Happy Pride Month!

As June begins and British Columbia celebrates its sizeable 2SLGBTQIA+ community, it is important to keep in mind that inclusion needs to be a year-long commitment. It’s easy to be performative by putting up Pride flags or slapping a rainbow on a beer label. 

“You definitely have somebody who is queer on staff. And if you don’t – hire somebody because that’s ridiculous!” – The Established, Shanda Leer  

To be a true ally, breweries need to hire diverse folks for production positions, visible front of house roles, and in management. And they need to welcome queer patrons into a safe and supportive space.  Breweries use open mic nights, acoustic sets, comedy and trivia nights to bring in new customers. Several BC breweries are adding drag shows into the mix. 

“Breweries are a space to bring people together and drag shows are a prime example of this.” – Claire Demers, Farm Country Brewing

I jumped at the opportunity to attend a recent drag show in (y)East Vancouver just steps from my home. I love living right in the middle of all the breweries — I am never at a loss for somewhere to go and something to drink. But a drag show at Sunday brunchtime? Beer, pizza, mimosas AND entertainment? That was even more temptation than usual! And ‘A Tall Glass of Drag’ at Luppolo Brewing did not disappoint. Jump splits, somersaulting, strutting and prancing, dancing on the bar, and even a burlesque number — it was a feast for the eyes! And my tastebuds too, thanks to the pizza I ‘brunched up’ by putting an egg on it, a grapefruit mimosa, and of course beer!

But enough about my lovely afternoon… here’s some whys and wherefores of beers, queers and drag shows, from some of the folks putting on the shows, and the breweries that are hosting them. Thank you to Grey Figueroa Mercado (Sales and Media) and Anique Ross (Co-Owner) of Luppolo Brewing, and Tall Glass of Drag organizers The Established, Shanda Leer, and Bruce, who sat down with me before the show for a lively discussion. Thanks also to Liam Peyton of Slackwater Brewing, Andy Romans of Strange Fellows Brewing, and Claire Demers of Farm Country Brewing who corresponded via email — and Freida Whales who went old skool with me via telephone!

“We’ve got a great space and we’ve got a great community here. Why not do drag?” – Grey Mercado, Luppolo Brewing

Here’s some of what they had to tell me:

Drag is popular right now, and brewery drag shows are selling out quickly, proving “people just want to consume drag now” as Shanda Leer so aptly put it. It seems to be a match made in beer heaven. According to Freida Whales the performers love being at tasting rooms because “people like to drink beer and watch drag. The more they drink, the more they tip, so it’s good for us!” Shanda Leer is also a fan of beer googles — “after two or three beers everybody is like ‘okay, it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen!’” 

“Creating delicious craft beer is a form of art and performing in drag is obviously a tremendous form of art and it’s so lovely to see the connection.” – Andy Romans, Strange Fellows Brewing.

Tall Glass of Drag - Luppolo Brewing
Performers, staff and audience members at Luppolo Brewing in Vancouver, BC

Most importantly, hosting drag shows reaches out to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and can contribute to a feeling of safety, and being welcomed into tasting rooms where that community may not have known they’d receive that welcome. 

As Bruce explains, “I am booking breweries … because I want this to be a … queer ass space where my friends can come even when there’s not drag and know that hey there has been drag here, we’ve been welcomed here, it’s good, we’ll be okay … you’re building the community, and you’re showing this community that you are committed to treating us well and welcome us to your space.”

“I think there’s a lack of space for queer events in Vancouver, events in general, music, performance. It is hard to find spaces, venues, safe spaces, so we’ve got the space here why not share it with our community.” – Grey Mercado, Luppolo Brewing

Photo Credit: NowMedia Freida Whales at Slackwater
Freida Whales at Slackwater Brewing in Penticton, BC (Photo Credit: NowMedia)

Drag shows aren’t just for the queer community. RuPaul’s omnipresence has brought drag to the wider community. Freida Whales says her shows attract a varied audience of folks queer and straight, young and older. A birthday party and a bachelorette party were part of the audience at A Tall Glass of Drag.

Shanda Leer and Freida Whales both like to have diversity in the performers at their drag shows as well. Freida Whales leans more towards comedy in her performance, and brings acts with her who provide a variety show feel via singing or burlesque, plus drag kings and the show-stopping Sophonda Dick, a 70-year-old drag queen who has been performing for over 50 years. Shanda Leer brings gender diverse and BIPOC performers with her. And tries to ensure that those in the audience who are new to drag shows leave feeling very positively towards the art. 

“These are artists who literally put time and practice hours into it, so respect the art form.” – The Established, Shanda Leer

Farm Country Brewing - Langley, BC
A full house at Farm Country Brewing in Langley, BC

If you’re a newcomer, here are a couple of handy things to know before you go:

  • Cheering, singing along, and audience enthusiasm are encouraged
  • Tipping is not required, but it is encouraged and, as Shanda Leer points out, often how the performers pay rent – so bring cash
  • These types of shows aren’t always kid friendly – while everyone is welcome, maybe choose a different event to bring the wee ones to

“There are drag queens across BC who would love to work, and would love to collaborate… You’re not booking a band, you’re really creating a partnership with a drag performer.” – The Established, Shanda Leer

Farm Country Brewing - Langley, BC
Drag performers at Farm Country Brewing in Langley, BC

If you’re a brewery wanting to jump on this drag show bandwagon – please do! While it is the entertainers who drive the show, the host breweries put in a lot of work too, and that work pays dividends to the queer community and the brewery. Keep walking that walk all year round and make your brewery and tasting room safe, supportive spaces. Be a true ally.

“Any event is always a good opportunity to meet new people. I like that this event gives us that extra exposure to put out there that we are such a queer-loving space, an open space, a very supportive space. I hope that it brings everyone.” – Grey Mercado, Luppolo Brewing

Upcoming shows where you can get your drag fix:

Freida Whales and her pod perform regularly at Slackwater Brewing in Penticton.
Look for shows every several weeks, alternating between the classic cabaret style and the brunch addition through summer.

You can also catch Freida Whales at BNA Brewing in Kelowna for Drag Games Nights.

Bricklayer Brewing in Chilliwack is hosting Drag Bingo this Sunday, June 5, 3-5pm. It’s a fundraiser for Chilliwack Pride.

Phillips Brewing in Victoria is hosting Drag, Queers & Beers with Vivian Vanderpuss, Woofie Goldberg and Ivory Charming on June 6th, 6:30 – 8pm
This is not a ticketed event, but there will be limited space, so go early!

Farm Country Brewing in Langley is “happy to be a part of creating more spaces for queer events” by holding monthly drag shows hosted by Scarlett Rose, usually on the last Sunday of the month. Check out their Instagram and Facebook for info on upcoming shows, particularly the June Pride show. 

Strange Fellows Brewing will be hosting another drag show in August.  Watch their social media for news about that.

“We want everyone to feel welcome and so if new people are being exposed to this space and what we offer here as a result of this show that’s a win-win really. We’re a big tent. We want everyone in.” – Anique Ross, Luppolo Brewing

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