VANCOUVER – An Alberta-based whisky distributor says “archaic” liquor policies in British Columbia are limiting the range of products consumers can access.
Robert Carpenter, co-founder of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, said B.C. bars have long skirted rules that prevent them from buying unique products at private liquor stores that aren’t carried at government stores.
His comments follow the seizure of his whisky products at four B.C. bars last week.
Carpenter said B.C.’s Liquor Control and Licensing Branch has yet to inform the bar owners of the exact rationale for the seizure, but it’s believed to be the result of how the establishments purchased the whisky.
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society only distributes its product to two private liquor stores in B.C. in addition to locations in Alberta, Carpenter said.
For several years, the whisky has also been found in “partner bars” in B.C., which Carpenter explained is a term his company uses for marketing purposes but doesn’t reflect a formal business agreement.
Eric Fergie is co-owner of Fets Whisky Kitchen in Vancouver, which is one of the society’s partner bars.
He said officials from the provincial liquor branch seized 242 Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottles from his business on Thursday.
It’s the first time such a seizure has happened at his bar since it opened in 1986.
Fergie told The Canadian Press his lawyer advised him not to comment on situation, but added he believed the alcohol was taken because “it was improperly purchased.”
He said he was waiting on the branch to provide more details on the reasoning for the raid, as well as what would happen with the roughly $40,000 worth of whisky that was confiscated.
“The government has some of the rarest whiskies in the world in their possession,” Fergie said.
The Ministry of the Attorney General said in a statement that the branch does not release information about specific licensees.
The ministry confirmed that all liquor products sold by hospitality customers, specifically bars and restaurants, must be purchased through the provincial liquor distribution branch’s wholesale centre, BC Liquor Stores or through an authorized manufacturer.
“Unlawful liquor may include liquor not purchased through an authorized source, homemade products, and products obtained on the black market,” the ministry said in an email.
“Seizures are the result of careful investigations when, in the opinion of liquor inspectors, liquor is possessed or kept contrary to the (Liquor Control and Licensing Act) and regulations,”
Carpenter said forcing bars to only buy from the provincial government’s distribution channels doesn’t make sense because the province still regulates and taxes alcohol through private stores.
“The taxes are being paid on these things,” he said. “Lots of places do this because they want to provide selection to their patrons.”
He said he’s never seen the policy enforced “because it’s pretty archaic.”
If the branch begins enforcing the rule now, Carpenter warned “consumers are really limited in what bars and restaurants can buy from the government liquor stores.”
The ministry said the government has appointed a liquor policy adviser, Mark Hicken, to meet with stakeholders and put together an industry panel to advise the province on future liquor policies.
Hicken, a wine industry lawyer and expert, is also tasked with advising the government on how to support the liquor industry.
The ministry didn’t comment on what specific changes are anticipated, but said he is expected to deliver recommendations to government by the end of March.