Battle brewing over how government treats breweries and wineries

Battle brewing over how government treats breweries and wineries

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) – A battle appears to be brewing in the local beer industry, and it has to do with what activities are allowed on agricultural land in this province.

One industry blogger says a wider issue is also at play — how the BC government treats breweries compared to wineries.

At the centre of the story is Persephone Brewing in Gibsons, an 11-acre farm-based brewery that grows its own hops and sources most of its other ingredients from BC growers. It has received a government order to cease its brewing operations within two years because it does not produce 50 per cent of its ingredients on its property, which is located within the Agricultural Land Reserve, a requirement set by the Agricultural Land Commission.

The problem, according to Chuck Hallett — otherwise known as Barley Mowat — is that wineries are exempt from that rule.

So, are Persephone and its supporters suffering from a case of sour grapes? Not so, according to Hallett, who adds breweries only want a level playing field with the wine industry. “Beer is somehow less than wine, or at least that’s the case over and over and over again when reading through legislation,” he argues. “Effectively, if Persephone was a winery, they would have no problems continuing their operations on their little chunk of ALR land.”

Hallett says wineries within the Agricultural Land Reserve don’t need to grow 50 per cent of their grapes on the land and are permitted to source from other BC growers. “A brewery does not have the option to bring in grain from other farms in BC, according to the legislation,” he tells NEWS 1130. “That is exactly what Persephone is doing, they are sourcing their grain from within BC, but because it is grain and because it is beer, they can’t do this on ALR land.”

Hallett says preferential treatment for BC’s wine industry extends to other areas as well. “If you want to bring a bottle to a restaurant, there had better be wine in it because it can’t be beer. You want to sell your product in a grocery store, you can only sell wine, not beer,” he points out. “It’s very interesting. Every time I dive into the legislation to look into something like this, there is always a special segment for wine and wineries and every other local BC business in the alcohol industry is treated differently and always at a disadvantage compared to wine.”

He understands how the current climate was created. “Fifteen or 20 years ago, the brewing industry was dominated by macrobreweries and this was seen as a manufacturing concern that didn’t help British Columbians very much, whereas wine was seen as a burgeoning industry that could use the government’s help to promote them and bring in tourists.”

But he and other craft brewery supporters now want to see the industry on equal footing with BC’s wineries. “Adding these operations to the section of the regulation written for the wineries would be a trivial edit. It’s good for local BC businesses like Persephone, and the ‘grown in BC’ component is good for farms in areas more suitable for barley, while letting Persephone’s farm focus on a crop for which it is highly suitable: hops.”

Hallett is encouraging craft beer supporters to sign an open letter to the provincial government in support of Persephone, which has to move its operations to land outside the ALR by December of 2018.

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