Hit hard by pandemic, Quebec microbrewers call on province to loosen distribution regulations

Of the more than 250 microbreweries in the province, roughly 60 per cent are less than five years old. With distribution limited by tight regulations, those in Quebec's red zones are struggling to sell their craft beer.

CAQ government says a plan is in the works, but is not providing details just yet

Le Cheval Blanc microbrewery owner Jérôme Catelli Denys says businesses like his are being pushed to the brink of bankruptcy by the province's public health restrictions. (Matt D'Amours/CBC)

There's been a boom in microbreweries across Quebec in recent years, but many of these businesses are struggling under the red-zone restrictions aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19.  

Limited largely to now-closed restaurants and bars for distribution, small brewers have few options when it comes to selling their craft beer.

They say it's more important than ever for distribution regulations to change.

Jérôme Catelli Denys, owner of Le Cheval Blanc, said a first step is to allow delivery.

As it stands, Crown corporations — the SAQ and SQDC — can deliver wine and cannabis by mail, but microbrewers can't sell their ales and stouts online.

Le Cheval Blanc, Catelli Denys said, can't even sell to corner stores or grocers under the current rules.

The brew pub can only sell beer at its location on Ontario Street in Montreal, relying on take-out customers only.

There are some sales, but not much, said Catelli Denys.

"The city is dead," he said. "So we're really having a hard time — even when we were open this summer, we were losing money."

As it stands, the SAQ and SQDC can deliver wine and cannabis by mail, but microbrewers can’t hawk their ales or stouts online and distribution to stores is limited. (Ivanoh Demers)

Opposition calls for rule change

Most of Quebec's small breweries are just getting started. Of the more than 250 microbreweries in the province, roughly 60 per cent are less than five years old.

Quebec's association of microbreweries argues brew pubs should be able to sell directly to stores and offer home delivery.

Québec Solidaire supports that position, saying it's time for the Legault government to let microbrewers tap into the larger market.

MNA Vincent Marissal said it doesn't make sense that customers can't go on a brewer's website and order beer.

With some 5,000 people working in the industry, he said, "it is a poster product for 'achat local,' to buy local."

Québec solidaire MNA Vincent Marissal says the province's microbreweries are suffering and it's time for the Legault government to help. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

CAQ has a plan, spokesperson says

Help is coming, according to Amélie Paquet, a spokesperson for the public security minister.

Paquet said it's not possible to make a temporary decree during the public health emergency because it relates to alcohol.

Bill 61 would have helped in this regard, she said, but opposition parties shot down the measure this summer.

"However, we have found a new legislative vehicle that will be announced shortly to help the industry," Paquet wrote in an email to Radio-Canada.

Pascal Fex,  owns Saint-Graal, a craft brewery in Sainte-Thérèse, Que., said help can't come any sooner and he wants it to be in the form of legislative change.

"We are not asking for any subsidy, only regulatory relief to help us get through the crisis and revive our industry." he said.

With files from Matt D'Amours

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