British Columbia

B.C. liquor laws relax for craft brewers and distillers, winemakers

The provincial government has unveiled some major changes to "outdated" liquor laws and is trying a few experiments to help small- and medium-sized B.C. breweries, wineries and distilleries.
New rules around alcohol announced by the B.C. government could benefit local distilleries, which can avoid markup in direct sales if they use 100 per cent B.C. agricultural raw materials in making their spirits.

The provincial government has unveiled some major changes to liquor laws that should make it easier for small- and medium-sized B.C. breweries, wineries and distilleries to get their products to market.

The changes end the old "tied house" rule, under which wineries, breweries, and distilleries were prohibited from selling their products at their own off-site restaurants, and opens up on-site tied house agreements to distilleries.

The new rules are also intended to support B.C.'s craft brewers and distillers, who will now be allowed to build tasting rooms and on-site lounges.

Rich Coleman, the minister responsible for liquor, says the new rules are about eliminating outdated laws and trying new approaches to alcohol sales.

The changes announced Friday mean that, starting March 1:

  • Breweries and distilleries can have an on-site lounges or tasting rooms.
  • Small- and medium-sized liquor manufacturers can have up to three off-site restaurant or lounge partnerships.
  • Rules have been simplified around how liquor manufacturers can promote their products in bars and restaurants.
As of March 1, craft brewers can apply for licences to serve their products in on-site lounges or tasting rooms. (Petr David Josek/Associated Press)

Other policy changes that were announced mean that:

  • Products distilled in B.C. from 100 per cent B.C. agricultural raw materials can be sold direct without markup.
  • Wine stores will become licensees under the Liquor Control and Licensing Act, and will be subject to licensee rules.
  • Rural agency stores can purchase unlimited amounts of beer through local government liquor stores, and will receive access to promotional items and other marketing support from the government liquor branch.
  • Bars and nightclubs that want to increase serving capacity will now require local government input.
  • Criteria on whether private liquor stores can relocate within one kilometre of an existing liquor store are now set out in regulation rather than policy.

Coleman also announced that his department has appointed Herb LeRoy, who worked previously in the lieutenant-governor's office, as B.C.'s honourary wine envoy. The B.C. wine envoy's mandate is to reduce inter-provincial trade barriers for B.C.'s wine industry.

Year of big change for B.C.

Over the past year, the government has made several changes to B.C. liquor laws that loosen the restrictions placed on where, when, and what wine, beer, and spirits can be consumed.

As of April, movie theatres and live-event theatres could apply for a licence to serve alcohol in lobby and theatre areas.

In June, B.C. residents could start importing unlimited amounts of 100 per cent Canadian wine from other provinces for personal use, or bring back up to nine litres of wine, three litres of spirits, and a combined total of 25.6 litres of beer, cider or coolers tax-free after a trip to another province.

In July, it became legal for B.C. residents to bring and consume their own bottles of wine to restaurants, for a corkage fee.

And last week, the B.C. government announced that catering companies would be able to purchase and transport alcohol and hold the liquor licence for events instead of requiring their clients to do so.

Coleman said his long-term goal is to completely scrap B.C.'s current laws around alcohol production, distribution and sales, and start from scratch.

"You know, I think after all of this, given time, we'll probably take a look at the legislation and say it's time to make a plain language re-write of this thing," he said.

"But it's a big job and so that would have to wait for another day, I wanted to get as much change as I possibly could."

With files from the CBC's Stephen Smart