British Columbia

Vancouver Craft Beer Week leaves some suds lovers hopping mad

The festival of small brewers made a not-so-triumphant return after three years away due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beer festival plagued by pay system problems, staff shortages, long lineups

The 11th edition of Vancouver Craft Beer Week was plagued with long lineups, a malfunctioning payment system, and staff shortages. (CBC)

The ads promised a day of great beer, delicious food and good vibes, but some people attending this year's Vancouver Craft Beer Week on the PNE grounds found the event chaotic, poorly organized and a cash-grab.

Desaree da Cruz said the cascading frustrations for her and two friends started with a long wait Saturday to get through the one and only entrance gate. 

Once inside, da Cruz said the event was extremely short-staffed, overcrowded and unsafe, with people jammed together in more lineups waiting to purchase beer samples and food. Additionally, the organizers' mandatory wristband payment system was malfunctioning. 

"They made us get those stupid wristbands and you had to put a minimum $50 on them," said da Cruz.

"They did say if you don't spend the whole amount we will charge you $2 to give you your money back, but if you go over your $50 it'll start coming off your credit card automatically, but there's no way to check your balance or what you're spending."

Some people reported loading their wristband with the compulsory $50 only to have their credit card also charged each time they tapped for a purchase.

The president of Feaster, the event company that bought the Vancouver Craft Beer Week brand in 2020, said those who were doubly charged are being refunded.

Adam Bloch told CBC the company apologizes for the problems but insists all safety protocols were followed. He said at no time were customers unsafe and the 7,500-person capacity limit was never exceeded.

"Safety comes first, then everything else. And unfortunately, we missed the mark in terms of A-plus quality on everything else," he said. 

Bloch said staff shortages on Saturday were the result of half the paid workforce not showing up.

"We've never seen a rate of no-shows like this. As soon as there was that landmine of not having enough staff, everything imploded that needed staff," he said. 

da Cruz said the only drinking water available on the hot day was unchilled bottled water sold for $3 each. 

"They made it very clear you cannot bring water, you can't even bring an empty water bottle with you. So, OK, it's an outdoor event in the sun with alcohol and we're not allowed to bring water? I don't even know if that's legal, but still, it's super sketchy and very dangerous," she said.

According to Bloch, free water was available and each vendor had two water jugs reserved for customers.

Burnaby's Dageraad Brewing has paid to be a vendor at the event for close to a decade, but brewer Ben Coli said this year will likely be the last.

"People paid $50 to get into the festival but that [ticket] didn't include any beer," he said. "Beer festivals can be really fun ... but when people are crammed in and waiting in line and being soaked for money at every opportunity, there's not a lot of joy in that." 

Coli said organizers made vendors pay for parking and charged $10 per bag of ice, tipping the scale from what used to be a good promotional opportunity to one that doesn't make sense for his business.

Bloch said the wristband payment technology and staffing issues were fixed before Sunday's event. He said his company is "reviewing" requests for refunds. 

This was the 11th edition of Vancouver Craft Beer Week. It was last held in 2019 before being suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karin Larsen

@CBCLarsen

Karin Larsen is a former Olympian and award winning sports broadcaster who covers news and sports for CBC Vancouver.

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