B.C. Beer Blog

The who, what, where, when, why, and how of B.C. craft beer

Posts Tagged ‘The Vancouver Sun

VCBW Myths and Lost Opportunities

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Maria Dobrinskaya, Rick Green, Mayor Gregor Robertson toast VCBW.

Maria Dobrinskaya and Mayor Gregor Robertson toast with me the launch of VCBW with some Central City Roach at the Alibi Room Hoppapalooza. (Brian K. Smith photo)

Now that a couple of weeks have passed by since the inaugural Vancouver Craft Beer Week has finished, there’s been time to get feedback in various shapes and forms. Given that we sold out most of our events, that the mayor officially proclaimed Vancouver Craft Beer Week and came to celebrate the festival kickoff with us, and that the mainstream media gave VCBW some good coverage, one could deem it a success for craft beer. Nevertheless, VCBW did not work for some. I want to address a few of the issues that have come to my attention, especially some myths and misconceptions that result in lost opportunities.

First off, I want to point out this was the first such festival for Vancouver; in fact, for Canada. You never get everything right on the first go, but you hope to be in the ballpark (see above). In getting third parties on board, it also didn’t help that we had the Olympics, the Playhouse International Wine Festival, Dine Out Vancouver, and the playoffs as a significant combined distraction. Under the circumstances, one may have to forego the ideal and opt for what is expedient. Next time around, we hope parties will get involved early enough so that we can achieve the ideal for the 2011 VCBW.

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Winter Games ≠ Winter Beer

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“Our time to shine.”

“Showcase Vancouver to the world.”

These are just two of the pithy slogans Olympics boosters have come up with to get us to embrace an event whose overall benefit to Vancouver and the province are rather dubious. What does the general public have to endure in order to ensure official sponsors get unimpeded access to assault us with their advertising? That IOC’s reputation is not impugned by those opposed to its methods or who question its goals? Plenty.

Some argue that this is acceptable, given how we’re all going to do well by the Games. That’s a rather facile way of looking at it. Ask yourself if some will benefit disproportionately to others? By how much? Ask yourself if all this money were invested in some other fashion, would it result in greater good for the whole? Is this the beginning of a slippery slope where respect for our fundamental freedoms becomes optional?

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Creemore Springs Buying Granville Island

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Creemore Springs BreweryIt was announced yesterday that Creemore Springs Brewery (a Molson Coors Canada subsidiary) intends to acquire Granville Island Brewing from Andrew Peller Limited. No changes in Granville Island’s operations are currently anticipated. According to the press release, Creemore’s primary reason for buying Granville Island is to offer a broader portfolio across more markets in Canada. This offers the potential for both to become national brands.

Craft beer aficionados are concerned about what role Molson Coors may play in this. However, according to Ontario beer writer, Greg Clow, “Molson has taken a very hands-off approach to Creemore, similar to the way that Sleeman basically left Unibroue alone. The beer is still brewed in the same place on the same equipment by the same people.”

Granville Island BrewingThere is some irony in this deal. The raison d’être of craft brewing in British Columbia—begun by the likes of Horseshoe Bay Brewing, Spinnakers, Granville Island, and Vancouver Island Brewery—was to offer more choice to British Columbians than the Big Three, whose mass-produced lager dominated the market to such an extent that it was synonymous with “beer.”

What role did Molson, one of the aformentioned triumvirate, play in this? How hands-off will they remain? Won’t it be better for Granville Island to be owned by brewers, rather than winemakers?

The best-case scenario is that Molson Coors will remain behind the scenes and merely provide Creemore Springs/Granville Island with the financial means to expand craft beer consumption across Canada. This allows them to profit from beer’s fastest growing market segment without generating nearly as much controversy and suspicion from beer aficionados that creating faux craft beer brands and fictitious breweries has done.

Should Molson Coors decide to become more involved in the day-to-day brewing with Creemore Springs/Granville Island beers suffering as a result, they will just be further examples of craft beer compromised by the corporate mentality. The customer base will shift with the more quality conscious moving to, perhaps Phillips or Tree; they will be replaced by industrial lager drinkers who have discovered their taste buds and want to move towards something more interesting.

However, one thing is certain. Regardless of what happens, craft beer in B.C. is here to stay. With three new microbreweries starting up in the last year, there is no shortage of those wanting to offer us a better brew. Seeing what is happening in the U.S., there is ample room for growth in Canada.

For the original Creemore Springs/Granville Island press release, see Canadian Beer News. You can also join the discussion on this deal at The Vancouver Sun, The Globe and Mail, and the CBC.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

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A Vancouver Sun article yesterday about a Statistics Canada report on the sale of alcoholic beverages in Canada talked about beer being the top choice of Canadians, albeit with a declining market share, while red wine sales have doubled since 2000 (article had a photo of a blonde drinking white wine!). This, however, doesn’t tell the whole story of beer consumption in BC because only generalized statistics categorizing beer into domestic and import are being reported.

One gets a more complete picture from sales figures reported by the BC Liquor Distribution Board. From April 2008 to September 2008, bottled beer sales in BC increased by 4.16% overall. Figures for the different sales categories are:

Large: 1.24% +
Regional: 2.06% +
Cottage: 32.49% +
Import: 13.2% +

So while mass market beer sales are rather flat, craft (cottage) beer sales in BC are growing much more than all other segments. Gerry Erith, manager of Brewer Creek Liquor Store in Vancouver, sees a divergence in the beer market: the price conscious and the quality conscious. Those looking for cheap beer will be attracted to products from Pacific Western Brewing, Bowen Island, Shaftebury, Molson, and Labatt. Those more interested in flavour & variety will opt for Cannery, Howe Sound, Phillips, R&B, Tree, etc. They are willing to pay more for a better beer, but don’t need to drink as much to be satisfied. Hence, as more people buy craft beer, I expect per capita beer consumption to go down, which is what has been happening. The difficult segment to be in is mid-market as those products are more than what the price conscious are usually willing to pay but not interesting or flavourful enough for the aficionados.

Could craft beer do better in the market? Aside from the perceived health benefits of red wine, I think there are a couple other factors that explain why beer is losing market share to wine — knowledge and marketing.

There is a lot more coverage of wine in the mainstream media than beer. The major newspapers have weekly wine columns; not one has a beer column (not that there is a lack of anything going on in the craft beer world). As an example of how slim the coverage of BC beer is, a new brewery opened in Comox recently. While it was covered in the town’s local paper and in this blog, there was not a word of it in the Victoria Times Colonist, The Province, or The Vancouver Sun. This is no piddly brewery either. With an investment of $2 million dollars, they aim to sell their beer throughout BC. It also is a good story of an entrepreneur finding a way out of the forest industry sinking boat without laying off all his workers. I doubt the opening of a new winery would escape notice.

So with the average person getting next to no information about their own craft breweries, beer styles, beer & food pairing, and the industry’s movers & shakers, how could one become interested in the possibilities of beer, never mind even knowing that there are any?

And of the information widely available, the majority of it is industrial beer advertising. Is it any surprise, then, that BC’s top-selling brands closely correlate with those most heavily advertised? And what is the substance of the majority of that messaging? Beer, sports, and men. What a great way to limit the appeal of your product, especially if the imagery is blatantly sexist. This doesn’t appeal to a large number of women, so they will choose something that has a more sophisticated, inclusive image. That’s a shame because it isn’t as if women don’t like beer. Many think they don’t, but actually haven’t gone beyond the beer that they didn’t like to find one that they do. That’s typically a fruit beer, wheat beer, or chocolatey stout to start off with. (I actually had a woman kiss me after trying an Old Yale Sasquatch Stout for the first time.)

Given people’s growing interest in gastronomy and the hospitality industry’s efforts to put BC on the global culinary map, it’s no surprise our wine industry has progressed so tremendously over the last two decades. We’ve seen the same with an evolving coffee culture and, recently, a nascent cocktail revival. Therefore, it makes sense people have a growing interest in BC craft beer. Given the myriad of styles available beyond American lager and pale ale, there’s a lot of scope for discovery. Let’s hope our media start catching on and get people excited about what our local brewers are doing. This is an opportunity being missed.

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