-evaluate things this weekend. Man this is a hard job. Red Racer ESB used to be one of my go-tos, but honestly I think the canned variety has gone downhill in recent months, and if that same deterioration is found in their IPA, well, let’s just cross that bridge when we get there.

Any other great, non-seasonal BC-based brews that should be on the shortlist?

Written by chuck

October 5th, 2011 at 11:31 am

Posted in Beer and You

Tagged with ,

Secret Beer Hint

with 2 comments

I’m happy. Why am I happy? Well, I’m just generally a jolly-ish fella, I suppose, but today I am especially happy because my bulk order at the BCLDB came in. Yup, I am now the proud owner of a metric shit tonne of Upright Five and Seven.

What’s that, you say? The LDB doesn’t sell Upright? Fuck yes they do, you just gotta know how to ask. Because our liquor laws where written sometime around 75 AD by an obsessive compulsive with control and/or mother issues, *all* liquor sold in the province must first be processed by the LDB so the government can know about it (and take their 100+% markup/cut).

A beer brewed in Portland, imported by a guy in Vancouver, and then sold in a retail outlet in Maple Ridge must pass through LDB hands, if only virtually (the product might never physically go to the LDB warehouse in Burnaby). This means two things. First, all liquor products legally sold in this province (be it in wine shops or at restaurants) are listed in the LDB database. Second, any old fart can call up any LDB store and put an order in for one of these items so long as you have the Stock Keeping Unit # (SKU) and are willing to buy the minimum wholesale amount (1 case).

So, where do you get this magical SKU? I mean, it’s not like the importers or LDB list it online or anything. Oh wait. Yes, they do. So do these guys, these guys, and these guys. I’d list more, but I’m sure you’re all aware of the existence of The Google.

You don’t always need the SKU, as any helpful LDB employee can just search for the product you’re interested in and find the SKU in about 5 seconds. However, every time I check the helpful employees are all in the back or on their breaks or some shit, and the guy at the “Customer Service” desk tells me to fuck off.

Not everything is available this way, listed or not. Listed products generally fall into three categories:

1/ Generally available (probably on the shelf behind you, you git)
2/ Speciality (not on LDB shelves, but ordered pre-emptively by the importer, and usually in stock at importer’s warehouse)
3/ Speculative (only ordered on demand, or seasonally)

The LDB is happy to order items for you in #2, but can take some convincing to get a pre-emptive order in for a product that might not be available for several months (#3). I recommend bribing them with cigarettes. The LDB is very similar to prison in some ways.

Lastly, be prepared to answer/clarify the employee’s common misconceptions about beer. I’ve had to explain:

  • “Yes, I’m sure it’s beer, even though it’s not in six packs”
  • “Yes, $10 does seem like a lot for a bottle of beer but it’s cool, I know about it”
  • And, most importantly? “No, I’m not saying Canadian is bad.” Trust me on this one, these people love their shitty beer, and you need them happy.

So why would you want to buy beer this way, when you can just walk over to the nearest Cold Beer & Wine and get singles plus great customer service? The price. The Upright mentioned above is $9.79/bottle, including deposit. Since that’s virtually the same price the CBW pays, there’s no surprise that they turn around and sell it for $12.50 – $14.00, or more. That’s a 33-50% savings, people. You can tip me later.

Written by chuck

November 18th, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Tagged with ,