Monday, September 29, 2014

End Moratorium on LRS Licenses to Stop Exodus From Rural Areas - Quick, Easy Fix

I don't know why it took so long for people to figure out the negative impact the elimination of the "no more than five kilometre" rule for the buying and relocating of private liquor store (LRS) licenses would have on rural areas in BC.

In Friday's Vancouver Sun, an article appeared with the headline "Liquor licenses being sold in anticipation of new rules" which has caused a bit of a stir in some rural communities and among those who are interested in the BC retail alcohol industry.

This is not really breaking news as this situation has been bubbling and boiling for months now, even before the change to the BC liquor laws concerning relocating LRS licenses was announced last March by Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) General Manager, Douglas Scott.

The old policy (which is still in place until some time next year) states that a LRS license can be sold and relocated, but that the new location can be no more than five kilometres from the old location. This ensured rural areas would not be abandoned and that there would not be an over-concentration of LRS locations in urban areas. The new policy, which is set to come into effect sometime in 2015, states that LRS licenses can be purchased then moved anywhere in BC, as long as they are not moved to within one kilometre of an existing LRS, government liquor store (GLS) or rural agency store (RAS).

My immediate thought at that time of the announcement was that LRS owners in smaller, rural areas, where commercial property is much cheaper than in urban areas, must be ecstatic as the value of their businesses just skyrocketed. In fact, before the announcement was made, I know there were big city types sniffing around in my town of Powell River, attempting to buy existing LRS locations and I do not think they were planning on leaving the big city for the fresh air and ocean views of the Sunshine Coast.

Obviously they were in the know and had been tipped off that this change was coming and they were trying to get in before the LRS prices trended upwards in the hinterlands of BC.

I remember sitting in my local, The Red Lion Pub, one of the LRS locations mentioned in the Sun article, discussing this fact with friends over a beer just after I had heard the planned law changes. It was as plain as day to me that sharp business folks were going to shop about in cheaper rural areas to buy LRS licenses and then move them out of their communities to more lucrative urban markets. The big city purchasers of these licenses do not care that the locals in the small communities are getting screwed and will be highly inconvenienced by the moving of their local LRS.

It was also obvious to me that smart LRS owners were going to increase the price of their businesses, if they were looking at selling, or be tempted to sell as their business was suddenly much more valuable and desirable on the market. LRS licenses are already a much-coveted commodity due to the moratorium on granting new licenses in BC and with the new policy, a LRS in Smalltown, BC was closer in value to those in say Vancouver, due to the fact that there were far less restrictions on relocating them.

This inflated value of all LRS locations and the and exodus of same from rural communities can all be blamed on moratorium on granting new retail liquor licenses. I see the solution to this problem as being quite simple - if a LRS license is sold and relocated more than a kilometre away, allow for another LRS license to be approved for the location where the license was moved from to replace that service for local consumers. The policy could stipulate that the new license could not be tied to anyone who had a financial stake in the license which had been sold and relocated to stop people from just opening up LRS locations and flipping them to those who want to relocate that license. The government could even put a stipulation that the new LRS license could not be relocated for five years...Hell, make it 10 years!

The Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) should have been yelling loudly at the government during their recently held convention but they were too distracted by the more pressing issues of saving rural, coastal communities by trying to right the BC Ferries shipwreck.

I think that allowing LRS licenses to be relocated anywhere in BC is not a bad decision, provided the government allow for the replacement of that service in the community the LRS is moved from.

As I have said in the past, BC liquor policy needs to make sense for all of British Columbians, not just those who live in urban areas.

Small BC communities are already struggling to attract and hang on to viable businesses and this stupid, short-sighted change to liquor policies is going to do just the opposite by encouraging small town business owners to flog their LRS's at falsely-inflated prices, to those who have no plan to keep that business in an area where it is much needed. Once again it is the consumers who are getting shafted by the BC Liberal liquor law reforms - specifically the consumers in rural areas. Like with the increase in the minimum drink price, which has impacted many rural areas negatively by driving the price of beer up, those who are drafting the new policies did not look at the impact this would have on British Columbian alcohol consumers outside urban areas.

Or if they did, the Liberals simply did not care that rural consumers, who already have limited choices, would be further limited and their communities without a successful business which provided  much-needed employment and services.

I cannot blame those who own LRS locations in small towns or those who wish to buy these licenses and move them. They are business people trying to maximize their assets. They are doing nothing shady or illegal. They are doing what is allowed under the law.

Those owners in small communities will have to deal with the fallout of selling what potentially could be the only LRS license in the area which would leave their neighbours and those they bump into on a daily basis without an outlet to buy booze outside of the local BC Liquor Store's restricted hours or the limited selection at the local rural liquor store (RAS) if there is one. But some cold stares and snide comments will be a little easier to take for these business folks due to the fact they probably were paid far more than they ever imagined they would get for their business.

Lift the moratorium and this all goes away. Those wishing to sell can still make a pretty penny for their businesses to be bought and relocated but at least there would be a mechanism in place for consumers in small towns to be somewhat protected.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Federal Government Want to Make Sure a Pint is a Pint - Maximum Fines of Up to $50,000 for Repeat Short-Pour Offenders Now Federal Law.

"You're entitled to get what you pay for"  - Industry Canada

The Campaign for Real Ale of BC's (CAMRA BC) Fess Up to Serving Sizes (#FUSS) Campaign received some unexpected help August 1st when the Canadian Federal Government launched their "Fairness at the Pumps" Campaign.

Fairness at the Pumps states, "(e)ffective August 1, 2014, the law states that businesses who short sell consumers, on purpose or through carelessness, can face penalties or court-imposed fines of up to $50,000."  

The information on Industry Canada's website, which clearly includes draft beer servings in the campaign, encourages consumers to file a complaint if they suspect they are "not getting what they paid for" and provides instructions as to what information is required to help Measurement Canada investigate and a link to file the complaint electronically, by telephone or by snail mail. They are even using the hashtag #getwhatyoupayfor in tweets, something I would recommend consumers do so Industry Canada can track interest regarding this new law.


instruction on how to file an official complaint if you suspect you have been short-poured

It also appears that CAMRA BC's #FUSS Campaign is finally being acknowledged by the BC Liberal Government who included the following in their last liquor policy update concerning lowering the minimum drink price for serving sizes of over 50 ounces for draft beer and cider:
"Pubs and restaurants serve draught beer and cider in a variety of sizes - generally, 9 oz., 16 oz. or 20 oz. glasses, or by the pitcher (approximately 60 oz.). If unsure, British Columbians are encouraged to ask establishments what their serving sizes are, so they can be sure of the per-ounce price they are paying and be better aware of the amount of alcohol they are consuming.
  • As part of the terms of their licence, B.C.’s licensed establishments must have a drink list available to consumers that outlines their serving sizes.
Until this announcement the BC Liberals have brushed off CAMRA BC's complaints that many pubs and restaurants do not declare their serving sizes and if they do list them, they do so inaccurately. Although they do not  state they are going to enforce the law and put the ball clearly in the court of the consumer to follow up, the Liberals have at least acknowledged publicly to consumers this serving size list requirement exists and also have acknowledged that not knowing how much alcohol you are consuming can impact consumers in a negative way, something CAMRA BC has been pointing out to the LCLB & the Liberals for years.

Now it appears that Industry Canada is ready to go to bat for draft beer consumers in our country but here in BC the only fly in the ointment is that if the LCLB does not enforce strictly the need for posted serving sizes, and a licensee has no listed serving size, then consumers cannot complain they are being short-poured as they will not know what a full-pour measure is.  

For the Measurement Canada to able to investigate a serving size issue, they need to know what that serving size is supposed to be. 

Conveniently, the Liberals left out the information that if a licensee cannot produce a serving size-price list for their alcoholic beverages, you can make a formal complaint to the LCLB at lclb.lclb@gov.bc.ca or by calling 1-866 209-2111 and they are compelled to send a liquor inspector to investigate and enforce the law.

Both levels of government have put the burden of responsibility onto consumers who they are advising to file complaints if draft beer servings are short-pour or misrepresented. If you really want to make sure a pint is a pint and stop this practice of misrepresenting serving sizes and short pouring by some licensees, you need to take action and file an official complaint. 

Both the Canadian Government and BC Provincial Government have opened the door, acknowledged there is an issue and given consumers the information they need to kick in that door for good, but it is up to consumers to ensure they get what they pay for.

If you are short-poured or an establishment does not have a serving size list when you ask for one, try to resolve the issue by talking to the management of the establishment in a polite manner. If you still cannot resolve the issue to your satisfaction, put the government bureaucrats to work and file a complaint.

It be fantastic to be able to say you live in a province where a pint is a pint!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Close But No Cigar - Draft Beer Pitchers Minimum Price Lowered But Status Quo for Everything Else

They were so close to doing the right thing but in the end the BC Liberals did little too correct their epic failure regarding new drink price minimums in BC.

In what can only be described as a knee-jerk reaction to negative feedback received concerning the controversial liquor drink price minimums announced June 20th, the BC Liberals send out a notice today that they were , "(c)reating a new category for draught beer and cider servings 50 oz. and over - with a minimum price of $0.20 per oz," to "better meet the expectations of British Columbians". 

Today's announcement stated that draught beer servings over 50 oz (1420ml), otherwise known as pitchers, will have a minimum drink price set at $0.20 per ounce/28ml but all other draught beer serving sizes will remain at new minimum of $0.25 per oz/28ml which is by far the highest in Canada.

For the record, even the new pitcher category, at $0.20 per oz/28ml is still the highest beer minimum in Canada. 



Parliamentary Secretary for Liquor Policy Reform, John Yap, was quoted in the announcement as saying, 
"The B.C. Liquor Policy Review has been centred on listening to the views of British Columbians and industry stakeholders, and best aligning any changes we make with their views. Upon reviewing B.C.’s minimum prices, we realized they weren't on par with consumers’ expectations and we took action to find a fair compromise that still upholds B.C.’s high standards for health and safety.”
I am curious how he came to the conclusion that encouraging consumers to buy the biggest serving size possible "upholds B.C.’s high standards for health and safety"?

Imagine this conversation:

Friend 1: "I see that a pitcher is cheaper by the ounce than a 16-oz sleeve! I was just going to have one sleeve but why don't we order the pitcher so we can take advantage of this great deal?"

Friend 2: "Yeah, I was just going to have one as well, but to Hell with it, lets get the pitcher. One or two extra beers never caused anyone any harm...by the way, are you driving home?"

As craft beer drinkers, this change will impact us in a very limited way. Very few craft-beer-friendly places serve pitchers as most craft beers are stronger in alcohol so licensees do not feel it is appropriate to offer the bigger serving sizes. In fact, fewer and fewer licensees are even offering pitchers any more as, more often than not, draught beer serving sizes are being reduced to the ever-shrinking "sleeve" glass.

This change will give some slight relief to those who enjoy the mainstream lagers that have dominated the Canadian market for decades but, as mentioned, they will still be paying far more for their happy hour pitchers than in other provinces in Canada.

This is a bizarre move by Justice Minister-Attorney General, Suzanne Anton and Yap and I really wonder if they do think they are "listening" to British Columbians and that this change will placate the masses who are seriously pissed off about the June 20th minimum drink price-happy hour announcement. Don't get me wrong, today's announcement is a baby step in the right direction, but at the end of the day, I would have to say that the BC Liberals and those dealing with the liquor policy reforms have shit the bed once again.

They cannot really believe we are that stupid to believe this small, token change fixes the EPIC FAIL that is our new minimum drink price standards.

I will be writing more on this subject over the weekend but just wanted to get a quick post out there to let everyone know what was going on.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Stateside Craft Does the Right Thing by Their Customers

At least one Commercial Drive beer joint recently caught short-pouring customers have made a considerable effort to "serve it right" to give their customers what they are paying for and as a result have received  #FUSS Approved status from the Vancouver branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) of BC.

Stateside Craft, located at 1st Avenue and Commercial Drive, have changed their glassware to a larger size in order to ensure they can fully deliver on their promised serving size of draft beer after it was posted on social media a few weeks ago that they were serving 12-oz pours when they were claiming serving sizes of 14 ounces.

Stateside had been advertising 14 ounces, but in fact, their glasses filled to the brim were capable of holding that volume so with head, as is essential with a good pour, and a little space to make sure the beer did not spill over when transported to the table, the pour came in at 12 ounces. This practice of advertising the glass capacity and not the actual volume of beer poured is a widespread practice in BC that actually puts licensees at odds with the law according to Measurement Canada.

I know 2 ounces does not sound like much, but for a 14-oz beer that is $7, which is not uncommon in craft beer places in Vancouver, being 2 oz short is the equivalent of short-pouring by $1  before tax and tip. Add that up over a year and see how much money for nothing you may be forking out at places skimming off the top of their beer servings.

Almost immediately after the short-pour video hit social media, Stateside representatives stated they would right the wrong and it appears they have followed through.

CAMRA Vancouver president, Adam Chatburn, who was on the original measuring adventure, went back to Stateside July 15th and found that the glassware had indeed changed. The measure posted also had changed from 14 oz to 400,000,000,000 picolitres, a cheeky but valid use of the metric system that is legal and works out to 400 ml or about 14 oz. Chatburn measured his beer and found the serving to be, "spot on." (see post here) He also found, that except for the cider, which is a very high quality and high priced item, the beer prices had not changed. 


Stateside have turned a negative into a positive by doing the right thing
and fixing serving size-pour issues. Lets hope they get consumer support
& other craft beer places follow suit

"It just shows that establishments that are committed to the craft beer community are prepared to do the right thing and give consumers the beer they promised," stated a very pleased Chatburn who posted here to give Stateside praise. "Congratulations to Stateside Craft and thanks for stepping up and doing the right thing for consumers, it’s businesses like this who are leading the way serving craft beer. 

Chatburn hopes this change to honest and accurate pours will garner consumer support and states in his post, 
"if you've not been there  (Stateside) yet I can give them the #FUSS seal of approval so you know that when you put your money down you’ll get every last picolitre of beer (or amazing cider) you paid for."

Stateside Craft was one of several Commercial Drive establishments found to be serving less beer than their serving sizes indicated when Chatburn and a friend headed out armed with a calibrated cup, high definition camera, their smart phones, a thirst for beer and a healthy curiosity on July 5th. The pair posted their findings, including videos (click here & go to bottom of page), immediately on social media which caused a bit of a stir in the Vancouver craft beer community. Out of all the tests posted that day from five different establishments, only one pour hit the mark, that being Tangent Cafe's 12-oz pour. The rest fell short of the promised volume including a "pint" at Vera's Burger Shack which measured only 16 ounces.

In Canada, if a pint is advertised, it must be 20 imperial ounces if ounces are used to indicate volume and that does not include head.

As a consumer, I know I will support the Hell out of Stateside for making this move, as long as they continue to offer up accurate serving sizes & pours and hope other craft beer consumers do as well. I also hope other licensees in the craft community take note of what Stateside have done and get on board with CAMRA BC's #FUSS Campaign and give their customers what they are paying for.

Chatburn is continuing to hit Vancouver area establishments who serve draft beer and carry out is "research". This move is apart of the CAMRA BC Fess Up to Serving Sizes (#FUSS) a consumer advocacy campaign aimed at getting licensees to post their draft beer serving sizes and then deliver the posted volume of beer. The #FUSS Campaign was mounted to try to combat the widespread practice of misrepresenting serving sizes and short pouring here in BC. The Campaign for Real Ale of BC are an independent, consumer advocacy group, with approximately 1,500 paid members, championing the rights of BC's craft beer consumers.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Justice Minister Brushes Off Beer Consumer's Complaints About Being Cheated

British Columbia's Attorney General and Justice Minister, Suzanne Anton, recently told craft beer consumer
advocates, the Campaign for Real Ale  (CAMRA) of BC, that consumers are on their own, as far as she is concerned, if they feel they are being cheated or mislead about the serving size of their draft beer.

In a response to a letter sent by CAMRA BC to Anton (read here), imploring her to endorse CAMRA BC's Fess Up to Serving Sizes (FUSS) Campaign and to consider making a few more much-needed changes to the Liquor Control & Licensing Branch (LCLB) policies to help protect consumers and promote public health and safety, Anton wrote, via e-mail,
 "If a customer is not pleased with the service in an establishment, they have the choice of raising the issue with the licensee or taking their business to other bars or restaurants"
As a BC consumer, it does not make me feel very confident when the province's Justice Minister appears to be condoning or ignoring business practices that see consumers being defrauded and purposely mislead and misinformed about what they are purchasing.

In their letter, CAMRA BC also suggested having a policy requiring certified marked glassware, with "fill to here" (plimsol) lines indicating the volume, and having the alcohol content of beer (ABV) added to the legally-required serving size list. CAMRA BC believes that by making these two changes to BC liquor policy, along with the enforcement of the serving size list requirement, consumers and servers will better know exactly how much alcohol is being served and consumed which will help them better monitor over-serving and over-consumption, important in BC with the popularity of higher alcohol craft beers, strict Serving it Right rules for alcohol and tough drinking and driving laws.

Anton's response, which you can read in full here, was, at best, a brush off and seems to indicate that the Justice Minister and/or her staff:

  • did not read the letter
  • read the letter and did not understand what CAMRA BC was getting at 
  • read the letter and simply did not care that BC draft beer drinkers are being lied to, short-poured and defrauded when it comes to draft beer serving sizes in this province.
  • have no real interest in truly striking a balance between consumer wants/needs and public health and safety
Even though the focus of the letter was on getting enforcement concerning serving-size-price lists, Anton did nothing more than point out what CAMRA BC already knew, that this legal requirement for a list exists, and stated, "beyond that, government's focus is not on the array of serving sizes found within the province."

It seems to me that the Justice Minister is saying, "yes, we have that law, but no, we are not going to enforce it. We trust you, licensees of BC." 

To borrow an analogy from CAMRA Vancouver president, Adam Chatburn, isn't that like posting a speed limit then nailing a sign below the posted speed saying, "but don't worry, we aren't enforcing this. We trust you to comply with the speed limit"? 
Justice Minister Anton says
no to gov't required plimsol
lines for draft beer glasses

In addition, Anton advised CAMRA BC the BC Liberals would not consider requiring the use of certified, marked glassware, stating, 
"Government's resources and focus lay heavily on public safety issues, such as over-crowding, minors accessing alcohol, public disturbance, illegal activities, and so forth.  It would be a burden for provincial liquor inspectors and police to measure glassware in addition to their other duties."
Would liquor inspectors and police not have more time on their hands to deal with public safety issues, like such as over-crowding, minors accessing alcohol, public disturbance, etc, because they would NOT be burdened with measuring volumes in glassware because those that certified the glassware and placed the plimsol (fill-to-here) lines had already done that!

With the minimum price of a glass of beer tied directly to volume, $0.25/oz or 28ml due to new BC minimum drink price legislation, would the government not have a vested interest in knowing if licensees are reporting proper serving sizes so that the government gets an accurate amount of alcohol tax?

I don't understand a government that passes a policy tying drink prices to volumes served when they have no interest in the volume of serving sizes in the first place.

I know many licensees who think marked glassware is a great idea and the perfect way to level the playing field between unscrupulous licensees and those who want to serve it right and be honest.

Although there is a cost attached to replacing glassware, if brought into effect over a period of time so glasses could be replaced through normal wear & tear & attrition, the cost would be less burdensome to licensees. And although there is a shortage of suppliers at the moment providing glassware with plimsol lines, I am sure some clever business  person would quickly fill the void if they new that using such glasses was going to be a legal requirement for all licensed establishments.

For those not familiar with CAMRA BC's FUSS Campaign, the consumer advocates have been pushing the LCLB, which Anton is currently responsible for, to enforce their policy that all liquor licensees, in the Justice Minister's own words, "must have a list available showing drinks, drink sizes and prices," in order to give consumers the information necessary to make informed decisions and to help eliminate the misrepresentation of draft beer serving sizes.

The campaign was started in 2011 by the CAMRA BC Vancouver branch who were being inundated with complaints from consumers (some members, some not) that there was wide-spread misrepresentation of draft beer serving sizes - being told they were ordering a certain volume of beer and being served much less - and that the serving size list requirement was basically being ignored so consumers had no idea what volume of beer they were ordering before it actually arrived at the table.

The government talks about striking a balance between consumers needs and public health and safety yet they continue to ignore and brush aside complaints about dubious practices by some licensees which impact public health and safety negatively and violate consumers' rights. This call to enforce the existing law and make these changes would benefit everyone...except the dishonest licensees whose practices are now forcing industry-wide fraud as everyone must complete in the marketplace and being honest puts a licensee at risk of looking bad and losing customers.

BC beer consumers should be outraged that the BC Liberal Government, via their Justice Minister-Attorney, are completely ignoring this issue. Not all consumers care, but there are a great many who do. Not all licensees are unscrupulous, but those who aren't are feeling pressure to use questionable methods of making their draft beer pricing more attractive to consumers.

For the life of me, I do not understand why the LCLB and the Provincial Government do not take this problem seriously.

Maybe if if 1/2-litre carafes of wine started arriving with 350ml in them or 1.5 oz servings of scotch were arriving in one-ounce measures we might see some action...

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Consumers Rejoice as Getting Good Head in Your Local Pub Should Be Free of Charge!!

Every  craft beer lover worth their weight in hops knows the head on a beer is an important part of the experience and a must for any good draft craft pour.

And even though the more discerning consumers demand their beer arrive with that essential froth and foam on top of the beer, many of them probably do not know that they do not have to pay for the privilege of having well-poured beer.

That's right - by law, the head/foam/froth, whatever you want to call it, that is on top of the liquid inside your beer glass is not considered part of the serving size volume you are paying for despite what many licensees, and consumers for that matter, tell you.

Measurement Canada is a government agency who, in their own words,


"is responsible for ensuring the integrity and accuracy of measurement in the Canadian marketplace. We:
  • develop and administer the laws and requirements governing measurement,
  • evaluate, approve and certify measuring devices, and
  • investigate complaints of suspected inaccurate measurement"
I wrote Measurement Canada after the weekend hubbub (click the link to get CAMRA Vancouver president Adam Chatburn's version of events), what I have dubbed the shit storm in a beer glass, and asked specifically if the head of a beer was considered by law to be apart of the volume of the serving size.

The response from Measurement Canada was very clear; the foam at the top is not included.

I had also written them about clarification on serving sizes, acceptable  margins for error and what to do if you had a complaint.

Here is their response:


"Vendors are required by the Weights and Measures Act to deliver, within the applicable limits of error, the quantity of product they are claiming to sell.  This includes individual servings of beer sold in restaurants, pubs, bars, etc.

In Canada, a pint contains 20 ounces (568ml); therefore, a vendor selling a pint of beer must deliver 20 fluid ounces of beer. The limit of error for 20 fluid ounces is 0.5 fluid ounces.  So, if a vendor is claiming to sell a pint of beer, then 20 fluid ounces of beer should be delivered to the customer with a minimum of 19.5 fluid ounces of beer in the glass.

When a vendor is not advertising a pint and is claiming a lesser amount, e.g. 14 fluid ounces then 14 fluid ounces is the quantity that must be delivered."

That limit of error, if my math is right, is 2.5% of the serving size volume. Again, not much room for misinterpretation, especially when combined with the "no foam"  response. 


I only found out about Measurement Canada recently when a consumer - an admitted non-CAMRA member and one who tends towards non-craft beers but who has been following #FUSS closely - contacted me regarding a complaint about the Terminal Pub in New Westminster where he was convinced the pint advertised on the menu was actually being served in a 16-oz sleeve. He asked me where he could complain and I directed him towards the LCLB and his MLA, who he contacted. Both his MLA and the LCLB directed him to Measurement Canada who took his complaint, investigated and got back to him with the news that the Terminal was switching to the proper glassware to provide a pint as they were advertising.

I haven't heard back yet if the change has happened, but the point of the matter is, Measurement Canada received to complaint and acted.

To further clarify things, according to the Weights and Measures Act, both millilitres and ounces as long as those ounces are Canadian units which are based on the Imperial System, not the US measurements for ounces. 

So no, licensees cannot advertise a "pint" and serve you 16oz stating "that is an American pint". A pint in Canada is 568ml or 20 Canadian ounces end of story.

So there you have it folks - seems pretty clear-cut as far as the law goes. 

Now take that info and do what ever you want to do with it. Licensees do have the choice to ignore the above posted information from Measurement Canada and/or ignore the legal provincial requirement to have a serving-size-price list but if they do, they do run the risk of being complained about and/or exposed by consumers feeling they are not getting all that they paid for. I know this information will not be popular with a lot of licensees but they have had a good run, the field has been tilted in their favour for a long time and there should be no more excuses about "industry standards" or misunderstandings about what is considered a serving size and what needs to be delivered, "within the applicable limits of error"  to the consumer. 

Consumers can also choose to ignore short pours if they are comfortable with paying for beer that is not in their glass. Up to them. No skin off my nose. It is their choice to do what they want with their money.

But those who do care do seem to be within their legal right to politely bring up the issue to the licensee or their representative and if a reasonable solution is not agreed upon, take that complaint to the next level which is Measurement Canada for short pours and the LCLB for no serving size list. 

For those consumers who do choose to stand up for their consumer rights, see the info about where to lodge your complaints below.

For Measurement Canada they wrote me, If you believe you received an inaccurate measurement, you can find information on how to file a complaint with Measurement Canada on our website.  In this case, the section “Other” applies.  Alternatively, you can call Measurement Canada’s Western Region Office at 1-855-666-3834 or email Peter.Wakeland@ic.gc.ca.

For the LCLB for complaints about no serving size list click the link here.

  

Monday, July 7, 2014

Shit Storm in a Beer Glass

This past weekend there was a shit storm that hit the Vancouver craft beer community.

Draft beer consumers, fed up with their belief that they are systematically being mislead about serving sizes, collided with liquor licensees who pour, in a way they feel is acceptable, the craft beers we so love. This collision had social media buzzing as folks weighed in on the differences of opinion which I will get into below.

I learned something during the course of the discussion that, naively, I had never thought of before; consumers and licensees define draft beer serving sizes differently.

Somewhere along the way it has become somewhat of an industry standard in Vancouver for licensees to use the size of a serving vessel as the serving size they post on serving size/price lists and/or convey verbally to consumers while many, if not most, consumers consider that actual amount of beer that arrives in the glass to be the serving size.

And this fundamental difference of opinion is causing some great unrest in some quarters of the tight-knit Vancouver craft beer community.

What is the difference you ask?

Well, consider if a bar uses 14-oz sleeves for their draft beer and post 14-oz as their serving size.

That glass would have to be filled to the brim, without any head, to achieve the advertised volume and would be so full it would be impossible for a server to carry without spilling all over the place.

No craft beer lover wants their beer served without the appropriate amount of head and no craft beer lover wants to see their favourite brew end up on a serving tray or the floor. And no craft beer licensee wants the spillage that accompanies filling a glass to the brim.

Realistically, that 14-oz sleeve, if poured properly, will arrive with about 12 oz of beer in it. In this example, approximately one/seventh, or  a little over 14%, of the advertised serving is not being delivered to the customer, which for a $7 sleeve works out to $1, before tax, being paid by the consumer for nothing more than foam and air.

If you take into consideration the 15% alcohol tax and a modest 15% tip you are looking at $1.30 vanishing into thin air for each beer you order using the above example.

Measurement Canada, who police this type of thing, told me in an e-mail a few weeks ago,
"Vendors are required by the Weights and Measures Act to deliver, within the applicable limits of error, the quantity of product they are claiming to sell.  This includes individual servings of beer sold in restaurants, pubs, bars, etc." 
The "applicable limits of error" mentioned in the e-mail is 2.5%. That is only 0.5 oz of error allowed for a pint and 0.35 of an ounce for a 14 oz pour.

It seems consumers legally, if they care about such things (and not all do), do have a legitimate beef.

In contrast, licensees, especially in Vancouver, are feeling pressure to do all they can to compete and attract customers in a highly competitive market.

I have been told by more than a few licensees that because using the glass size has become the "industry standard" in Vancouver for serving sizes, they are feeling compelled to advertise the glass capacity as the serving size is, even if they know that full measure is not arriving at the customer's table. They are feeling forced, they tell me, to make the decision to serve the way they are in order to compete with the next bar next door who is doing so. Being ethical and saying you serve 12 oz in a 14-oz glass for the same price as the bar next door who say they serve 14 oz in a 14-oz glass means the possibility of lost customers.

I don't think for the majority of licensees are dishonest and maliciously set out to cheat their customers - they are just doing what everyone else is doing in the Vancouver marketplace. I know some bar and restaurant owners very well; some are my dear friends, welcome in my home any time, honest and well-meaning and I support the Hell out of them and their businesses any time I can.

Unfortunately, the widespread practice, that has been adopted by even the most honest of folks out there, is illegal. It is not acceptable that consumers should be expected to donate money, from 15-20% at times, for goods they do not receive, to businesses so those businesses can compete in an industry that has little margin for error.

And it sucks that we have such a screwed up "industry standard" that forces honest, good-intentioned licensees to have to make this kind of ethical decision just to feel they can compete in the marketplace with unscrupulous types who operate with impunity due to government disinterest and consumer apathy.

Last Saturday a few craft beer consumers, including CAMRA Vancouver president, Adam Chatburn, who does care about getting what he pays for, headed out to a few of Commercial Drive restaurants and bars, armed with a calibrated glass and their cell phones, and proceeded to find out the posted or verbally conveyed serving size for beers, ordered those beers, measured the volume of beer they received, videoed the results and tweeted these videos and the numbers.

They found that most establishments- only Tangent Cafe was commended for their perfect 12-oz pour - served glasses of beer that fell short, well outside the legal margin for error, compared to the serving sizes promised. In one establishment they found a 20% difference between volume promised and volume delivered when the pint they ordered came in a sleeve.

The posting of these results initiated the above mentioned shit storm.

Some applauded, others booed. Some heaped praise on those posting, others called them down and got personal. I am not here to talk about the process, the reactions, the exact results or whether what these consumers did was right or wrong. You can go here to read CAMRA Vancouver President, Adam Chatburn's explanation of what went down, why they did it and what they found out from his perspective.

This whole thing has come to a head because of CAMRA BC's Fess Up to Serving Sizes Campaign (FUSS) which is nothing more than trying to get licensed establishments to accurately provide their draft beer serving sizes then deliver on that promise as required by both federal and provincial law.

That is what FUSS is - nothing more, nothing less.

I know because FUSS was an idea I came up with a little over 2.5 years ago.

I didn't just pull FUSS out of my ass; I came up with the idea when I was in the president of CAMRA Vancouver after receiving a bazillion complaints from members and non-members alike who believed they were getting much smaller measures in their glasses than they were being promised when they ordered. I thought it would be great for Vancouver craft beer consumers to get CAMRA friendly bars and restaurants to provide a list of their draft beer servings sizes, as required by law, and then lead the charge by producing said measures in hopes that craft beer consumers would be satisfied and these establishments would see increased business due to their transparency regarding what they were serving.

Easy, right? A win-win situation.

Well, not so much as this has turned into a mess with legal and consumer expectations conflicting with the need for licensees to compete in a very cut-throat and often dishonest market. There was, in fact, considerable push back from some on the industry side of the craft beer community, although I will say, most of the feedback was positive and in support of the campaign.

So how do we clean up this mess?

The best way would be for all bars to have marked glassware - glasses with plimsol (fill-to-here) lines so that both those serving and those being served could see that the promised volume was in the glass. CAMRA BC proposed this to John Yap during the liquor policy review and suggested it be phased in over two years so glassware could be replaced slowly when needed via attrition. BC used to have these types of glasses - I can remember them in my early days of going to the pub - but they have long since disappeared.

The government are not interested in legislating the requirement for marked glassware and I have been told by licensees that there is a problem with finding marked glassware and that these glasses are expensive.

The simple solution, which isn't perfect, but which could work, is for licensees to buy glassware that is larger than their planned serving size - i.e., a 16-oz sleeve for a 14-oz serving - leaving room for foam and eliminating the need to fill the glass to the brim.

It would mean eye-balling the amount going into the glass but it shouldn't take long for the bartenders of the city to figure out where on the glass they have to be to hit the mark.

Bars and restaurants who did this could then be uber-supported by CAMRA BC, CAMRA Vancouver, who could run campaigns lauding these places for their transparency and ethical choice to serve it right and be 100% honest about what they are serving. CAMRA could also continue to push the provincial government and Measurement Canada to nail places that do not comply with the law. The craft beer consumers and us who write about such things could support these places by tweeting, posting, writing and talking about them and more importantly, frequenting them over those establishments who choose the status quo.

I have heard that one of the bars called out on Saturday has, as a result of the incident, decided to go this route and order 16-oz glassware to properly fit the 14-oz pours they advertise. Good for them. I hope they follow through, I hope they get the recognition they deserve for turning a negative into a positive and I hope consumers and CAMRA BC support the Hell out of them to both reward them and encourage others to follow suit. I know when I find out they have followed through I will be giving them my support.

Something has to give as this issue is not going to go away and CAMRA BC and CAMRA Vancouver are not going to go away. It is a mess, caused by consumers not standing up for their rights for decades and government not giving shit, and it needs to be fixed.

Let's work together as a craft beer community, consumers and businesses together, to find a workable solution instead of pointing fingers at each other. It really sucks that friends are finding themselves on the opposite side of the fence on this issue when all can be on the side of fixing the problem.

I know some of you out there are going to bash me for this post...give er. This is how I see it and I think it is important. I don't like being expected to accept a situation that is fundamentally wrong and I won't.

If you don't care about this, good for you. Carry on paying for foam and air. But remember, that payment for nothing could be going towards your next, already-expensive sleeve.

This, at its core, it what CAMRA BC is all about. CAMRA BC is a consumer advocacy group, not a beer club or a kiss-industry's-ass club.

If you are a member and feel FUSS is misguided and wrong, get involved, get elected and change the course of your society.