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Reforms demanded as U-brew industry goes flat

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

​Burnaby Brewing Company owner Jim Lanzo cans a batch of beer at his business on Monday. (JASON LANG/24 HOURS)

​Burnaby Brewing Company owner Jim Lanzo cans a batch of beer at his business on Monday. (JASON LANG/24 HOURS)

"If an operator wishes to manufacture and sell liquor then the person should apply for a winery or brewery licence instead." — Statement from the B.C. government

An owner of a Burnaby U-brew establishment wants Victoria to change laws prohibiting his type of business from selling alcohol. Brewer Jim Lanzo said its the only way to keep such operations financially sustainable as the industry shrinks.

The Burnaby Brewing Company proprietor has been in business since 1992, eight years before the government started imposing an annual $750 licensing fee on brewers that included restricting alcohol sales.

Lanzo was also cognizant B.C. is in the midst of liquor reforms to modernize its approach to alcohol laws. He said much of his competition has fallen off.

“Most of them just couldn’t make it work,” he said. “The oldest one in business, he closed about four or five years ago in Richmond.”

According to briefing notes to Justice Minister Suzanne Anton and liquor reform Parliamentary Secretary John Yap, U-brew and U-vin licences — the latter describing do-it-yourself wineries — have fallen to 264 stores last year from 349 a decade ago.

Lanzo said his customers pay about $120 for a single batch of 144 beer. He also does the same for wine at 30 bottles a batch.

But the problem is most customers don’t want that much alcohol, even though it’s not financially sustainable for Lanzo to sell less at a time due to equipment and ingredient costs.

“The way it is now, you have to take the whole thing,” he said. “If I could sell half to you and keep the rest that’s fine. But the way the law is written — you have to make it — and the fact you make it means I can’t sell it to someone else.”

He added businesses are also prohibited from finding other customers to share batches — something that if done, could fix the problem of too much beer.

In a statement, the Justice Ministry said Lanzo’s proposal would “fundamentally change” U-brew and U-vin licences, which exist to help patrons make their own.

It added five of MLA Yap’s 73 liquor reform recommendations are directed to helping U-brews and U-vins, including one suggesting allowing U-brew operators to set up other liquor establishments.

One recommendation proposes allowing homemade beer or wine to be served with a “special occasion licence” at events such as weddings. Another would allow U-brew or U-vin sampling competitions, the ministry said.

In Canada, only five provinces, including B.C., permit U-brews.

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