Montreal

Quebec vodka, gin and whisky distillers want to sell direct to customers

Local liquor distilleries believe selling their own products at their facilities, instead of forcing customers to buy them exclusively at the SAQ, would stimulate the economy and tourism.

Local liquor distilleries want the same freedom as wineries and cider mills

Liquor producers Paul Cirka and Nicolas Duvernois want the right to sell their products to consumers at their own facilities. (Sara Dubreuil/CBC)

Artisanal spirit creators want more freedom to sell their products directly to consumers. 

Right now, if customers want to take home a bottle of Quebec-produced liquor, they have to buy it at the SAQ.

The provincial government is currently sitting on a private-members bill that would allow local, small-scale artisans to sell their products to customers in their own distilleries.

The president and founder of PUR Vodka, a producer with offices in Mile End, told Daybreak he wants the same selling rights as wineries and cider mills in Quebec.

Nicolas Duvernois said allowing distilleries to sell their own products would stimulate the economy and tourism.

"Spirits is the most exportable products we are creating today, so I don't understand why we couldn't have the same laws," he said. 

The government has not been supportive of provincial artisan entrepreneurs who produce liquors, he said. 

Stalled bill

In 2013, Liberal MNA Stéphane Billette introduced Bill 395, legislation that would allow small distillers who had a permit sell their own products at agricultural events. But the bill stalled after the Parti Québécois government lost power.

"It's been collecting dust" said Paul Cirka, the founder of the soon-to-be Cirka Distillery in Montreal's Sud-Ouest borough.

"We don't have anyone who has taken ownership of the bill," he said.

Both Duvernois and Cirka said the government is not taking provincial artisanal spirit producers seriously because they represent a small group.

"It's not a priority," said Duvernois.

In a statement to the CBC, a representative from the finance minister's office said the government is looking for the most responsible way to allow further development of Bill 395.

"We believe it's important to provide an environment where artisanal alcohol producers in Quebec, including distillers, can develop new markets and thus contribute to the promotion of Quebec food products quality," said spokeswoman Andrée-Lyne Hallé.

A perfect market

Cirka saw potential in setting up a distillery in Montreal because of Quebec's exceptional raw materials and resources.

But, he said, not being able to actually sell his own product here is a lost opportunity.

"I mean, it's available pretty much everywhere else in the civilized world of North America, but not in Quebec," said Cirka.

Duvernois founded PUR Vodka in 2006, making him one of the first artisans to push for local spirit distilleries.

He said today his vodka is simply "bottles on shelves".

"It kills innovation, it kills creativity," he said.

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