Today a post I wrote went up on blogTO announcing the release of a single malt whisky distilled by Ontario’s first micro-distillery, Still Waters. My previous conversations with Barry Stein and Barry Bernstein about their booze have been enlightening–prompting me to write about the fact that most “Canadian” whiskies aren’t really Canadian at all and then later, based on my new understanding of Canada’s booze laws, I wrote about a whisky on Ontario’s shelves that seemed to be in defiance of those laws.
As with these previous conversations with the Barrys, my recent correspondence with them about their impending release likewise proved enlightening, unveiling yet another way that our province’s liquor laws are hurting Ontario businesses. Specifically, it was revealing that Barry informed me that a majority of their whisky–made just north of the Big Smoke in Concord Ontario–is destined for out of province sales elsewhere in the country, north of the border and even overseas.
I asked Barry Bernstein why that was, even though I had a pretty good idea I knew what the answer was, and, lo and behold Barry had this to say:
I was referring to the very long purchasing cycles through the LCBO where it can take a year or more from product submission to having it on shelf and then being paid. In many cases, we are paid up front for our product when shipping to other markets, and yes, because of taxes and markups we can have the same shelf price in those markets but we make more money due to lower taxes, etc. We would absolutely love to sell everything here in Ontario, but we cannot get the product out on shelf quick enough and we have to wait longer to be paid and, in some cases, get paid less. We are passionate about what we do, but we are also running a business.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not among those who call for the abolition of the LCBO, such as the first commenter on the Still Waters story on blogTO who caught this finer point, but here is yet another screaming example of why things need to change in terms of our province’s liquor laws. I appreciate that the LCBO has a process and I understand that the intent is likely public safety to some extent (i.e. the process to get on shelves is largely related to quality assurance), but when our laws and taxes are literally driving small Ontario businesses to conduct their business elsewhere–and the Ontario public gets less availability of their locally made product–something needs to change.
Thankfully, Barry also informed me that he has “joined forces” as it were with some other micro-distillers, including the folks at 66 Gilead whom I profiled briefly after a trip to Prince Edward County, as well as the guys from the Toronto Distillery Company in the Junction whom I profiled for blogTO just yesterday. They’ve formed the Ontario Craft Distillers Association in order to try to “address some of the unfair and discriminatory regulations and policies facing Ontario’s micro-distillers.”
That’s awesome news and I’m rooting for them hard, but frankly, I think they’ve got an uphill battle. I’m positive these laws can and will change, but it’s going to take some serious effort considering that, like beer, the folks who are currently befitting from the way the system works related to whisky have lots and lots and lots (and lots) of money in the game, and money talks–but the first move toward a group of concerned micro-distillers will be a big help.
You can help, too. Yes, obviously it helps to buy local beer and booze whenever you can and lord knows I’m doing my share of that, but it doesn’t hurt to write a letter now and then. Why not fire off an email to your local MPP and let him or her know that you support change that helps keep Ontario products in Ontario? You might even send a letter in support of micro-brewers and distillers to the Ministry of the Attorney General, who oversees the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. You’ll probably be surprised at how willing they are to listen–and your letter will be much more effective that an angry comment on a website somewhere.
You can find contact info for your MPP right here.
Or write to the Attorney General at:
Ministry of the Attorney General
720 Bay Street, 11th Floor
Bunghole photo by Paul Aihoshi. (What? That’s what it’s called.)