Despite its rapid growth, B.C. craft beer has been left out of revised liquor legislation that guarantees B.C. wines a place in local grocery stores.
The new legislation will allow some licensed grocers to sell liquor in a “store within a store” model as early as winter 2015. The policy makes no mention of whether B.C. craft brewers can expect any such benefits.
The B.C. Craft Brewers Guild argues that the thriving business of artisanal beer could benefit substantially from more inclusive legislation.
“We’d like to see a leveling of the playing field between B.C. wine and beer, both in terms of taxation and in terms of access to the market,” expressed Ken Beattie, executive director of the group.
“We just don’t want to be left out of important policy decisions that could seriously impact us.”
A burgeoning industry
The growth of B.C. microbreweries has been both rapid and unforeseen. In 2009 there were only 10-15 active breweries in the province. There are expected to be 80 by the end of 2014.
Data from the Liquor Distribution Branch shows that while large breweries’ sales declined by four per cent in 2013, microbrewery sales shot up by a whopping 38 per cent.
Because of the speed with which craft breweries appeared on the scene, they often exist in a grey area of legislation.
Dustin Sepkowski, Operations Manager at 33 Acres Brewing Company, has been in the craft beer industry since it first emerged in B.C. He recognised that some legislation revisions have greatly helped artisanal beer, namely the legalization of tasting lounges on-site.
“The ability to serve our product on-site has been huge for us. But we still lag behind in comparison to the benefits given to B.C. wine,” he said.
Call to cut red tape
MLA John Yap, who spearheaded the revised legislation, says that breweries could potentially enjoy more beer-specific legislation further down the road.
“We are taking a closer look at the process for getting a brewery licence. This is an area where we can cut red tape and open up new growth opportunities for the industry,”
Brewers like Sepkowski say that while allowing craft beer access to grocery stores could help microbreweries grow, local brewers are still hoping for government help at a more basic level.
“What we need most now are tax cuts and support for our small businesses. Those are the policies that really helped B.C. wine become so successful when it started out,” he said.