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Cold Garden Heating Up The Brew Kettle

coldgardenlogoThe craft beer tsunami that seems to be hitting Calgary this spring just hit shore in the historic neighbourhood of Inglewood. On the verge of heating up their brew kettle to sate the long pent up beer needs of local residents are the trio behind Cold Garden Beverage Company. Blake Belding, Dan Allard and Kris Fiorentino are the brains and the brawn behind Calgary’s soon-to-be latest pint-sized brewery.

Belding and Allard met in university and kept touch over the years, regularly musing about a business project they could do together (both have business degrees). Belding had begun homebrewing about seven years ago at the tail end of college.  “At first it was about how cheap I could make beer”, he sheepishly admits (dude, we have all been there). “But as time goes on you get into the hobby and soon enough quality and taste are paramount over cost”.

He always just saw it has a pleasurable hobby and then – in what is quickly coming a common refrain – the AGLC scrapped the minimum production capacity requirements, and suddenly the ground shifted. “When they changed the minimums that is when I got serious about it. I had thought about doing it all through college” and the rules made it more do-able.

Belding and Allard started working on a business plan for a small, neighbourhood-focussed brewery which mostly consisted of the two of them “sitting in various pubs drinking beer and taking notes”. After months of tasting, noting and talking they met Fiorentino, who has a background in marketing. They met with her to discuss the plans and “within two days she had written ten pages of gold”, says Belding. It was her focus and drive that got thing moving. “After that, the three of us, away we went”.

The three are all keeping their day jobs for now, meaning they have really long work weeks. But they are hopeful as things progress there will be room to move into a full-time operation. Belding is head brewer and says his job’s flexibility helps. “I often work from 6 a.m. to  noon doing my job, brew from noon to eight and then go home do emails for a couple hours”. What he doesn’t say is that he has to get up again the next morning and do it all over again.

Their vision is to create a brewery that is part of community. Inglewood is the home of the now long-shuttered, historic Molson Brewery (originally Calgary & Malting which opened in 1892). “We want to bring beer back to the neighbourhood. The whole idea was brewing in the shadow of the old Molson Brewery, to bring beer back as part of the community fabric,” says Belding. “We want to be a Calgary place featuring the arts and culture of Inglewood”.

The size of the brewery reflects the vision. They have a 5-barrel direct fire brewhouse with four 10-barrel fermenters and 4-bright tanks. The smaller size, Belding argues, creates both more flexibility and a stronger community feel. They also have a “funky single-head canning machine that we named ‘Can Solo'”.

They plan to package – one at a time, mind you – with four sizes of cans: 250 ml, 355 ml, 473 ml and 946 ml. Initially they see it as more of a “crowler” arrangement where the beer is filled as Continue reading Cold Garden Heating Up The Brew Kettle

Too Much of Too Many Good Things?

stoneoldguardianRecently I opened up a bottle of Stone Old Guardian Extra Hoppy, a one-time release in 2015, which is currently available around these parts. The brewery warns you about this beer, which is a tweaked version of their regular Old Guardian Barley Wine. The promo material proclaims this version “takes a downright excessive brew into uncharted, extra-hoppy territory”. They claim it to be almost a Triple IPA more than a barley wine.

I debated aging it a while or drinking it now – about 15 months old. I opted for the latter as my cellar is bursting at the seams these days.

It pours dark copper with a moderate, off-white head. It leaves traces of lacing down the glass. The aroma has rich dark fruit, caramel, light citrus and a noted vinous hop resin. It has a very rich and fulsome smell.

The first sip brings out rich malt, fruity citrusy character at the front end, as well as some honey, floral and an earthy note. The middle starts to bring in a resiny hop flavour, some alcohol and a bit of citrus. The finish has a moderate bitterness but mostly a resiny hop character. Linger is warming and slightly citrusy. I wonder if I also pick up a bit of wood, but can’t be sure.

It has an interesting flavour but nothing really stands out for me. It is also a bit hot. I can’t pinpoint a particular area of concern, but neither can I identify anything that really stands out for me. Despite all of their protestations that the beer is big, huge, monster-sized, that isn’t what really comes through for me.

Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but I found myself as I sipped it contemplating if they simply put TOO much into this beer. Old Guardian is a fairly intense American-style barley wine. Upping the hop character and bitterness may be a step too far. It is just too many things in one intense beer. The flavours kind of muddle together rather than draw my attention to a couple of key aspects.

I wonder if this is a lesson in trying to do too much in one beer. Big malt, big citrus, big alcohol, big resiny hop flavour, big bitter. All of those, in combos of two or three can make for an impressive, memorable beer. All of them together may just be less than their total parts.

I kind of think that is what happened here. Maybe age will help, although I doubt it as beer tend to become more rounded with age. They just have too much of too many good things.

Thoughts from others?

Edmonton Now Has a Situation

situationtapscroppedAfter a number of undoubtedly frustrating delays, Edmonton brewpub/brewery Situation Brewing is finally opening its doors today. It is just the soft launch, with the Grand Opening coming next Wednesday (May 25), but the beer is flowing. Soft launches are designed to help work out the kinks in the kitchen and serving before the broader “public” knows. (You can read my initial profile of the brewery here).

So, basically, I am saying “Sshh!”.

I write this because I know the regular readers of this site will want to know right away that there is a new beer option in Edmonton. I also trust you to not swarm the place en masse and overwhelm the staff-in-training. The beer will still be there in a week or so.

I got a sneak peak yesterday and so because you can keep a secret, let me tell you a bit about our new beer location.

The decor is urban and relaxed, with lots of natural woods, metal and greys. The two walls  of windows open up the space, bringing in sunlight which warms up the atmosphere. The bar is toned down and sparse. When sitting at the bar you can look through a glass door down a row of fermenters. The pub does not yet have its external signs, but that will come.

I imagine, though, you are most interested in the beer. At opening they will have 7 house beer on tap, offering a range of flavours. Four are year-round: the wheat ale, red ale, stout and IPA. At the moment there are three rotationals: an American pale ale, a tea-infused saison and a kettle-soured raspberry beer (which is a bit delayed and not yet on tap). The beer do have names but I promised to not reveal them because they have social media plans for them over the coming week (really, I can be an accommodating guy if you ask nice and offer me a beer!). They also have two ongoing guest taps, currently filled by Two Sergeants IPA and Yellowhead’s new IPA.

In the future they may replace the guest taps with their own beer, but for now want to showcase other Edmonton breweries. While they see most of their sales initially coming from the pub, they have already lined up about 25 tap accounts around the city who will carry their beer. In addition to kegs, they will do growler fills on site, including 2-litre growlers, 1-liter howlers and what they call 500-ml meowlers. They have no plans – and frankly no space – for any other kind of packaging.

Two Sergeants and Situation 015One of the coolest initiatives they are starting is to have a cask ale as a regular feature at the pub. Every day they will tap a new cask and serve it until it runs out. They are the first pub in Alberta to commit to an ongoing cask program. They are moving past the monthly cask event model and making it a permanent aspect of their offerings. I, as a longtime cask advocate, can unreservedly say I am a big fan of that. The casks will be in addition to their 9 taps.

For the beer geeks info, they have a 12-hectolitre brewhouse with 7 fermenters and bright tanks. This size offers an interesting middle ground between brewpub and brewery, reflecting their overall mission. While anchored in their location and with a goal of serving Old Strathcona, they hope to spread their beer across the Capital Region.

I tried five of the beer during my visit. I won’t go into detail at this time because these are first batches and in my mind every brewery gets a bit of time to dial in their recipes. I will say I found all of the beer well-brewed and flavourful, which is a very good sign. The Red Ale has a pleasant toasty quality that drew me into the beer. The IPA offers an attractive hop flavour and aroma which exhibit the best in American hops, in part because the beer was incredibly fresh, without the beer becoming too bitter. The tea-infused saison was fascinating. It is not particularly saison-like, but the tea – a mango oolong – created an intense fruity character mixed with light tannins that make me pretty certain it will be a big hit during the summer months.

Edmonton, we have a Situation. And in my mind that is a very, very good thing.


April Showers Bring May New Beer

BlackbridgeyearoneSomeone really should tell prairie breweries to chill their heels and stop being so darned busy and productive. Just kidding. But I am constantly amazed these days at just  how much stuff is going on with craft beer in the region – and that is only the things I hear about, which increasingly misses bit stuff (note to breweries: if you want to be mentioned you gotta keep me in the loop!).

So, here is my latest compilation of what I have heard about. Usual caveats apply. No particular order and I only report on that what I hear, so if I miss something it isn’t my fault.

  • Let’s start in Saskatchewan, for no real reason. Black Bridge in Swift Current has a couple of new seasonal beer on offer, both fairly significant. First is Folklore Imperial Stout, an 11% beer bottled in 750-ml bottles, it is one for aging. Available only at their taproom, you have to go to them to get it. Also out is Year One IPA celebrating their first anniversary as a brewery. Pretty fun.
  • Up the road in Regina, Rebellion Brewing recently announced the release of Glacier Pale Ale as one of their new seasonals. I know there are others, as Rebellion is constantly releasing new stuff. It can be hard to keep track. So if you are in Regina, just go there and sample whatever new thing they have on offer.
  • Over in Manitoba, Half Pints, as usual, is incredibly busy. They have a few new beer on the go. First up are the return of some regular seasonals, including Heidrun’s Sweet Mead and Black Galaxy. They also have Phil’s Pils on the growler station (Phil’s is a longstanding occasional beer at Half Pints). They also have, coming soon, a handful of new beer including: Old Red Barn (Batch 2), Pothole Porter, Queer Beer and (surprisingly) Grapefruit Radler. In other news, Half Pints lead Dave Rudge has been elected the first president of the Manitoba Craft Brewers Association. I imagine Dave will have his hands full, especially with the task of educating a new government on the value of local craft beer.
  • Staying in Manitoba, (but also transitioning to Alberta), Brewsters announced earlier this month that they are now shipping six-packs of their beer into Manitoba, officially extending the chain’s reach across the entire region. They also have a couple new seasonals in Alberta (see? transition!. Freshly available on tap are Paranoid Black IPA and Mad Hops Double IPA, the latter also available in bombers. Edmonton brewmaster, Gunther Tragesser also has out his annual Maibock, this year it is Rite of Spring Festbock.
  • Lacombe’s Blindman Brewing continues to crush it with new releases. Their latest efforts include Kettle Sour #2 which uses both Galaxy and an experimental hop. The latest of their constantly changing Saison Lacombe series will soon be out. No description on Été yet but it will likely be very summer appropriate. In case you haven’t done the math each new season offers a new Saison (season) named for the season during which it is released. Get it? I hope so.
  • couleecalibrationMoving south, there is lots going on in southern Alberta. First up is an interesting collaboration between Wild Rose, Dandy and Fallentimber Meadery have a VERY limited release of a sour beer infused with honey, ginger and lime. It debuted at the Calgary Craft Beer Festival and if there is any left some of the rest of us will likely need to offer our first born to try it.
  • Big Rock has a new seasonal beer. Mosaic Lager is an India Pale Lager. It is anchored around mosaic hops and includes some touches of Munich and Vienna malt to round the beer out.
  • West of Calgary, Grizzly Paw, who are quietly plugging away these days without much fanfare, have released last month a Bourbon Barrel Aged Scotch Ale. It is a limited run, so it may very well be gone. But if it isn’t and you find it, scoop it up lest you regret it after.
  • East of Calgary, in Lethbridge to be specific, Coulee Brewing has released its first three beer from their new brewery. They are calling it their Calibration Series, which makes sense, they have started with an Amber Ale, a Cream Ale and IPA.
  • Finally closing up with our good friends from Whitehorse, Yukon Brewing has two new beer out. The first, Spirit Dog, I reviewed a week or so ago (read the review here). The other is Dr. Snow, an Imperial Pilsner. Yukon has been focussing more on their bomber series since the Alberta mark-up changes – evidence of how good breweries can adopt to new rules.

There is undoubtedly a lot more than this going on, but this is what I have for you for now. Also, please keep giving me feedback on whether I should keep doing these round-ups in this changing environment.




What IBUs Are and Aren’t

hopsRecently I have had a couple of odd interactions with customers at one of my beer tasting events. I would be chatting about a beer and the person (so far always male, but not making any generalizations) would ask “how many IBUs in the beer?”

I found I would pause momentarily, mostly because I hadn’t expected the question. Over my years of doing this work, the notion of IBUs (which stands for International Bittering Units) was one restricted to homebrewers, beer geeks and consumers who REALLY knew their stuff. I never got questions about IBUs from regular drinkers.

My first take on this new development (don’t get me wrong, it is still pretty rare, but the fact it has happened two or three times over the past couple months is significant) is one of satisfaction and elation. This is a very positive sign about how much more educated, beer savvy and craft aware prairie drinkers are becoming. We should all be encouraged by it.

But the (moderately) deep thinker in me started contemplating how the term IBU is being used these days. When I started doing that my opinion on the matter got more complex. And when I started contemplating the complexity of the issue, I decided I had to write a column about it. So I did.

My last CBC column (which you can listen to hear) as well as my most recent Vue Weekly column (or read here if you prefer) address the question of IBUs. More specifically they talk about what IBUs tell us about beer, what it DOESN’T tell us about beer and how, therefore, it is being misused in certain quarters and thus may be misleading beer drinkers.

Here is my case in a nutshell: IBUs is a scientific standard designed to measure the amount of alpha acids that have isomerized and saturated into the beer. Since alpha acids are the agent that create bitterness in beer it is a useful proxy for how “bitter” a beer is. This is all perfectly helpful for brewery quality control, homebrew recipes and a general “sense” of how much hops were used.

The problem is that it actually tells us very little about what the beer tastes like.  That is because our perception of bitterness varies widely from the scientific calculations done in a lab. There are lots of reasons for this. Bitterness is only one flavour component of a beer. Other things such as malt, yeast characteristics and other additions (e.g., smoke) can shift how much the bitterness stands out. Plus (and this is my favourite), our physical capacity to detect bitterness tops out at about 120 IBUs or so, meaning all the stuff at the top end of the IBU scale is all coming across pretty much the same. That 1200 IBU beer is nothing but marketing gimmick. (I give some other explanations in the columns if you want to read/hear more).

This would all still be fine if that nuance was shared with the beer consumer. Instead – and here I blame (some) breweries and craft beer bars – we slap the number on the label or menu and leave it at that. We expect the consumer to know what it means and how to contextualize it. Except often they can’t (obviously some can). The people who asked me about IBUs had very little understanding of its meaning beyond “higher means more hoppy” (which is what they were looking for).

By all means, let’s promote the use of IBUs to educate consumers. It’s a great idea! But if we are going to do that, we need to provide context. We need more than one number to tell the story. In fact it is a bit dangerous to expect numbers to tell a full story at all. Even if we tossed in SRM, OG, FG, etc. we still wouldn’t be telling the drinker what to expect in terms of aroma and taste.

I love IBUs. Wouldn’t live without them. But they need to be placed in their proper context if they are going to advance consumers’ beer knowledge and passion.

Calgary Brewers Band Together for Fort Mac Evacuees

FortMacFundRaiserWithin hours of the news that Fort McMurray was being evacuated, Mark Zemlak of Boiling Oar was on the phones and email talking to other Calgary breweries trying to work out ideas of how they could help. They had talked about a collaboration brew, but wanted to move faster than that.

A group of five Calgary breweries – Boiling Oar, Big Rock, Wild Rose, Village and Last Best – are banding together for a fundraising night at Craft Beer Market this Friday, May 13 from 3pm to 8pm. During those hours the sales of beer from those breweries will be donated to the Red Cross relief efforts for Fort McMurray evacuees. Representatives from each brewery will be present to talk to patrons and encourage additional donations.

Obviously donating beer sales to Fort Mac relief is a relative small initiative in what will be a very big operation to make the city safe to live again and support the displaced residents in the meantime. I think it also shows the spirit of Alberta craft brewers – and Albertans in general – that their first thoughts were “how can we help?”

So if you are in Calgary make a point of dropping by for a pint on Friday, think for a moment about what it must be like to be a Fort Mac citizen today, and consider topping up your beer donation with some cash from your wallet.

There are rumours of other beer-related fundraisers around the province. I will get the word out as things are confirmed.

Troubled Monk Medals at World Beer Cup


Photo courtesy of

News drifted out this weekend that among the winners of the 2016 World Beer Cup, associated with the Brewers’ Association Craft Beer Conference, was Red Deer’s Troubled Monk. The upstart brewery scooped up a Silver medal in the American-Style Brown Ale category. Needless to say this is quite the coup for the Bredo brothers and their young operation.

Their Open Road American Brown Ale best all but one of the 81 entries in the popular category. For the record the winner was Granola Brown Ale by Black Hog Brewing in Connecticut. No other prairie-region breweries picked up a medal, although I do not know how many others entered the competition.

I cannot say I am surprised by this win. I can honestly say I have been raving about Open Road since I first tried it back in the fall. I find it a really interesting and well-balanced brown ale. It is definitely in the American-style, as it has a fresh citrusy hop character. What I like about it, though, is that it doesn’t lose its brown ale-ness. It has some light nuttiness and delicate fruit ester in the background. It is a soft-spoken beer, but maintains a nice complexity to it – which is how all brown ales should be. It is one of the more interesting browns I have tasted in a while.

Only five other Canadian breweries picked up medals – Le Trou du Diable (with 2), Brasseurs san Gluten (with 2, both in the gluten free category), 33 Acres and Powell Street in B.C. and Collective Arts in Hamilton. Again, I cannot say how many Canadian breweries entered, but you gotta hand it to the Bredos that is pretty nice company to be keeping.

I know many (including myself) have critiques of these sort of large commercial beer competitions. I personally find styles proliferation waters these events down by creating too many categories while others feel like they don’t represent a truly best-on-best type of competition. All true. But also beside the point, in a way. This year’s World Beer Cup has 6,600 entries (and 1900 breweries). Sure, they handed out 287 medals, which is a lot, but that is still a less than a 1 in 20 chance of medalling. Plus it is not as if it is judged by a bunch of guys picked up from the corner pub. It has some of the world’s most respected judges evaluating the beer.

So I think Troubled Monk deserves a huge pat on the back, not only for their personal success but for their achievement in highlighting that the prairie brewers know how to make good beer. And we can even scoop up a medal or two in American brewers’ backyard (both geographically and stylistically).

A nice way to start the week.


Grab the Spirit (Dog) of the Yukon

yukonspiritdog2I hesitated in writing a post today, given what is happening in Fort McMurray at the moment. Tragic and horrible events like the wildfire properly put what I do in perspective. I write about beer. At moments like these it seems frivolous. Part of me felt I should devote this space today to pointing people to the Red Cross donation site (it is here, so go and donate) or offering a brief note of encouragement to the evacuees. I could do that. But many others are doing a great job of helping and I trust that regular readers of this site are community-minded people and are already doing what they can.

So, after contemplation, I decided to just keep doing what I do and write about beer. (There are some beer-related fundraising efforts in the works and I will dutifully promote them once plans are finalized.)

So today is my take on what may be one of the most interesting projects to come around these parts in a long time.

It is Yukon Spirit Dog. The good folks at Yukon Brewing regularly distill batches of their Lead Dog old English ale to create a bierschnapps. Spirit Dog is a blending of fresh Lead Dog with a portion of the bierschnapps. The idea is that it intensifies the Lead Dog experience, plus ups the alcohol to 11%.

It goes without saying I snapped a bottle up just as soon as I saw it on the shelf. It is dark brown with a mahogany accent. It builds a medium tan head which is thick and tight and creamy looking. From a rough glance looks like a Lead Dog but seems both richer and redder than the original.

The aroma has light chocolate, hints of cherry, oak, vanilla, sherry, touches of light nutty coffee, some alcohol warmth and molasses, velvety cream. In short there is a lot going on and I haven’t even taken a sip yet.

I finally take a pull and find dark fruit, creamy chocolate, and some light roast start things off. Underlying all of this is a quiet, smooth sherry character that adds complexity. The middle gets curious. I pick up some light wood, a stronger cherry and plum flavour, along with molasses. Yet the beer also thins out a little bit. I am not sure why. The finish sharpens again, with alcohol warming, some roast, dark cherry and sherry and some cola. In the linger the molasses, alcohol warming and dark fruit remain. A light alcoholic coating builds on the roof of my mouth as I sip, like a schnapps would do. The mouthfeel is quite silky, like satin sheets.

Spirit Dog is a complex, intriguing beer. It is surprisingly smooth and gentle yet offers a cascade of flavours. I can spot Lead Dog in there, but she has changed. It is more ephemeral and wispy, yet also more earthy and grounded. Not sure what I think of the linger, but it intrigues me. I paid close attention to this beer every sip to the end.

As a warning they have packaged Spirit Dog in 650-ml bombers, which feels almost dangerous. For the record, I poured myself half and re-capped the bottle (the advantages of being a homebrewer) for a second round the next night.

The big bottle is something of a pity, but the beer inside it is interesting, intriguing, tantalizing and complex. What more could you ask for in a dog?

Boiling Oar Heating Up the Beer Scene

boilingoar_logoAs reported here, Boiling Oar Brewing Company opened its doors in Calgary in early April. I finally got a chance to have a chat with founder Mark Zemlak a few days ago to find out just what propels the brewery and where they plan on taking Alberta beer drinkers.

Zemlak comes to beer the way many of us did. He started homebrewing. However, Zemlak got an earlier start than most of us. “When I was 16 we got to make mead in the house, got to carry on with experimenting with brewing”, he admits. “It becomes a hobby that sucks you in. It did that for 10 years”. In the meantime he went to work at his family’s electrical servicing company. But that beer passion kept distracting him.

Then one day, through the family company, Zemlak met Dave Neilly, a well-known professional brewer in the area who at the time was lending a hand at constructing the Minhas’ Calgary brewery. He decided to help Dave build the brewhouse. It was a crucial learning experience for Zemlak that served him well when he eventually turned his attention to Boiling Oar. “Lots of people can work in a brewery, but building one is a whole other thing”.

Still at that time opening a brewery was little more than a pipe dream for Zemlak, as he had little capital and even less desire to go into debt to pursue his dream. Then December 6, 2013 happened – the day the Alberta government changed beer rules scrapping the 5,000 HL minimum capacity requirement. Suddenly a small, self-financed operation was possible. “There would be no Boiling Oar if they hadn’t changed that policy”, says Zemlak. “I have been working on it ever since”.

Zemlak persuaded a bunch of friends to invest money and become partners in the brewery. They started planning and building, all the while holding on to their day jobs. His friends aren’t beer geeks, but contribute to the brewery in other ways. “I am beer guy and I have a bunch of investors who are passionate beer drinkers who help with marketing, website and other stuff. We are all part-timers on this. We still have full-time jobs,” Zemlak notes. “Much like Dandy Brewing we all have jobs and are plugging away at brewing.”

There is more than one comparison to Dandy, who were Alberta’s first nanobrewery. Boiling Oar isn’t much bigger. They have a 7-hectolitre brewhouse with two 14-hectolitre fermenters and a bright tank. That is pretty small brewing. And Zemlak likes it that way. “I have brewed on a 60 hec system. Large scale brewing takes the romance out of it. Small brings it back to the fun. I want to just do up a recipe and go for the gusto and hope it works out”.

When I ask him about his plans down the road, the answer is similar. He talks about  “maxing out” the current brewhouse, adding more and bigger fermenters. No talk of expanding the capacity significantly. While he doesn’t rule out one day installing a bigger brewhouse it is not on his priority list. “We didn’t want a 20-hl system right out of the gate. We would be brewing for the wrong reasons, to pay bank loans. If it ever stopped being fun we would have to re-evaluate the project”.

We don’t have to look at it as a business – it is our passion. We can keep it as a hobby,” he says. “We are always after organic growth. Make good beer and promote it as best as you can. We don’t need gimmicky marketing, just aiming to get a foothold in market”.

Zemlak’s vision is simple, clean and focused. “We want to do everything the right way. My vision is doing things the right way and focusing on making beer, not so much building a brand. I never had a vision for Continue reading Boiling Oar Heating Up the Beer Scene

Ban on Cross Border Beer Transport Unconstitutional

court gavelOn Friday afternoon a New Brunswick Provincial Court judge ruled that rules prohibiting the transportation of beer (well, alcohol in general) are unconstitutional (read a news article about it here). I might not talk about this except that – potentially – the ruling could have implications for a wider range of beer-related policies.

The summary of the case is this: Gérard Comeau, a senior and (apparently) big fan of Budweiser, bought 15 cases of beer and 3 bottles of liquor in Quebec and carted them to his home in rural New Brunswick 200 km away. If that seems a long way to go to you for a bunch of Bud, you are right. However, Mr. Comeau was motivated by the significant price differential between New Brunswick and Quebec. Bringing that much beer across a provincial border is illegal and Mr. Comeau received a $292 ticket for his trouble (kinda wiped out his price savings, didn’t it?). He challenged it in court and on Friday won.

The core of the decision is s.121 of the Constitution Act of 1867, so we are not talking Charter of Rights stuff here. In fact it is a pretty obscure section of the Constitution. I had to look it up. This is what it says: “All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other Provinces”.

Essentially the case comes down to inter-provincial free trade. Are governments allowed to erect barriers to the free flow of goods between provinces? Until now (and I am certainly no expert on this) the section has been interpreted very loosely. The judge’s opinion is that it is much more clear cut and prohibits any kind of inter-provincial trade barrier.

In terms of the real world, this could have significant impact on a wide range of industries, including agriculture, energy and construction. Far bigger things than this little thing called beer. But beer is in the mix, so let’s discuss it.

What does it mean?

First, we have to remember this is a lower court ruling. We are basically in the first period here, folks, so lots can change. Second, the impacts of decisions like this are always more moderate than the initial reaction. I am already hearing commentary that this means the end of liquor control boards and government-owned liquor stores. Nonsense. Even if the decision holds up, it will take years and years for all this to play out.

That caveat put on the record, let’s discussion possible implications.

Assuming the decision holds – and that is a big assumption, given it is based on something of an Originalist interpretation of the Constitution (the position US Presidential candidate Ted Cruz holds, that we must interpret the constitution strictly based upon what the drafters intended, not in context of modern realities) – one consequence seems clear. Canadians will be able to buy alcohol for their personal consumption in one province and transport it to another. I also suspect wineries (and breweries!) will be permitted to sell directly to consumers in other provinces and ship the product to them without going through the liquor control board (at least in the receiving province).

Probably, but not as certain, is that liquor board’s role as gatekeepers in Continue reading Ban on Cross Border Beer Transport Unconstitutional