Area beers and ciders should been on tap in more local places

Drink local to support local

One of the most devastating things about COVID has been the way it separates people – social distancing, restricted social activities and even quarantining. But one of the more positive trends to come from the COVID years has been the focus on supporting local businesses as a way to maintain our sense of community when we’re unable to safely spend time together.

A lot of this community support has, rightly, focused on restaurants – new legislation was introduced in B.C. to curb the control of profit-sucking food delivery apps and people were encouraged to eat more take-out when they couldn’t sit-in to save our restaurants. Even with these additional community supports, forced restaurant closures over the last two years have contributed to a few casualties.

Now that restaurants are regularly opening for dine-in service however, it would be nice to see them embrace the same dedication to supporting local businesses.

Over the last few years breweries and cideries have exploded across the city and Kelowna has gone from around half a dozen breweries to 16 as well as six cideries as of today, and dozens more in surrounding communities like West Kelowna, Penticton, etc. Three new breweries opened their doors in Kelowna in August alone, likely after years of preparation, licensing applications and renovations.

Tap room sales are an important but small proportion of what breweries and cideries need to survive, and in order to sell their drinks on draft or in cans these producers rely on local restaurants and liquor stores to stock their products. Knowing this, it’s disappointing when we do find ourselves in one of Kelowna’s restaurants and see that nearly all of the options on the craft beer and cider menu are shipped in from the comparably bigger breweries in Vancouver and Victoria.

In addition to fighting for menu-space, Okanagan-based brewers are finding themselves crowded out of the limited fridge space at liquor stores in Kelowna, Vernon, Penticton, and other Okanagan towns. As nice as it is to see the availability of B.C. craft drinks, it would be great to see some more support for the 40-odd breweries and cideries here in the wider Okanagan, many of which have been open for less than two years.

The online menus of busy downtown Kelowna restaurants show the extent of the issue - the vast majority of the drinks on offer come from big names based in the lower mainland or Victoria, many with substantial investors or decades of growth behind them.

Of the restaurants reviewed, most were offering a selection of around 10 craft beers – in most cases 80 to 90% of the options are from Lower Mainland or Victoria breweries. Two Kelowna restaurants reviewed were not offering any local options at all, and even Craft Beer Market on Bernard Avenue, with its 73 beers on tap, carries only two beers from Kelowna and one from Penticton, representing just two of the roughly 40 Okanagan breweries on its vast menu.

Despite the community push to support our restaurants and shop locally, we’ve overlooked the opportunity to support the small businesses producing unique local drinks from Okanagan-grown apple cider, locally-crafted beers and even unique options like an alcoholic kombucha from Sajiva, all of which are owned and created by our neighbours here in the Okanagan.

During last year’s Penticton Beer Week, the city’s seven biggest breweries raised and donated funds specifically for struggling members of the hospitality industry. It would be nice to see that kind of support reciprocated to our drinks producers now that we’ve seen at least three Okanagan-based breweries already close their doors permanently since the beginning of the COVID outbreak.

With that said, a big shout out goes to (local establishments) Skinny Dukes and Krafty Kitchen, whose beer menus were both offering almost entirely local options brewed here in Kelowna, and we’d like to extend a challenge to other local restaurants to start offering products from at least two Okanagan breweries before year-end.

The additional local support for our Okanagan-based breweries would help to make sure that we will still have the opportunity to drink local.

Craig Snider, owner and operator, Okanagan Canning

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