New Brunswick brewery told to stop selling Nova Scotia craft beers
'Nova Scotia beer is supposed to be treated as if it's made in New Brunswick' under 2007 deal, says brewer
A New Brunswick craft brewery that sells cans and bottles manufactured by its Nova Scotian counterparts has been told to stop doing that by the provincial alcohol regulator, but the brewery says a 2007 deal between the two provinces allows it to sell the suds.
Picaroons Traditional Ales has four retail locations in New Brunswick, two in Fredericton and one each in Saint John and St. Stephen. With its licence to be a craft brewer agency store, it can sell bottles and cans the company makes, as well as ones made by other New Brunswick craft breweries.
Picaroons owner Sean Dunbar said he sought clarity from authorities twice last year about whether it was OK to sell Nova Scotian craft beer, but said he didn't receive a response, so he began selling them this January. However, he was recently told to stop.
A war over words
At issue is the interpretation of two different agreements.
In 2007, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia reached an agreement on beer distribution between the two provinces.
"Nova Scotia will treat New Brunswick microbreweries the same way we treat Nova Scotia microbreweries, and vice versa," said Bret Mitchell, the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation's president and CEO in a July 16, 2007, press release.
However, under the agreement that New Brunswick craft breweries must abide by with the New Brunswick Liquor Corporation, section 7.3 says they can't sell beer that's made outside of the province.
"It's clear and concise. The wording has never really evolved or changed. It's from the inception of brewer agency stores.… You can only sell craft beer that is produced in the facility or craft beer that is produced with someone in accordance of the act, the Liquor Control Act in New Brunswick," said New Brunswick Liquor Corporation spokesperson Mark Barbour.
Dunbar said the 2007 deal should allow the company to sell bottles and cans made from outside the province.
"That supersedes the 7.3 or whatever it is because the Nova Scotia beer is supposed to be treated as though it was brewed in New Brunswick. If 7.3 says I can only buy things that are made in New Brunswick, well, Nova Scotia beer is supposed to be treated as if it's made in New Brunswick for purposes of that agreement," he said.
'Sometimes that means going into the grey area'
Dunbar said his customers loved being able to buy beer that was from outside of the province, especially the releases of one-offs and small-batch releases. He said craft beer enthusiasts continually want to try new products, so this was a way of meeting that demand.
As well, Dunbar said as an entrepreneur, it's important to push the envelope.
"We take risks. We come up with new, innovative ways to do what we do and sometimes that means going into the grey area," he said.
Asked for his thoughts on Dunbar's argument that the 2007 deal is what takes precedence, Barbour said he couldn't comment as he wasn't "privy to the logic and discussions, the spirit, nor the intent" of the 2007 agreement.
Kirk Cox, the executive director of the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia, sides with Dunbar in this debate.
"To us, this decision [by the New Brunswick Liquor Corporation] certainly contravenes that  agreement and there should be more fair and equitable treatment among provinces," he said.
Cox said the situation highlights the need for greater clarity on what the 2007 agreement allows.
In Nova Scotia, as a condition of getting a microbrewery licence, craft brewers aren't allowed to sell bottles and cans manufactured by other craft brewers, let alone ones from other provinces.