B.C. Beer Blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Heineken

The Ties That Bind – How the BC Liberals Want to Limit Beer Choice

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It came to my attention yesterday that with respect to tied houses and related trade practices in British Columbia, the Liberal government intends to reduce current provincial regulations. For them, it isn’t a question of whether or not to do so; it is a matter of how much.

For those who do not know what a tied house is, this is the definition from the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) consultation paper that was recently circulated to some potential stakeholders:

A tied house is an establishment that has an association, financial or otherwise, with a liquor manufacturer or its agent that is likely to lead to its products being favoured.

What this means is that a pub that is owned or has some contractual arrangement with a brewery, may find itself obligated to sell beer from that brewery alone. As a result of the Liquor Inquiry Commission of 1952, this was made illegal due to the lack of competition that resulted from brewery consolidation. Those were the beer Dark Ages in Canada when “beer” was synonymous with mass-produced lager because that is all you could get. It took 32 years before craft brewing even resurfaced here!

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Brewing Up a Biz: Doppelganger Decision

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I had some key decisions to make. I decided to do two things at once: I would have to educate myself on the craft of making beer, as well as a bit about the business side of brewing simultaneously. First, I would have to teach myself to brew in order to determine whether I even liked performing the process. As sexy and exciting as researching a startup might be, once things eventually got rolling, I’d be a “beer-cook” on a day in, day out basis. So, were I to discover that I hated sanitizing equipment, couldn’t care less about the science behind yeast strains, my back couldn’t handle moderately heavy lifting, and I passed out working around hot kitchen elements, now was the time to realize it. As it turned out, I really enjoy all of the precision (and lack of precision) that these processes require. I find brewing in my home kitchen rather Zen-inducing.

The second key decision before me was that of approach. Would I open a small production brewery or a small brew pub? (Magnitude was never in question —  it was always going to be “go small or go home.”) At first, I just plain wanted a brewery. I thought I might be able to perfect recipes at home, then replicate them in a small brewery setting. Plus, I have a really cool pair of rubber boots to slosh around in. I would be able to walk into any local tavern or restaurant with my Corny kegs full of amazing (not to mention local) beer and owners would welcome me as the saviour they had been waiting for. Now, although this is still a dream I’m not quite ready to abandon, I’m relatively certain it wouldn’t work out just that way.

The big breweries are smart. They can’t legally command a monopoly, but they can dangle incentives in front of bar owners’ noses to encourage them to not let any other little kids play in the sandbox. (Not quite sure what — perhaps shiny beer ornaments for the Christmas tree, beer bangles, or the like — but I know they’re out there.) So, as the unknown small guy with kegs in the back of his pickup, it would be very difficult; not impossible, but difficult.

Although I knew even less about the restaurant business (save for the statistic that they often fail) than the brewing business, it wasn’t long before I saw the merits of a brew pub operation. As with most “business” decisions, this one, too, is a double-edged sword. I’ll talk about the pros and cons a little later.

An early key decision that I had to make was how to spend the very little cash I had thus far accumulated. Would I blow it on a small commercial brewery or would I spend it on some rather expensive brew training?  I only had enough coin to do one or the other. I did like the shiny high-tech mini-brewery. At that moment, I actually I had a childhood memory flash of an encyclopedia (pre-wiki) salesman sitting at our kitchen table, regaling my mother with the story of Abe Lincoln sharpening his axe for eight hours in order to cut down a tree in only one, or some such legend. So although I’m usually impulsive, and my credit card finger was itchy for the shiny tanks, I decided to go with the education.

Now, I don’t actually think that there is a “right” or a “wrong” choice. If I happened to live near a small craft brewery (which I did not) and I was able to convince them to allow me to apprentice with them on a weekly “wage-free” basis, I might have exercised this option and bought the brewery instead. But this didn’t exist for me. I believe I made the right choice or, at least, the best choice considering the factors affecting me at the time.

I enrolled in the “Concise Course of Brewing Technology” at the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago: neither an easy nor an inexpensive place to get to from Prince Rupert, BC. But in just two weeks, I learned a ton. I’d highly recommend the training they have to offer. They aren’t the only institution through which to engage in professional brewing studies (UC Davis and the American Brewers Guild are other options that I know of). But seeing as virtually every major professional brewery in the world employs someone who has been there, it’s not a bad choice.

The Siebel Institute was more than brew training. It also allowed me to sneak in through the backdoor of the “beer business” world. I was rubbing elbows (and clinking mugs) with a range of people: from those with zero experience (like myself and Rick, the crazy Australian) to advanced homebrewers, small- to large-scale professional craft brewers, up to and including a bottling manager from Heineken and three executives from Modelo, whom I mostly communicated with by smiling, nodding, and in whose direction I would raise the occasional mug.

Although very intimidating at first, the rank structure soon came down and we were all just “classmates” with a love of a common career path. This degree of camaraderie (and the clinking of glasses) helped reinforce the notion that I had chosen the right business world. Although it has become somewhat of a cliché, this industry really does seem to support each other, unlike others. Refreshingly, cooperation before competition seems to be the underlying mantra. I still call and e-mail some of these people and share both brewing and business questions and insights as we each progress at our respective stages.

I hope to one day drop in on Rick’s brewpub Down Under and I’d be glad to hoist a pint with him at mine on the shores of PR.

~ Rod Daigle, Triple Island Brewing Company

2009 Tarnished Plate Awards

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Love them or loathe them, the Georgia Straight‘s Golden Plate Awards are out. Either way, it would be foolish to ignore them. Consider them a gauge of The Straight‘s readers’ preferences. If, as a business, you are targeting that demographic, then the awards will give you an indication of how successful your efforts have been to date. From the perspective of CAMRA Vancouver, it tells us how much more work we still need to do.

On the beer front, this is an opportunity to measure progress since the Best of Vancouver 2008 awards. Although there were fewer categories offered than the Golden Plates, my accompanying article in that edition covered more ground. I was hoping, at least, it made a few people curious to try something other than what they’re constantly being bombarded with in advertisements. The results are mixed, but I see some progress being made.

In terms of beer, readers are clearly influenced by advertising. The Local Microbrew category certainly limits the choices (thankfully, there were no daft awards, such as Molson Canadian), but all the beers chosen are actually brewed in Kelowna. The Granville Island beers that are brewed in Vancouver are only their Limited Releases. The majority of people still need to discover R&B and Storm, it seems. Sorry, folks, per a previous post, Steamworks is not a microbrewery; they are a brewpub. Outside of this category, only one craft brewer made the cut — Phillips, which just reinforces what I said in my last post about the need for craft brewers to collaborate.

In the categories of B.C. Beer (brewed outside Vancouver) and Canadian Beer (not B.C.), people have a reading comprehension problem since a number of choices were breweries, not actual beers. I find the import category to be the most disappointing of all. Given all the beers available at the establishments chosen in the Imported Beer Selection category, you would think there would be more of a mixture of choices other than mass-market lager and mass-market Guinness. There is a much greater diversity available here that people are completely missing out on. A visit to Brewery Creek, Firefly, Libations, or Viti would quickly put that to rest.

On the pub front, I see more progress. All the pubs are actual pubs; all the brewpubs are pubs that brew beer for consumption on their own premises (Granville Island Tap House not being a pub). The majority of the chosen pubs also have good beer. I’m heartened by the fact that The Straight‘s readers do not equate ‘best’ with the Granville guzzling galleries. On the food side, I don’t think enough people have eaten at the Alibi Room. Their commitment to local and seasonal is deserving of attention. Chef Greg Armstrong formerly worked at Habit Lounge, so he’s no slouch.

Finally, I’m curious about the inclusion of Fogg N’ Suds. Are people voting for them based on reputation? Their beer selection today is nowhere near that of their halcyon days in the mid-eighties. For B.C. beer, no one in the entire province beats the Alibi Room for the quality of their selection — there is simply no crap on tap. For imported beer, I think Fogg N’ Suds has been succeeded by Six Acres, the Irish Heather, and Stella’s. I wouldn’t call Chambar‘s selection the best from a comprehensive point of view, but it is very good from the perspective of matching their beer with their food, which no one else in Vancouver has done. I’d like to see them replace their gueuze, though, with Oud Beersel. If we can get anyone to import Cantillon, its inclusion would be essential.

Finally, here are the beer results from the Best Drinks section of the 2009 Golden Plate Awards:

Local Microbrewery
1. Granville Island Brewing
2. R & B Brewing
3. Steamworks Brewing Company

Local Microbrew
1. Granville Island Lions Winter Ale
2. Granville Island English Bay Pale Ale
3. Granville Island Lager

B.C. Beer (brewed outside Vancouver)
1. Kokanee
2. Okanagan Spring
3. Phillips Brewing

Canadian Beer (not B.C.)
1. Sleeman
2. Alexander Keith’s
3. (tie) Molson Canadian
3. (tie) Moosehead

Imported Beer
1. Stella Artois
2. (tie) Corona
2. (tie) Guinness
3. Heineken

Best Pub
1. The Irish Heather
2. Yaletown Brewing Company
3. Steamworks

Brewpub
1. Yaletown Brewing Company
2. Steamworks
3. Dix BBQ & Brewery

Pub Food
1. The Irish Heather
2. Yaletown Brewing Company
3. Kingston Taphouse & Grille

B.C. Beer Selection
1. Fogg N’ Suds
2. Alibi Room
3. The Whip Restaurant Gallery

Imported Beer Selection
1. Stella’s Tap & Tapas Bar
2. Fogg N’ Suds
3. Chambar Belgian Restaurant