Think of a spirit made in Quebec — one of the first to pop in your mind will likely be PUR Vodka, Ungava Gin, or maybe even Piger Henricus gin. These small Quebec liquors have all won multiple international awards for taste and quality, and continue to impress spirits aficionados around the world. The SAQ has also dedicated thousands of your taxpayer dollars to advertise them, increasing their reputation.
Now, think of a Quebec wine — any wine. Having trouble? Unlike our spirits, the SAQ has done little to promote wines with a Quebec terroir, and few have won widespread international recognition. Though Quebec has great wine to offer, most people simply don’t know about them.
So it’s a bit of a turnaround to see the government now making it harder for distillers to do business in the province, while making it much easier for everyone else.
Quebec’s Minister of Finance recently tabled Bill 88, An Act respecting development of the small-scale alcoholic beverage industry. Most of the measures in the bill are very welcome. For one, Quebec alcohol producers will be allowed to sell their products directly to grocery stores and dépanneurs, giving them the same rights as breweries. Breweries and other alcohol producers will also be allowed to sell bottles of booze directly at the point of production, bringing the province in line with the rest of the civilized world.
But here’s the catch: To be able to sell anything that isn’t beer outside the SAQ, the alcohol must only be made from fruit, honey, or maple syrup — when’s the last time you enjoyed a good maple wine? — and it has to contain less than 16 per cent alcohol by volume.
This clause has locked Quebec’s artisanal distillers out from liberalization. The minister has effectively decided that distillers have no right to operate like normal businesses.