Over the years we have spent a lot of time talking about big picture advocacy campaigns. Whether it is F.U.S.S., public drinking, line cleaning, we are always after a big campaign that can have drastic impacts, drive media attention and promote CAMRA’s mission to make beer accessible and affordable. But what about the everyday people – the members who are out and about in the city? What about you regular beer drinkers that want to make a difference but don’t know how? Enjoy this quick guide to everyday beer advocacy!
When it comes to advocating for consumer rights in the beer scene, there are many different approaches we can take as individuals. Some people may be more passionate about the glassware they receive for their beer. Others may be more concerned with serving sizes and ABV being properly marked. Others may be concerned about the level of knowledge that the serving staff has when it comes to the beer they are serving. Whatever it is, every issue has its intricacies and we all have our ways to go about addressing them. For this piece, I have decided to outline a few of the more common consumer complaints we hear as an executive board and give you a quick nitty-gritty guide on how to try and address them should you be facing them.
- Serving SizesAh, yes, our old friend the proper pour! Everyone likes beer – and everyone wants to be getting the right amount of beer for what they are paying. I think that is fair; as consumers they are entitled to it. So what happens when you get short-poured at a bar? Do you just dismiss it as something ”that happens” and move on, or do you say something? My view? Say something! At times, we Canadians are too apologetic and don’t want to cause a fuss. Well the reality is, industries have a responsibility to consumers. It is up to us as consumers to keep them accountable. When placed in this situation, there is something to consider: Do they have pouring sizes listed on their menu or somewhere in the establishment? If they don’t, well, there isn’t much you can say about what you are receiving. Unless they are exclusively stating that you are receiving a specific liquid amount, you cannot return the beer to them and tell them to pour it properly. Buyer, beware!
Of course, if they don’t have their serving sizes listed, that is a different problem as they are required to do so. Failure to advertise pouring sizes breaks liquor laws. As a consumer in that situation, forget about your few missing milliliters of beer and focus on the larger issue and bring it to their attention. When bringing this kind of stuff to the establishment, it is never advisable to start with a great big bellowing “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?” or anything like that. Instead, kindly ask the server if the serving sizes are advertised anywhere (often when I think they aren’t, I am simply not looking in the right place.) If the sizes are nowhere to be found, politely ask if you can speak with the manager. I usually add “this has nothing to do with you” directed at the server so they don’t feel targeted or uncomfortable. Once the manager arrives kindly explain the situation. A simple statement like “I was ordering a beer and noticed that your beer serving sizes are not advertised. As a consumer, I would like to know what exactly I am ordering.” Use that positive approach as a stepping stone into the conversation. As it progresses, let them know that it is your understanding that supplying those sizes is a legal requirement. When the conversation ends, be it positive or not, feel free to reach out to CAMRA (even contacting me directly) and let us know that you had that conversation. If at all possible, try to get a manager’s card or contact information so we have a contact point to start with. After you have had the initial conversation we will work with the establishment to try and make things a bit more consumer friendly.
When all is said and done, if you have had these conversations with management and are still not seeing the changes required by law, you can report the establishment to Measurement Canada here. Properly adhereing to measurement guidelines is a federal law that applies to everything from gasoline to beer. Use this page to file a complaint with the government if you feel it is appropriate.
- Proper glasswareThis is an interesting one – one that I am not totally sure where I stand on. First, let me be clear that CAMRA believes that proper glassware should be served with every single beer. In a dream world every bar or pub would have goblets, tulips, mugs and would serve every beer in the proper glass. But, the world is less than ideal, in case you haven’t noticed. I have spoken to a few industry owners and they feel as though the expectation of having varying glassware for the countless beer styles we see in our area is unfair from a financial standpoint. They simply do not have the capital to invest in the glassware needed to support that. Fair enough – money doesn’t grow on trees. Of course, without getting into a business’ books, I am not totally sure how to weed out those who truly cannot afford it, and those that are just using that as an excuse. This is another situation where an honest conversation with a manager would be helpful. Starting with something like “You have so many different styles of beer here, have you considered diversifying your glassware selection to enhance the experience of those styles?” This, again, opens the conversation up very positively and leaves room for discussion. I find a lot of the managers I speak to on this topic, simply don’t know the intricacies of glassware and why it is important for beer drinkers to properly capture the aromatics of a beer. Once again, connecting the manager with CAMRA is a great way to go as we offer corporate education programs where their staff could learn more about styles, beer tasting and the many components associated with it.
- Clean lines and off-flavoursThis is a fun one – one that I struggle with. I am first to admit that I do not have the best beer palate. I came into this organization and this role because I am a fan of community and believed in what the organization stood for in regards to consumer activism. I am not a BJCP-accredited judge. I can’t pull off-flavours out of a simple taste like some people can. I know that oxidized beer creates a cardboard-like flavour, but when I taste the beer my brain may not make the association. While I know some of you are seasoned tasters with adept palates, I know most of us aren’t professional beer drinkers, and simply like drinking it as a hobby. As such, our confidence when it comes to spotting off-flavours can be lacking. When we lack confidence, we may be less inclined to send a beer back and say that it is spoiled, or oxidized or infected. The reality is, those things do happen to beers and we need to say something about it. The same goes for flavor profiles that don’t belong in the beer you are drinking. If you are drinking a honey lager and you are getting huge dark chocolate notes, there’s a good chance that the line the beer poured through isn’t being properly maintained. That happens too! When it does happen, you need to say something! Some establishments in Vancouver are good about cleaning their lines and post them publicly (looking at you, 12 Kings and R&B Brewing, good job!) but the reality is, most of them don’t. We need to have the confidence to (respectfully) ask when a line has been cleaned last if you suspect that a line has not been properly maintained. If no one can give you a straight answer, there is a very good chance that it isn’t being done and that is when you (politely) ask to speak with management and bring it up.
I hope that you readers can take a thing or two away from this short piece. The point I want to get at is that everyday consumer activism is in your hands. It doesn’t have to be big boycotts, letter writing or picketing. It can be as simple as a friendly conversation with an owner or manager to talk about what is on your mind and what they can do to make your experience more enjoyable. If it’s appropriate, please do not hesitate to reach out to CAMRA to let us know of your experience and if there is something more we can do to assist in the situation.
As always, feel free to comment or contact me if you have any thoughts on this topic. Good luck out in the world, and always remember that a little everyday activism never hurt anyone.
CAMRA BC – Vancouver Branch