How craft beer and the brewery tasting room revolutionized drinking culture in B.C.

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of The Growler, out now! You can find B.C.’s favourite craft beer guide at your local brewery, select private liquor stores, and on newsstands across the province.

Something truly remarkable has happened in the past 10 years in British Columbia. Maybe you’ve noticed it. Next time you’re at your local liquor-serving establishment, have a look around and you’ll notice that not everyone is completely wasted.

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It didn’t used to be this way.

For a long time in this province, a bar or a pub served one purpose: to get you drunk. You didn’t go there because you enjoyed the taste of beer and wanted to appreciate it in a social setting. You went there to get fucked up. And maybe eat some chicken wings. But that’s not the case anymore

The way people drink has changed, dramatically. People are drinking more, but they appear to be drinking more responsibly, as well. And there’s data that may back that up.

In 2012, the province passed legislation to make craft brewery tasting rooms legal (and profitable). According to Statistics Canada data, total liquor sales have increased province-wide by 21 per cent during that span, from $2.9 billion in the 2011/12 fiscal year to $3.5 billion by 2017/18. And yet the total number of alcohol-related driving prohibitions issued in B.C. fell 21 per cent over the same span. Meanwhile, alcohol-related hospitalizations have fallen from 400 per 100,000 in 2013 to 361 per 100,000 in 2018.

Our entire province’s attitude towards alcohol and how it’s consumed has shifted, and I believe craft beer and the brewery tasting room are a big part of the reason why.

I’m not the only one, either.

“It’s driving a responsible drinking culture,” Attorney General David Eby told me in 2017.

Better by design

The tasting room is a unique environment, at least here in B.C. Unlike most pubs and restaurants, tasting rooms tend to offer only bar service, which is significant. Bar service creates a more social atmosphere by forcing you to move about the room and interact with your fellow human beings. If you see someone you know, it’s easy to change seats, because you don’t have a tab going with the server. You wait in line for a beer, and you strike up a conversation with the person behind you. The simple act of going to the bar to grab another drink helps create a friendlier atmosphere.

By contrast, traditional table service forces you stay put in your seat. There’s no reason to get up because everything is being brought to you — but that also means you tend to become stranded at your table.

Other elements of the modern tasting room also add to the congenial vibe. The prevalence of long communal tables and the lack of televisions both encourage conversation with your neighbour.

B.C.’s pubs have long been maligned by those from out-of-province and out-of-country as being unfriendly. And arguably they are, because Prohibition-era regulations, like forbidding patrons to move around the room with a drink in their hand, forced pubs to be antisocial.

But that’s changing. Bars like Magnet in Vancouver and the Drake Eatery in Victoria have adopted elements of the craft brewery tasting room to create spaces that are friendly, unintimidating and — most of all — fun!

The kids are alright

The fact that tasting rooms allow children has also had massive impact on drinking culture. Children have a remarkably pacifying effect on a crowd. People become more respectful when there are kids around, they’re less prone to violence and antisocial behaviour. Also, kids are hilarious, especially when they aren’t yours.

Tasting rooms were the first liquor primary establishments in B.C. to allow children and it worked so well that in 2014 the province decided to allow kids into pubs, too.

By modeling responsible, moderate drinking, tasting room culture will have a positive impact on the next generation and how their attitudes towards alcohol. I hope.

Can’t forget about the beer…

The quality of craft beer, of course, is also a significant factor in how we now drink differently. Beer is no longer a means to an end (that end being complete annihilation). Beer has flavour now! And people drink it not to get drunk, but to enjoy it, to savour it, to experience it.

The smaller serving sizes offered in tasting rooms encourage moderation (you definitely can’t buy a pitcher at a brewery). It’s about quality, not quantity. That’s why it’s a tasting room and not a drinking room, after all.

More than any other factor, the craft brewery tasting room has helped create a culture of responsible drinking. For many people, drinking beer is now a mindful act, instead of a mindless one.


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