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This is the beating heart of craft beer culture

Stephen Quinn is gazing longingly at a large crowd of craft beer enthusiasts. A quick survey of the room shows clusters of people, nearly equal distribution men and women, engaged in lively discussion.
BC Beer Awards Stephen Quinn
BC Beer Award volunteers show some love to Stephen Quinn, CBC Radio host and BCBA host.

Stephen Quinn is gazing longingly at a large crowd of craft beer enthusiasts. A quick survey of the room shows clusters of people, nearly equal distribution men and women,  engaged in lively discussion. There's plenty of laughter, hugging and hanging off each other’s shoulders. Not a negative vibe in the room.

It’s sort of what many’d expect at last Saturday’s 2014 BC Beer Awards, but there are far more people over 45 than purveyors of the craft-swilling-hipster cliché tend to realize.

And Mr. Quinn, CBC Radio host of On the Coast and the evening’s MC, goes on admiring this crowd, as if pining to embrace them all. He says, “I want this audience.” He nods and says it again.

He actually has a lot more to say, but in a story lifted straight out of the Journalist’s Book of Horror Stories, I’ll later realize I’ve either deleted the interview from my voice recorder or have failed to record it in the first place. It's the BCBAs after all, with all that entails.

It’s too bad because Quinn has meaningful things to say about Vancouver's rapidly evolving craft beer scene. The crux of it, if I remember correctly, is that the kinds of people who love craft beer – the ones here tonight – are creative, educated, sophisticated in a blazer-wearing-East-Van-resident sort of way. Perhaps most importantly, they’re fun loving and unpretentious in a way that other subcultures tend not to be – wine enthusiasts in particular.

“Wine is about exclusivity,” Quinn says, in what turns out to be the only legible quote I’ve managed to glean from my notes on the event. “Beer’s about inclusivity."

Which cuts to the beating heart of BC’s craft beer culture. The entire industry – at least in and around Vancouver – functions hardly like a “typical” industry at all. It’s more a community. Yes, business is involved, and in some cases millions of dollars have been invested to create new facilities, but together these breweries act less like direct competitors than like a brotherhood. Common are stories where established breweries share hops with startups that are unable to procure certain varietals. Stories like that. At the BCBAs, competing brewers and brewery owners mingle like old friends out on the town – which, in a scene this small, is very often the case.

The great majority of people I’ve met in this industry so far have been among the friendliest, most honest and open-minded I’ve come across. They’re clique-y, but it’s an accessible clique for anyone who has something positive offer the culture in some way. Unlike a music community or filmmaking scene, is there’s no barrier to entry. There’s no genre to “get.” You merely have to like beer, and there’s plenty of variety to suit your tastes.

The BCBA’s were as good an indicator as any that Vancouver’s dealing with the first authentic cultural movement in at least 20 years. Despite the general perception, Vancouverites are open and friendly – this batch of Vancouverites especially. We do want to make friends with strangers, and converse, connect and shape the world together in some way. We’re aching for it – dying, even – and this craft beer revolution has provided some of us the opportunity to coalesce through a shared love of beer, as effective a social lubricant as has ever existed.

But, as Quinn’s previous statements indicate, it’s not just about the beer. Craft beer culture inspires passionate discussion. It breeds creativity and friendly competition. Many of its brewers strive to elevate their chosen craft, and it inspires people who inhabit the fringes of the scene – myself included – to do the same in their own work.

It’s a weird thing to say about a drink that’ll make you feel like dog shit in the morning, but craft beer and the culture around it, as it exists right now, is geared toward making Vancouver a more connected and creative city. It’s this very notion that’s compelling Stephen Quinn to gaze out at this group as though he wants to hug every damn one of them.

Check out the full list of BCBA winners. You can follow this writer on Twitter @stephensmys. Go say hello.