How To Keep Turning the Tide in Vancouver
Time to revive the B.C. Beer Blog. I didn’t have the time to write a short post, so I’ve given you a long one. Sorry that I haven’t added any pretty pictures to break up the monotony of the text, but I hope you find it worthwhile reading just the same.
There have been some exciting developments for craft beer over the past couple of months that I think are noteworthy when taken in the context of the overall trend. I feel that we’re on the cusp of a major change. For that to happen, it behooves all of us who have a love of craft beer to be the catalyst for change.
First off, there are the breweries that are now making seasonal beers or special, small-batch brewmaster’s releases that never did so before. Pacific Western Brewing launched its Brewmaster’s Signature series in July with their NatureLand Organic Hefeweizen. Last month they released their NatureLand Organic Festbier. PWB brewmaster is thinking of coming out with a stout next. (I would recommend a bock instead. We have enough stouts from our brewers, but few bocks.). Also last month, Lighthouse Brewing came out with Shipwrecked Triple IPA, the first of their Small Brewery, Big Flavour series. Next up, will be a Doppelbock called Navigator – great name choice that’s in keeping with the “-ator” naming convention of Doppelbocks and Lighthouse’s nautical theme.
This is a good move for PWB because it reintroduces the concept of seasonality to more mainstream beer drinkers. For Lighthouse, they regain the interest of the novelty-seeking, envelope-pushing beer geeks. For both, it is a good marketing move because a beer release is an excuse to have something to say. If you are brewing the same lineup day in, day out, what new is there one can say? You end up coming out with sales gimmicks, event sponsorships, or donating to charity for media to have anything to say about you. Most of that, if it gets into print, will wind up in the Business section. Ho hum. It doesn’t inspire people to drink the beer.
The excitement and added sales seasonals bring seems to be gaining more traction as a greater number of BC breweries offer a wheat ale in the summer, a pumpkin ale or Festbier in fall, and something heartier in winter. The mainstream media has picked up on the pumpkin ale phenomenon in a big way this year. The problem for the smaller brewers, though, is that the LDB will only give them a limited number of listings in the government stores. In order for them to offer a seasonal, they may have to drop a regular beer. The only way for that to change is with greater sales. The LDB isn’t going to help with that. Their attitude is that they will offer what is popular; a product must sell itself. That leaves it up to us to get more people into the craft beer fold.
We seem to be making some progress. I recently found out two new burger joints are offering a craft beer selection that beats most pubs and bars. Mondo Eatery & Burger Bar has three R&B taps and a rotating selection of import brews from Bear Republic, Half Pints, Hitachino Nest, Jolly Pumpkin, and Pelican! Romers Burger Bar in Kits has draught Central City, Howe Sound, R&B, Red Truck, and Russell. It really wasn’t that long ago when, aside from the brewpubs, the only places for getting some craft beer were The Railway Club, The Whip, The Raven, and Sailor Hagar’s. Then the Alibi Room came along to show that you could be successful without offering a single mega brand. There is now a slowly emerging acknowledgment in the hospitality industry that craft beer is a rapidly growing segment, and one that appeals to females as well.
Real Ale, or cask-conditioned ale, has also been making greater inroads since it made its first tentative steps at Dix on January 15, 2003. Weekly cask nights at Dix and The Whip were something to look forward to until in August of 2008 you could get it every day at the Irish Heather. The Alibi Room soon followed suit with three beer engines at your service. Now, there are cask nights at three of the Mark James brewpubs, St. Augustine’s, The Railway Club, Darby’s, The Cascade Room, The Sunset Grill, and even Kingfishers in Maple Ridge. Summer and winter Caskivals were a biannual feature at Dix. Since its closing, they have been replaced by CAMRA Vancouver‘s three seasonal cask festivals. Eventually, we will be able to celebrate all four seasons in beer.
Speaking of beer festivals, for the longest time Vancouver has been hoping for a replacement of the Autumn Brewmasters Festival, something that could be comparable to Penticton’s Okanagan Fest-of-Ale or Victoria’s The Great Canadian Beer Festival. We are starting to get there. For the first time this year, the Canada Cup of Beer was held over two days. And with the inauguration of Vancouver Craft Beer Week, we also saw the first festival of this kind celebrated in Canada and, possibly, the first time the Mayor of Vancouver has made an official beer declaration.
So how did we get here? Many dedicated people working hard at the grassroots level to get the word out, organizing events to introduce people to different beer styles, trying to get the mainstream media educated and realize these changes that are taking place, and business owners willing to take a risk. The dividends are paying off, but we can do better to move things along more quickly.
As we near the end of 2010, it might be useful to review what I wrote back in January about what I saw ahead of us”
…an expansion of capacity is necessary. Events may have to grow or become more frequent. More establishments will have to be persuaded to part with their slavish 10 taps of crap and begin offering a rotating selection from other parts of the beer spectrum. Pioneers have to venture out to tame the frontier, bringing living colour to the glasses of macro-lagerdom.
That is all still true. In a nutshell, though, it comes down to market demand. The more demand there is for craft beer, the more supply will grow to try and meet it. Central City will soon be building a production brewery to meet their growing demand. But if they didn’t capture the imagination of American craft beer drinkers with their outstanding IPA, they would likely still be plugging along as a brewpub. We need to get more people here appreciating craft beer. That means increasing craft beer’s mind share in relation to the mega brands. How to compete with their mega buck advertising budgets? Grassroots efforts with the help of social media.
So what does that mean for us individually? Buying craft beer is certainly important, but the buzz of a new trend will get people jumping on the bandwagon. That means supporting the promotional efforts of our favourite breweries and beer event organizers. It means giving an establishment feedback on their beer offering/handling. It means writing letters to editors of papers that publish a good piece on craft beer to let them know you appreciate it and want to see more. It even means just retweeting or sharing wall posts on Facebook. Why bother? Because it will create a groundswell that will eventually build up the beer culture we seek. That will mean a better selection of beer in more places and a means by which brewers can offer more exciting beer. Isn’t that what we’re thirsting for? Isn’t that why we look at Washington and Oregon with envy?
I was reading a recent blog post by WanderingPaddy. He made some very valid points about beer snobbery. Scorning and looking down on industrial beer drinkers is not the way to make them curious about branching out. A lot of them are suspicious of craft beer and will object to a hard sell. (Oh, let me count the myths!) Take whatever opportunity that comes up to have a relaxed chat about beer. Don’t necessarily try to convert them then and there if they are clearly resistant. All we need to do is plant the seed of curiosity and it will eventually germinate. I find women are more open-minded about trying a new beer than many males, so don’t pooh pooh “girly” beers. We all have to start somewhere! They have an aversion to bitterness and love chocolate, so fruit and wheat ales, porters and stouts are good places to start.
Grass roots efforts are making a difference. I remember a friend of mine telling me recently that he used to go to parties and not have to worry about anyone grabbing his craft beer from the fridge; no longer. But it isn’t at the point yet where the fridge is full of craft beer and everyone is the winner, no matter what beer they grab. We can change this if we all actively join in on the effort, rather than just sit back enjoying the results. Even simply liking craft breweries on Facebook helps.