Why craft beer tasting rooms matter

Why craft beer tasting rooms matter

by Rob Mangelsdorf

If the past two years of pandemic-imposed semi-isolation have proved anything, it’s how important it is for our mental health to be social and connect with one another. There’s science to back this up: research shows that social interaction can have a broad positive effect not only on our emotional health but our physical health as well. Human beings are social creatures, after all.

Social interaction can take many forms in many different settings, and, as I’m sure many of us have come to realize, the craft brewery tasting room could not be a more perfect place to bring people together. 

Craft breweries are inclusive spaces by design. Unlike more traditional drinking establishments, the purpose of a tasting room isn’t to get its clientele as drunk as humanly possible. As its name suggests, a tasting room is focused on mindful, conscious consumption. Breweries put a lot of time and effort into their beer, and they naturally want their work to be appreciated. You buy beer in tiny tasting flights instead of pitchers, and the beer itself becomes a conversation piece. It’s not a means to an end.

It’s not just the beer, though. So many aspects of the tasting room encourage social connection. Bar service encourages people to get up and move around the room. Communal seating encourages you to talk to your neighbour and make new friends. The lack of televisions encourages conversation. The inclusivity encourages diversity, making craft brewery tasting rooms a place for all to enjoy.

Naturally, the vibe in a craft brewery tasting room reflects that. Compared to bars and pubs, tasting rooms are laid back, casual, and approachable.

“Tasting rooms tend to be dynamic spaces,” explains Whistle Buoy Brewing co-founder Isaiah Archer. “They can be a buzzing hub of activity with families, dogs on the patio, and people from all walks passing through on a Saturday afternoon, then turning into a busy bar at night, and back to the chill café vibe the following day.”

All across the province, craft brewery tasting rooms have become vital public spaces, hosting not only good beer and good cheer, but also art, music, food and ideas. They are critical cultural institutions as well as community hubs.

Vancouver’s Strange Fellows Brewing is home to some of the most delicious beers in Yeast Van (if not all of B.C.). It’s also home to the Charles Clark Gallery, featuring rotating monthly exhibitions from local visual artists, inspired by the concept of “making art accessible in unexpected places.”

Langley’s Farm Country Brewing regularly hosts stand-up comedy nights. Sooke Brewing is home to a weekly open mic music night every Thursday. In keeping with its literary theme, the soon-to-be-opened Small Gods Brewing in Sidney plans to host public readings and book clubs.

Whistle Buoy’s tasting room in Market Square, Downtown Victoria.

Covid has drastically altered the craft beer landscape and has led to many unwelcome changes, especially in the tasting room. Bar service has been replaced by table service. There’s plexiglass separating parties at the once communal long tables. There’re no kids running around and the room is half empty. Like many public spaces, tasting rooms often feel lonely and sterile now. 

But that will change. Craft brewery tasting rooms are important cultural institutions, and without our support, they’ll end up as another casualty of this goddamned never-ending pandemic. So, as we begin to tentatively tip-toe into the post-Covid era, let’s not forget the place the tasting room holds in our communities, and in our hearts.