Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced the start of beer sales at grocery stores, starting with 58 as of today.

Wynne, speaking at a news conference at a Toronto Loblaws on Tuesday, said its the biggest shakeup to alcohol sales since the end of prohibition.

For beer drinkers, Wynne said, it's also the "holiday present" that many have been waiting for.

Loblaws is among the 13 retailers chosen in mid-November to sell beer. The province hopes 100 more grocery stores will begin carrying beer in 2016, and eventually hopes to see suds sold at some 450 grocery stores.

The beer — a mix of major beer brands and Ontario craft beer — are being sold in six-packs for the same price as you would pay in Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) stores. All the beer must be lower than 7.1 per cent alcohol by volume.

Toronto Loblaws Beer

The beer display sits between the soda and snack aisle at this Toronto Loblaws. (David Donnelly/CBC)

On the shelves behind Wynne were Ontario craft beers including Beau's, Amsterdam and Flying Monkeys, while major brands include Canadian, Heineken and Corona.

The province mandates that at least 20 per cent of grocery store space is devoted to Ontario craft beer. But Loblaws has committed to 50 per cent, with a company official saying the store hopes to become "a destination for beer enthusiasts" in the future. 

Eventually, the representative said, the company hopes to stock some 200 varieties of beer, including regional favourites.

John Hay, president of the Ontario Craft Brewers association, said that could mean up to 100 craft brands on grocery store shelves in the future, and called this a "truly a great day for craft beer in Ontario."

Hay thanked the premier directly at the announcement. "You personally championed this change," he said. 

Changes brewing

"Cheers," said Finance Minister Charles Sousa, who also spoke at the announcement Tuesday.

Sousa said he realizes some felt it was a "long time coming," but added this is just the latest major change to the Ontario beer industry since April.

The province has already made changes to The Beer Store and launched several pilot projects, including the sale of 12-packs or fresh beer at select LCBO stores. 

It's also set to hire a beer ombudsman in the new year who will field concerns from the beer-drinking public and industry members.

These changes have all served to benefit consumers, Sousa said.

Wine next?

The Beer Store has had a virtual monopoly on beer sales in the province since prohibition. 

In its initial rollout of 60 grocery stores, 25 stores in the Greater Toronto Area will be licensed to sell beer, in addition to 16 in southwestern Ontario, 13 in the east and six in the north.

The province said approval of two of those stores is pending.

The laws governing beer sales differ across the country. For example: 

  • In Quebec, beer is available in grocery stores.l
  • In Newfoundland and Labrador, you can buy beer in convenience stores, but not in grocery stores.
  • Alberta's sales of alcohol are fully privatized.
  • In B.C., a recent law approved the sale of beer at farmers' markets.

Brewers weren't the only ones paying attention to Tuesday's announcement by Wynne.

Ontario winemakers have been hoping the premier will soon allow wine to be sold alongside beer in grocery stores.

Wynne said the province is still studying the possibilities, but wants to take more time to ensure it gets the move right.