Presidential Update #4

What a year!

As 2016 comes to a close, I am reminded of my gift shopping experience of the last month. Namely, my experience as a consumer amidst the holiday rush. For a few people on my list, it occurred to me that a few outstanding bottles of beer would make terrific gifts, and so I found myself at a few liquor stores perusing shelves. It was at this time that it occurred to me that I have had one problem replaced with another. It was no longer the problem of lacking good options; no, it had become the problem of having plenty of good options. Do I get someone some of the recent Twin Sails’ can releases? Main Street’s Barrel-Aged Russian Imperial Stout? A pack of Superflux’s amazing IPAs? Steamworks’ Flagship? Boombox’s barrel sours? A growler of Strange Fellows’ Jolly Rancher? Central City’s Sour I/II/III? To add to my indecision, a swath of great ciders like Shacksbury and Isastegi are accessible on shelves, as are the rapidly-growing number of import brands showing up in our market.

We’re starting to see huge interest in our local products from other regions, too. Lineups for limited releases. People in other provinces and countries looking to acquire our breweries’ products.

These are good problems to have.

The adage has always been “Vancouver’s beer scene is always x (where x varies by opinion of the person saying so) number of years behind Portland’s”. Those are fine shoes to aim to fill, and as of late, I am convinced that we are coming into our own in a great way.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t improvements to make, and things to be concerned about. Both of these things remain true. We are starting to see places like Coquitlam (and with continued efforts, Port Coquitlam) amend their bylaws to include approval of breweries, though the zoning that determines which areas they may open could use improvement. Based on other work done this year to support zoning amendments elsewhere, this isn’t an unrealistic goal to aim for.

We have changes to the classification of beer set to take effect in British Columbia on January 1. While this is focused around the amount of residual sugars (a maximum of 4%), we were initially concerned about how this would impact our breweries and the options consumers have at retail. After significant discussion and consultation, along with clarification from the BC Craft Brewers Guild, this does not appear to be anything to be concerned about.
The testing sample list that I reviewed listed only one beer in our market as exceeding the 4% residual sugars limit and would under the new classifications be considered a “malt beverage”. Worth noting is that this was an exceptionally sweetened import and not one of our locally produced products. Every brewer I’ve spoken with so far has imparted that it is not of any concern, as it doesn’t affect them in any meaningful way.

(Brewers I haven’t yet spoken to: if this directly and negatively impacts your product line, I’d be very interested in hearing from you. Please email me at president@camrabc.ca)

On the topic of reclassifying beer, I speak for many of us when I say the change I’d like to see is to beers above the 12% ABV range being taxed like any other beer.

We still have an insidious pay-to-play program run by a major macro beer conglomerate that directly manipulates sales and representation of craft beer. The province needs to turn their attention to this and counter by prohibiting anti-competitive practices in the BC liquor industry. We’ll definitely be pursuing this in a big way in 2017.

Lastly, we’ve made considerable progress in shoring up our internal operations: our South Fraser branch is operating in a strong, healthy way. We’ve identified exactly what skillsets and systems we need to implement internally to more deeply integrate all of our branches in order to provide a truly unified member experience.

We’ll be announcing our 2017 AGM date soon along with our call for nominations for next year’s Executive team. We need passionate, dedicated craft beer enthusiasts like you. Consider running and joining us!

With this in mind, on behalf of the 2016 BC Executive team, we wish you a safe, responsible and wonderful holiday season filled with warmth, loved ones and of course, terrific craft beer.

Cheers!

Jeremy Noonan
President

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2016 Presidential Update #3

In the last year, I have traveled a considerable amount for work: logged tens of thousands of miles of flight distance and found myself in all sorts of places with beer laws that vary in many ways from our own. Each time that I return to British Columbia, something new and exciting has awaited me on the shelves of our retailers and breweries. Events of all kinds fill our calendars and we are seeing incredible imports brought to our market from distributors who are constantly raising the bar in terms of accessibility.

 

In the same breath, we are engaging in dialogue and collaborating with municipalties to overhaul antiquated bylaws and make it easier for consumers to purchase and enjoy craft products. All of these have caused me to arrive at a conclusion that, at first, I refused to accept. So much so that I delayed writing this update until I had really given it some thought and felt confident in my conclusion.

 

That conclusion? In the grand scheme of things, we in BC really don’t have it that bad when it comes to craft beer. In fact, we have it pretty darned good.

 

Yes, there are things we want to see improved or changed. Yes, we still have absurd laws governing taxation of high-ABV ( >12% ) beers. The BCLDB is still making it difficult and expensive for private LRS to do business with, and many beers with a limited shelf life still sit in their warehouse for far longer than is reasonable, resulting in less-fresh product. These are things that are very much on our radar, but they take time to move against. There are other objectives that we can accomplish in parallel: achieving progress in other areas while we build out our long-term, larger movements.

 

Which is exactly what we’re doing:

 

We’re pushing hard to get municipalities to finally allow breweries to open in cities that previously didn’t allow for it.

 

Our executive team is engaging leaders at various City Halls, working together to explore loosening laws surrounding the consumption of alcohol at public events and spaces.
 

I have been gathering support from MLAs and members of Parliament in order to secure allies in lobbying the BC government to make it easier for private liquor stores to operate and acquire products.

 

We are gathering resources to mount a campaign to protect BC craft beer products from being deliberately tucked out of sight at liquor stores as part of “pay-to-play” programs run by macro beer companies. While these programs are opt-in at the licensee level, it is also an anticompetitive initiative that impacts our breweries and their local products – to the benefit of an international company.

 

We are looking to change the way damaged products are handled by the BCLDB in order to reduce the cost of loss to breweries – leading to prices that are higher than they could be for consumers.
 

These are enormous initiatives that take time to incubate and execute on. Some have taken months to develop. Others might take years of hard work. No great, groundbreaking advances are going to be made overnight, and so I wish to remind consumers that, while these efforts take time, research and resources, they are being pursued with great passion and interest by unpaid volunteers.

 

That’s where you come in.

 

Are you interested in playing a role in driving change? We’d love to talk. Whether at a branch level or on our BC executive team, we are acutely interested in hearing from you. Reach out to your local branch Executive teams, or feel free to contact me directly.

 

In short? Anyone who believes that our organization hasn’t accomplished much is, candidly, sorely mistaken. Progress is being made. Change is coming. Enjoy our craft beer ecosystem here in British Columbia in the meantime, because there are a lot of great things going on here these days.

 

Jeremy Noonan
President,
CAMRA BC

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2016 Presidential Update #2

In the past few months, I’ve been developing a platform for a roundtable coalition meant to bring together a number of alcohol-related interest groups in our province. Though these groups have varying interests and mandates – a number of which may conflict with those of the others – there are some that are universally aligned. There are a few objectives:  First: identify and build out common interests that improve BC’s liquor laws to serve the interest of consumer, retailer and brewer alike. Second: leverage our collective memberships and approach the LDB and provincial government together.

 

The challenge? Getting everyone together. It is going to take convincing other alcohol-related organizations to set disparity aside and come to the table. We’re working on it, but it’s slow-going – partly due to the bandwidth of all parties involved. Stay tuned.

 

On that note, I am also keenly focused on the recent decision by the Alberta government to dramatically increase taxes on BC craft beer sold in their province. Why does this pertain to CAMRA BC, as a consumer advocacy group? If sales of our breweries’ products are hindered, so too is the revenue (and therefore success) of our locals. Stress on our local breweries affects you, the consumer. I intend on discussing this with our CAMRA Alberta counterparts and hope to leverage the presence we have in both provinces to lobby against this change together.

 

I also want to address what we’ve identified as a major pain point in our organization. Running our branches – and the initiatives they drive – is extremely time-intensive. A number of projects move at frustratingly slow paces, almost entirely because we are already overencumbered.

 

In short, we need help from our members – in a big way.

 

CAMRA BC – and its’ branches – have plenty of initiatives we wish to pursue, but lack the volunteer power to see it through. It simply isn’t feasible to continue operating as though being a paid member solves problems with no effort from our membership. There are less than 30 branch executives divided among five branches serving British Columbia. These teams are, for the most part, stretched very thin and with no additional bandwidth to coordinate action beyond the skeleton of their branch mandates.

 

More than once, branches – and I’ll use Vancouver as an example – have put out the request for volunteers for events and actions of differing types. Often, these calls for volunteers go almost entirely unheard, save for a very small number of responders. This *must* change. Paying membership dues is great – and the support is truly appreciated – but what we need most is help from our community.

 

Getting involved is incredibly easy. Branches could use volunteer teams to help organize and coordinate events, run tables for membership drives, show support at city hall public hearings for bylaws relevant to craft beer in your cities, and much more. I encourage you to contact your branch President or any of their Executive teams to lend a hand however it may be needed. Rest assured, there are a number of opportunities to contribute your time and talents for a good cause.

 

For that matter: have you, as a member, experienced difficulties in communicating with your local CAMRA BC branch? Do you feel there is a lack of activity in your community? I’d like to get a feel for what members in all areas we serve are thinking. If you’ve had any issues with your local branch, I invite you to send me an email directly at president@camrabc.ca . Your comments will remain anonymous, and are intended solely to give me an unfiltered idea of your experiences as a member of your local branch.

 

Lastly, I want to remind you to keep your head held high. Though many of the concerns we, as a community have about consumers’ rights in our province are still very much prevalent, we are slowly navigating the seas of change together. It is a painfully slow process. Stay the course.

 

Lots more to come in the second half of 2016.
Sincerely,

 

Jeremy Noonan
President,
CAMRA BC

 
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