The owner of a Vancouver restaurant that had $40,000 of whisky confiscated in what it called a “Prohibition-style raid” is cheering a recommended change to provincial liquor rules.
The Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) took 240 bottles from Fet’s Whisky Kitchen in January because the liquor was bought at private retailers, not a government store. Three other B.C. establishments were also raided.
The restaurant says the liquor was all legally imported, had passed through government warehouses and had already been fully taxed.
Now, a liquor policy report submitted to Attorney General David Eby earlier this week is recommending making it legal for licensees such as Fet’s to buy product from any licensed source in the province.
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Fet’s owner, Eric Fergie, told Global News he’s hopeful the province will adopt the idea, which he said will make it easier for specialty businesses like his own to survive.
“We had one of the best selections in the world by distillery,” he said. “So we had over 110 different Scottish distilleries represented on our shelves.”
“We really want to see this move forward. We’re a world-class city, and we need to have world-class bars and restaurants that compete on the world stage.”
Fergie said current regulations make it challenging for specialty operators to get their hands on rare and unusual products.
“It’s very difficult. There’s some weeks that we have to go to four different government liquor stores just to pick up the stocked whiskies that they carry,” he said.
But according to Fergie, many specialty products that do come in aren’t ever made available to businesses like his, because they are allotted to private stores.
He said when they are available, licensees are required to buy them in full cases. With some bottles of whisky priced at more than $100, he said that can put a serious financial strain on small restaurateurs, who are forced to sit on a large volume of slow-moving product.
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He added that unpredictability with government liquor store deliveries also means they’re often left waiting weeks for a case of product to actually show up.
Attorney General David Eby says he’s considering all 24 recommendations made in the report, and that the province is interested in improving relations between the liquor industry and government.
“Government will now focus on assessing the panel recommendations to determine next steps including further consultation with health experts and labour representatives, and ensuring that any actions taken are compliant with B.C.’s trade obligations,” he said in an emailed statement.
As for the $40,000 in confiscated whisky, Fergie said he’s been assured it is in a secure location — but its future remains uncertain.
“We’ve conversed with them regarding the status of that whisky, and we have assurances from them that nothing will be done with that whisky until they have gone through due course,” he said.
“What due course is we don’t know at this point.”