FREDERICTON – The “Free the Beer” slogan is being heard again when it comes to beer crossing provincial borders into New Brunswick — but this time it concerns craft beers.
Picaroons Traditional Ales in Fredericton had been offering some Nova Scotia craft beers in their retail locations, but have been told by NB Liquor to stop because it breaks the rules.
Picaroons owner, Sean Dunbar, said he asked NB Liquor three times if it was OK but didn’t get a reply until last week — four months after he started selling the Nova Scotia suds.
“In order to expand the program with confidence I wanted to be sure it was OK. When I asked the final time it was a fairly definitive no. So, end of program,” he said.
NB Liquor — a Crown corporation of the New Brunswick government — said the rules are intended to promote beers made in New Brunswick.
It cites sections of the contracts it has with each craft brewery in the province.
“The ability to sell craft beer made outside of N.B. in NB Brewer Agency Stores has never been permitted,” the contracts read.
“It is important that NB Craft Brewers are given the ability to work, sell, in support of the great beers being made in N.B. for NB’ers.”
But Dunbar said he thinks NB Liquor’s action is contrary to the 2007 Maritime Beer Accord, which says New Brunswick is to treat Nova Scotia microbreweries the same as if they were in New Brunswick.
“New Brunswick brewers are allowed to sell their beer to me and then I can retail that to the public. So if you are treating Nova Scotia brewers as if they are New Brunswick brewers then Nova Scotia brewers can sell their beer to me and I can retail it to the public,” Dunbar said.
Kirk Cox, executive directors of the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia takes the same view as Dunbar.
“We have a binding agreement between the two provinces,” he said.
“The first section of that agreement deals with microbreweries and it says that on points of sale, one province is not to treat breweries from another province any differently than it treats its own.”
Still, Dunbar said he’s not going to get into a fight with NB Liquor.
“This is really a matter of a trade agreement between two provinces, and it’s between the two provinces to work out,” he said.
The decision by NB Liquor comes just days after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the case of Gerard Comeau who was fined in 2012 for bringing home cheaper beer and liquor he bought in neighbouring Quebec.
The court ruled provinces have the power to enact laws that restrict commerce if there is another overriding purpose — in this case the desire to control the supply of alcohol in New Brunswick.