“Can I try some?”
It’s just four little words, but Burnaby Brewing Company owner Jesse Shepherd is sick of hearing them.
Burnaby Brewing is a family-owned u-brew and u-vin operation located on Underhill Avenue. Shepherd and his family bought the brewery last year.
Burnaby Brewing advises and provides its clients with the ingredients and equipment to make their own beer, wine or cider. Like all u-brew and u-vin establishments, Burnaby Brewing sells beer and wine by the batch that start at $140 and equal to six 24-packs of beer or 30 bottles of wine.
But people don’t often want to spend $150 on 144 cans of beer they’ve never tried. And they can’t try it. That’s against the law, and it’s Shepherd’s biggest gripe.
According to B.C. liquor laws, the business is not a licenced liquor manufacturer and, therefore, cannot offer or sell any samples of finished products to the public.
“How am I supposed to sell six flats of beer to somebody without them trying it? I understand we’re not a pub, we’re not a tasting room, but that much beer? Come on,” he said.
Shepherd wants the province to review the regulations that control the u-brew and u-vin industry. He’s not asking for much, he said, just a few minor amendments to help businesses continue to operate.
“When you hear u-brew, you think ‘Oh it’s my uncle making beer in his basement.’ It’s shitty. We have the same equipment as big breweries, just, instead of 50,000 gallon kettles, we’ve got a 10,000 gallon kettle. We have the same materials, the same products and we pump out the same quality of beer and sometimes actually a lot better,” he said.
Burnaby Brewing specializes in on-site production of all-grain beers, and Shepherd prides himself on sourcing out the best locally grown ingredients for the more than 100 varieties available at the brewery.
“Once you drink the beer from here for, like, a month or two, and you actually go to the store and buy a beer, you can really taste the difference. And it’s not just me saying it as the owner. I noticed it years ago; that’s why I started coming here,” he said.
Burnaby Brewing also offers wine, ciders and, in the summer, wine coolers.
And everything is customizable. That means, if you like a certain kind of beer but you’d like it to have a more citrus flavour or to be less sweet, Shepherd and his team can help make that happen, he said.
“We will let you bring in anything except for yeast,” he added.
“In the fall, we had tons of people come in with fresh bags of hops they grew in their backyard.”
The clients can be as involved in the production process as they want. The minimum requirement is that they have to pour in the yeast and bottle it themselves.
But none of this matters if the business dies.
In an effort to save Burnaby Brewing, Shepherd contacted Burnaby North-Seymour MP Terry Beech who helped him connect with B.C. Attorney General David Eby’s office to ask if the province would consider a review of u-brew and u-vin regulations.
It won’t, according to Shepherd.
“My big ask is I want to put three or four of our kegs on tap and do one to three ounce samples, just so people can get an idea that we have good quality beer,” he said.
Shepherd thinks that would stop the hemorrhaging his business and other u-brews and u-vins are suffering. There are only a handful of businesses left, and Shepherd is worried his won’t survive the year if something doesn’t change.
“I’m down here every day, all day. I’ve gotten to meet our customers. We have a lot of customers that actually come in and they don’t have much of a social life, so when they come here to talk to me or Jordan for an hour, hour and a half, it’s kind of like the highlight of their week,” he said.
Shepherd hopes business will turn around, but he’s a realistic guy. He’s back working as a structural iron worker and welder during the week to help make ends meet and to avoid any layoffs. The thought that, after 25 years, Burnaby Brewing Company might have to close is a hard pill to swallow for the man who just bought it.
“I knew it was going to be hard,” he said.
“We’ve serviced Burnaby for so many years and the new people moving in, they don’t know about us.”
The NOW contacted Attorney General David Eby's office for further comment but have not heard back yet.