B.C. Beer Blog

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

Vancouver Restaurateur Insults Craft Brewers, Belgians, Beer Drinkers

with 21 comments

by WanderingPaddy

A few months back I met with someone from the wine camp. Over a few beers, we had an excellent discussion about issues common to both the BC wine and craft beer industries, successes the wine lobby had realized as a result of advocacy, and how craft beer consumers could better organize to help them realize similar successes. During this discussion, it was pointed out to me that craft beer advocates and the craft beer industry as a whole have a major problem. It has nothing to do with the quality of beer being brewed or the lack of industry organization. This is a problem that is playing a major role in the lack of support given to craft beer by the government and the hospitality industry.

“You (craft beer consumers/industry) have an image problem,” I was told. This was not news to me, and should not be for the majority involved with the craft beer scene in BC. It is a reality and a hangover from the Dark Ages of Beer. This was when, with few exceptions, the majority of beers available from coast to coast in Canada were generic, mass-produced lagers meant to be swilled for effect, not taste. During this Dark Age, beer had no place in the finer restaurants about town, did nothing to enhance or compliment food, and was considered a beverage almost exclusively downed by down-and-outs and working men. Thankfully, due to the explosion of the BC craft beer scene and the amazing beers being brewed locally, those days are long gone. Or are they?

A few weeks back, my family and I walked into one of our favourite Commercial Drive eateries. I noticed, what looked to be, a fairly casual wine tasting in progress. I went over to introduce myself, hoping to score a sample or two of primo vino, and strike up a conversation with others who share a passion for good food and drink. Quickly, the conversation shifted to the recent Bring Your Own Wine legislation. I mentioned my desire, as a consumer advocate of local craft beer, that the laws be further changed to include beer. That’s when I came face-to-face with the reality of the “image problem” facing beer drinkers.

I was told in no uncertain terms by one of the people at the tasting, that no restaurant owner would be interested in beer being included in BYOB legislation. This fellow, who told me several times he was the owner of five restaurants, therefore knew what he was talking about. He went even further and asked who, in general, would be interested in such a ridiculous idea? He dismissed the fact that craft beer consumers would be very interested in this concept. He scoffed at the idea that a beer of any style or quality could compliment, never mind elevate, food if paired properly. He told me he had no interest in enticing the craft beer crowd to his restaurants because beer drinkers “only order yam fries”.

Wow! Behold the wine snob.

This restauranteur wanted to hear nothing of the fact that he was actually sitting in an establishment that supported including beer in BYOB legislation. He pooh-poohed the notion that, like wine, people cellar and age certain beer; ignored my point that there were a multitude of fine dining, beer pairing dinner events that sell out on a regular basis around the city; that craft beer lovers are often also equally into their fine wines, single malt scotches, and gourmet food. Quite simply, he could not fathom that those who enjoy good craft beer come from diverse backgrounds and have varied tastes and interests, just like those who enjoy wine. He offered no solid argument, other than the idea that wine is more refined than beer, wine drinkers more sophisticated than those who prefer a fine ale, that selling craft beer was not profitable.

It was quite obvious to me that Mr. Wine Snob was actually quite ignorant of what great beer is all about, especially when he ordered a macro lager to enjoy with his food, instead of the craft beer option that paired very well with the style of food being served. Luckily, my wife was there to drag me out of the conversation, as the condescending and patronizing tone of Mr. Wine Snob triggered my inner Surrey.

There will always be restaurants and bars that cater to wine lovers, just as there are now places like the Alibi Room, St Augustine’s, and Biercraft that cater to the craft beer crowd. There are also fine dining establishments, like Vij’s and Chambar, with great wine menus that also offer great beer for a reason… because they understand flavours and taste without prejudice. They offer consumers choice.

But Mr Wine Snob is not alone. This is part of the response I received from Rich Coleman, minister in charge of all things alcohol in BC, when I wrote him about Bring Your Own Beer to restaurants:

While we appreciate the evolving nature and uniqueness of craft beer, it is not in the same category as wine.

Behold the wine snob. (More on Mr Coleman at a later date…)

As a side note, I don’t have time for the beer snob either. If someone gets pleasure from sipping a sleeve of Molson 67, good for them. You won’t find it in my glass, and what is in your glass does not impact my drinking experience. I do not assume that those who drink these types of beer are inferior to me, or have no clue about good food because this, quite simply, is not true.

And if you want to know, Mr. Wine Snob, otherwise known as Chris Stewart, is co-owner of the very successful Vancouver restaurants La Buca, Pied-à-Terre, Cafeteria, Commissary, and The Sardine Can. I introduced myself as the President of CAMRA Vancouver and presented my card on the table. Therefore, he should have known I was on the side of the craft beer consumer. Yet, he felt it necessary to insult beer drinkers and make it clear to me, they were not good for his restaurants. After he did so, he gave me his card without his name but listing his establishments; at which time he, once again, warned me that they were fine dining, wine-oriented restaurants, places yam-fry-eating beer lovers like myself may find lacking, even though I had told him several times that I had a great love for wine after living in South France for almost three years.

I am not telling you to boycott or avoid his restaurants. As I have said, I have heard they are excellent. But if you want a great plate of yam fries or a good beer, please take the above into consideration.

~ originally published on the VanEast Beer Blog on September 28, 2012, as Behold the Wine Snob.

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21 Responses

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  1. I don’t think craft beer has an image problem. If it did, the industry wouldn’t have seen a doubling of sales in the last five years. Rather, it’s a question of knowledge.

    The majority of people are ignorant about beer. That includes people who drink beer every day and people who serve it for a living. With some guidance, many can be liberated from the grip of the stereotypes associated with industrial lager. I find women to be the easiest to convert to craft beer.

    However, you will always come across people who are not open-minded and will even go so far as to dismiss inconvenient truths. These kind of people are not worth your time. Craft beer is not a fad. We are seeing a beer renaissance in North America that is turning into a global phenomenon. A lot more people will come around to beer.

    Which got me thinking… A good way to put Chris Stewart’s convictions to the test would be to have him compete in Vancouver Craft Beer Week’s Sommelier versus Cicerone.

    BCbrews

    September 29, 2012 at 3:44 pm

  2. Sadly, I have to disagree. The craft beer industry does have an image problem. The GCBF was held on a soccer field, featured acres of porta-potties, people with goofy hats and pizza. Conversely, Victoria’s Festival of Food and Wine was held at Crystal Gardens, featured local chefs and fashionably dressed people. Beer advertising often depicts scantily clad women – and men – watching sports or jumping into a lake. This is mostly the fault of the macros. But, then again there were those Lighthouse Youtube ads.

    This is not to say that craft beer is incapable of eloquent events; the Savor craft beer festival in Washington, DC, is a perfect example of this. There are also many local craft beer and food pairing dinners that are held at fine restaurants and sell out quickly. I don’t think I have ever seen a goofy hat at the Alibi Room, but there is great food with suitable craft beer pairings. Beer magazines and Imbibe are full of articles praising the virtues of craft beer and fine cuisine. If restaurant owners choose not to respond to upcoming trends, then they shall lose out to this new opportunity.

    Ian

    September 29, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    • Actually Ian, there is no single image for craft beer. That is its beauty. Craft beer embraces a wide demographic. As you pointed out, people can have fun wearing goofy hats on the one hand, or they can have a more elegant, refined evening at, say, Chambar on the other. Dress up, dress down. Hair up, hair down. There is a craft beer for all occasions.

      As I said above, if craft beer has an image problem, why have sales doubled in the last five years?

      BCbrews

      September 29, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    • I’m really sorry that you feel you need to shit on the GCBF. If you can find a better venue in Victoria for over 9000 people where we can find chefs to provide you with the kind of experience you desire, then we are all ears. Until then, worry about your own pathetic life.

      Gerry Hieter

      September 30, 2012 at 9:08 am

      • Mr. Hieter I can see how my remarks could be interpreted as being unfavourable towards the GCBF. For this I am humbly sorry. I loved the GCBF every year I attended. You, and the many dedicated volunteers, have staged a wonderful event for the large and enthusiastic craft beer crowd, even when faced with daunting challenges (ie Government bureaucracy). I cannot think of a better location to spend time with my craft beer loving friends.
        Perhaps what frustrates me is people who do not see the care and dedication that is present in all areas of craft beer. The image I have is Dean McLeod of Lighthouse sitting at GCBF with a horrendously painful knee. He injured his knee moving around heavy kegs in preparation for GCBF. He limped to the event to ensure that his beer – no, his creation – was served properly. His creation was a saison style ale aged in an oak cask that previously contained Sazerac cocktails. It was indescribably delicious. This dedication to the art of brewing is shared by all brewers and homebrewers. How can anyone say these flavourful labours of love could not enhance fine food? You only need to visit any of the brewpubs in Victoria to see fine craft beers enhancing the dining pleasure of fine food.
        One might say that your perception is your reality. I perceive craft beer in my own way, just as everyone else has their own perceptions. But I think we all share a common foundation; a quality beverage in the hands of people who appreciate it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone shared our image of craft beer?
        It is great to see a heated debate about something we all care about.
        Again, Mr. Hieter I am sorry if my response insulted you. Your efforts in organizing the GCBF have set the stage for this craft beer industry to flourish. We are deeply appreciative.

        Ian

        September 30, 2012 at 4:25 pm

  3. Whenever there are polarized discussions, try to see the other’s perspective. Mr. Stewart’s perspective is that of the majority, and the majority are those that watch Honey Boo Boo and elect Stephen Harper (ok not totally, but you get my point).
    Craft beer is for the artisans, those that care about craft, and detail. The goal should not to be the most popular, but support establishments and organizations that share your tastes.
    I’ve never been to any of his restaurants; but I’ve been to Alibi Room and St. Augustine’s many times, and I don’t live on the main land.
    Yesterday I spent a lovely afternoon on craft beer row in Ann Arbor Michigan; another 3 figures into the industry I choose to support.
    By all means, educate those interested in learning what craft beer has to offer, but remember, every dollar you ever spend is a political decision on the world you want to live in.

    Kris Constable

    September 30, 2012 at 8:42 am

    • One quibble, Kris: craft beer is for more than just artisans; it is for anyone that wants to enjoy a good brew.

      BCbrews

      September 30, 2012 at 12:22 pm

  4. I’m glad that craft beer enthusiasts have an “image problem” according to ignorant snobs like the gentleman mentioned in this well written commentary. We are a different crowd! Let this clown cater to like-minded wine snobs, keeping their sneers away from the quality establishments that I give my business to.

    One just needs to visit a city like Portland to see what the craft beer scene can, and hopefully will become in Vancouver and all west coast cities. They have a great mix of high end bars and restaurants which see the value and appeal of finely crafted beer, but also an equal amount of high quality, casual brewpubs and restaurants which are geared towards families and a more casual crowd. This works better than many (ignorant) people may think and I have yet to see a group of stereotypical young rowdy folks having an irresponsible piss-up in any of these incredibly successful establishments. Craft beer is gaining a following with not only the beardo beer geeks, but the masses as well. Quality beer has an appeal to much wider demographics (as mentioned above) and will allow for a much bigger, and more successful industry than wine.

    The only thing holding back the industry in my eyes is prohibitive laws, not people like Mr. Stewart. You can’t argue with ignorance but if allowed, like it or lump it, craft beer will continue to take hold and gain the respect of the people that matter. We don’t need craft beer to be treated with the same status as wine and I’m fine with it not being considered worthy by the elitists. Innovative entrepreneurs are embracing the scene and its uniqueness and I’m more than content with this gaining momentum.

    Brad

    September 30, 2012 at 10:24 am

  5. The GCBF was presented right across the street from the Crystal Gardens (ex public swimming pool) in the Victoria Conference Centre at the Empress Hotel (where the Queen stays ;o) for the first 10 years it ran. See how the marketing BS works? We moved it to Royal Athletic Park because of the demand for tickets. It still sells out in minutes. If you feel uncomfortable rubbing shoulders with people who enjoy a bit of performance art in the sunshine over staid pretensions then by all means fill your boots. Chacun à son goût, as they’d say … or, to each his own, as we’d prefer.

    Phil Atkinson

    September 30, 2012 at 11:03 am

  6. This is a very well written piece and that owner sounds like a piece of work!

    mikescraftbeer

    October 1, 2012 at 7:36 am

    • The irony is that Biercraft is on the same block of Cambie Street as Pied-à-Terre. One of the Biercraft owners is Don Farion, a chef, homebrewer, and Certified Cicerone. Some of the best beer dinners I’ve had were Biercraft’s ‘Battle of the Belgians‘ series.

      BCbrews

      October 1, 2012 at 10:16 am

  7. I don’t understand his concern. Any addition of beer wouldn’t change the fact that the legislation doesn’t REQUIRE any place to accept BYOW, and would’ve be required to accept BYOB. He could happily continue to look down his nose at any patron that brought beer, though maybe he’ll lose sleep knowing they’ll be able to bring beer into any restaurant anywhere.

    Besides, is he really concerned that the people he hates would want to go to his restaurant? They would probably hate it, though I’m sure he would be baffled that the huddled masses wouldn’t be storming a restaurant that looks down on them.

  8. It’s “restaurateur”, not “restauranteur”.

    Alan

    October 1, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    • Noun
      restauranteur (plural restauranteurs)

      (US, sometimes proscribed) Alternative form of restaurateur.

      Wiktionary

      “Rat” or “rant”, both acceptable!

      BCbrews

      October 1, 2012 at 12:19 pm

      • I suppose it’s acceptable if you’re American. 😛

        Ryan Smith

        October 18, 2012 at 9:11 am

        • World English Dictionary
          restaurateur (ˌrɛstərəˈtɜː) [Click for IPA pronunciation guide]

          — n
          a person who owns or runs a restaurant

          usage Although the spelling restauranteur occurs frequently, it is a misspelling and should be avoided

          Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
          2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
          Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
          Cite This Source

          Ceri Barlow

          December 28, 2012 at 11:00 am

  9. Not really impressed with Mr. Stewart. It’s almost stranger than fiction, hearing about how he doesn’t think beer can pair with food…I know how absurd that sounds, but I know that as a restauranteur, he would like to make as much money as he can (especially with five establishments). You can’t charge $500 for a bottle of beer in Vancouver. High rollers won’t come into the restaurant and rack up a beer tab like they could a champagne tab. Wine brings in a good revenue, and if he’s comfortable with wine, he should stick with it.

    That being said, his ignorance completely baffles me (especially evidenced by ordering a macro lager during the meal). As in, I didn’t think anyone in the restaurant business like this existed. Money is money, and right now Vancouver’s beer scene is booming. Selling craft beer at your establishment not only widens your target market, but gives you a little more revenue when, say, you own a bunch of places and your revenue is spread pretty thin.

    vancookalex

    October 1, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    • Absolutely! If you are going to sell beer at all, offering craft beer makes business sense. The margins are higher than industrial lager and provide better food pairing options. And isn’t it better to have as a customer someone willing to spend $25 on beer, who would otherwise avoid paying $50 for a bottle of wine and opt for one $12 cocktail instead? I keep coming back to Chambar as a prime example in Vancouver of not discriminating by offering quality across the board. But if you have enough non-beer drinking patrons to do full turns most of the time, dismissing beer is your prerogative.

      BCbrews

      October 1, 2012 at 8:59 pm

  10. To add I have not been to the GCBF but have on many occasions gone to the Canada Cup Of Beer in Van and have loved it. I personally would not go if it was a stuffy event like that wine tasting. They would bore me. Give me goofy!

    mikescraftbeer

    October 1, 2012 at 8:25 pm

  11. I dislike goofy, and like refined. Another guy loves goofy and has no time for refined. I am off to a black tie dinner and wine tasting next week. Another guy might love wine, but hate the black tie bit. And we could both love beer. Where our featured restaurant owner goes wrong, is in thinking his way is the only way. While I do not know Mr. Stewart, it may be that he likes the feeling of being part of some illusional elite crowd, and knows next to nothing about wine (or beer). For that he is the poorer.
    Those running GCBF should, by the way, welcome feedback, and be thankful for it. That I offer merely as a helpful tip.

    beer (and wine) guy

    October 3, 2012 at 8:03 am


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