NB Liquor kicks off suds-filled spat with Picaroons, Nova Scotia’s craft brewers

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NB Liquor kicks off suds-filled spat with Picaroons, Nova Scotia’s craft brewers
WATCH: NB Liquor may have kicked off a suds-filled spat when it told a New Brunswick craft brewer that it's no longer able to sell craft beer from Nova Scotia in their retail locations. Adrienne South has more – Apr 25, 2018

NB Liquor may have kicked off a suds-filled spat when it told a New Brunswick craft brewer that it’s no longer able to sell craft beer from Nova Scotia in their retail locations.

Sean Dunbar, the owner of Picaroons, says that starting last April he had attempted to find out from NB Liquor — New Brunswick’s crown corporation in charge of liquor sales — whether he was allowed to sell out-of-province beer in his store. He tried again in October but still didn’t get an answer.

He started stocking Nova Scotia craft brews on Picaroons shelves this January.

But when Dunbar followed up on April 19, NB Liquor finally gave him an answer.

“I got a no,” he said, and was told that NB Liquor is the only one permitted to sell out of province brews.

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“[My] reaction was disappointment at yet another missed opportunity for  New Brunswick beer consumers.”

READ MORE: Craft beer camaraderie: NB brewers helping, not hindering each other

Sean Dunbar, the owner of Picaroons Traditional Ales, speaks to Global News on April 25. Andrew Cromwell/Global News

NB Liquor’s decision means that craft beer from brewers in Nova Scotia, such as 2 Crows Brewing, Big Spruce Brewing and Good Robot Brewing Company, will no longer be sold in Picaroons.

It’s a decision that doesn’t sit well with the Craft Brewer’s Association of Nova Scotia (CBANS), which issued a statement in response to NB Liquor.

“This effectively creates a new barrier to entry for Nova Scotia craft beer in New Brunswick,” wrote Kirk Cox, executive director of CBANS.

“The most recent move by [NB Liquor] contradicts the Maritime Beer Accord, a formal agreement between the Maritime provinces, which explicitly states that no brewery in the region will be treated any differently than any other brewery, no matter the maritime province in which they operate.”
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The statement called on NB Liquor to respect the accord while noting that New Brunswick Breweries are allowed to be sold in Nova Scotia’s craft beer stores — doubling down with a call for action from Nova Scotia’s Liquor Corporation (NSLC).

“We also call on the NSLC to eliminate the unfair practice of granting New Brunswick breweries direct and preferential access to Nova Scotia.”

READ MORE: ‘Free the beer’ knocked down by top court — What it means for Canada

A spokesperson for the NSLC said that they are aware of the craft breweries concerns.

“[The province] will continue to have discussions with all stakeholders as the province moves forward to maintain the balance between the needs of industry and the beverage alcohol policy,” said Beverley Ware.

Ware clarified that Nova Scotia craft breweries are not allowed to sell cans or bottles of craft beer from other craft brewers.

“When Nova Scotia craft brewers sell directly to bars and restaurants in Nova Scotia they pay a Retail Sales Mark Up, just as all beverage alcohol producers do. When they sell their products to bars and restaurants outside of Nova Scotia, they are considered exports so they are not subject to the RSMA. When New Brunswick craft brewers sell directly to Nova Scotia bars and restaurants, those are exports for New Brunswick, so they’re not subject to the RSMA either,” she said.

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Jeremy White, owner of Nova Scotia’s Big Spruce Brewing, says he feels that NB Liquor feels emboldened by the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision that found provinces have the constitutional right to restrict the amount of alcohol that Canadians buy and transport across provincial boundaries.

“It’s ridiculous for [NB Liquor] to say they are the sole importer when they signed on to the maritime beer accord and when they’ve got the people of New Brunswick and the people of the Maritimes behind the concept of open borders so that breweries like mine can be treated as though we were a New Brunswick brewery,” he said.

NB Liquor responds

NB Liquor spokesperson Mark Barbour said its policies have always stated that N.B. craft brewers are not permitted to bring in beers from outside of the province.

“They are only permitted to sell beer that is made from someone under the act in New Brunswick that makes it in the province,” Barbour said. “So all that is to say that every craft brewery in New Brunswick is aware of that policy.”

Barbour said that information is in each individual craft brewery contract and he said contracts are reviewed with brewers prior to being given a Brewer Agency Licence which allows them to sell alcohol.

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In response to questions over the Maritime Beer Accord, Barbour said it’s not applicable to this situation.

“That was created in 2007 and the craft industry did really not come into play,” Barbour said.

He reiterated the policies are clear and that New Brunswick craft brewers know they can’t sell it, and have never been allowed to.

Barbour said nothing has changed since the Supreme Court ruling.

“The two are separate issues,” he said. “The two don’t go hand-in-hand.”

Barbour said NB Liquor believes it’s important to keep this policy in place so that the province’s craft brewers are given the ability to sell and support beers made in the province.

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White doesn’t agree.

“All four provinces need to get together,” he said.

“This needs to be what it was intended to be: parity for all, a level playing field.”

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