Local breweries dodge provincial sales limits to launch ‘Gerard Comeau’ beer, with hopes of going national

Ottawa's Flora Hall Brewing and Gatineau's Brasserie du Bas-Canada brewed their new Brut IPA in two locations so they could sell it in both Ontario and Quebec. Flora Hall Brewing

Two local breweries on opposite sides of the Ottawa River are launching a new beer on Thursday that they concocted together, after finding a way to sidestep provincial liquor sales restrictions so the beverage can be sold in both Ontario and Quebec.

One of the businessmen behind the new libation – named “Gerard Comeau,” in honour of the man who spent five years challenging provincial liquor laws in court – said he also plans to ask other breweries across Canada to hop on board, so the beer can eventually be produced and sold in every province and territory.

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The owners of Ottawa’s Flora Hall Brewing and Gatineau’s Brasserie du Bas-Canada say the project was first and foremost about creating a new and “cool style of beer.” But they say they hope their partnership will simultaneously “make a point” about alcohol sales and distribution limits and how they affect both businesses and consumers.

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“I’m very interested in having this conversation continue because it does hold us back, there’s no question about it,” Dave Longbottom, owner of Flora Hall, said in an interview on Thursday.

The two Ottawa-Gatineau breweries opened around the same time in 2017. Through that, Longbottom said he and Marc-André Cordeiro Lima, one of Brasserie du Bas-Canada’s co-owners, got to know each other and decided this spring they wanted to join forces on a new brew.

While it’s quite common for breweries to do that, Longbottom said he and Cordeiro Lima soon realized they couldn’t produce the beer in one location and sell it in two provinces without finding themselves on the wrong side of the law. So, they found a way to circumvent the rules.

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After drafting a recipe, each brewery ordered the same ingredients and sent one of their brewers to the other side of the river. They then worked on two batches of the same beer on the same day in June.

The result: a “super dry” Brut IPA – a type of beer that’s attracted a following in California but is “fairly new” to the Canadian market, Longbottom said.

“It will have the nose of an IPA but the mouthfeel will be closer to a sparkling wine, just because it’s so dry,” he said.

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The idea to name the beer after Gerard Comeau came afterwards, as Longbottom reflected on the cross-border hurdles he and Cordeiro Lima ran up against and how those regulations impact customers and brewers, respectively.

Comeau launched his legal battle after being stopped and fined $292 by the RCMP in October 2012 for driving back into his home province of New Brunswick with 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor that he purchased in Quebec at a cheaper price.

Gerard Comeau spent five years challenging New Brunswick’s cross-border liquor restrictions in court. File/ Global News

Comeau pursued his constitutional challenge of New Brunswick’s laws all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Even though his so-called ‘free the beer’ case didn’t succeed in convincing the top court’s justices to knock down inter-provincial trade barriers, “he did a hell of a lot of good work exposing the issue,” Longbottom argued.

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Brewers’ woes have to do with distribution. If they want their drinks sold more widely, they have to list them with the provincial liquor board – but that can be an expensive and time-consuming process for smaller operations, Longbottom said.

“It’s not worth the trouble unless you’re big,” he said. “It’s just a barrier to doing business.”

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Longbottom said he called up Comeau’s lawyer with his proposal and got an answer “within an hour.”

“He was pretty thrilled by the whole thing,” Longbottom said of the New Brunswick man’s reaction.

But, given the cross-border constraints on alcohol sales, will Comeau ever get to sample his eponymous IPA? Longbottom says he’s going to do his best to make that happen.

“I’m going to ship it to him and I’ll take my chances,” he laughed. “If I was going to lose my licence or something, I wouldn’t do that. But in this case, I think I’m going to package it up and FedEx it down and hope that he gets it.”

And if not, Longbottom has another possible solution: collaborate with a “willing brewer” in New Brunswick so Comeau won’t have to cross any borders to buy his beer.

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The “Gerard Comeau” Brut IPA is being launched on Thursday at both Flora Hall Brewing and Brasserie du Bas-Canada – but Longbottom doesn’t plan to stop there. His vision is to find brewers in each province and territory that he “respects” and “connects with” to continue the project.

That’ll mean convincing brewers to put their staff on a plane, but he said he’s up to the task.

“I’m more than happy to do that … but it’ll probably be harder to find breweries that are willing to do that, but who knows,” Longbottom said.

Flora Hall’s and Brasserie du Bas-Canada’s graphic designers also collaborated on the label for the Comeau drink. While the former is bottling the beer and the latter is canning it, “the label has the same look and feel,” Longbottom explained.

The graphic designers at Flora Hall Brewing and Brasserie du Bas-Canada also collaborated on the label for the new Gerard Comeau Brut IPA. Flora Hall Brewery

Flora Hall is selling 500 ml bottles at $6.50 each. The one-litre cans on the Gatineau side will be priced at $13 each.

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The Comeau IPA can be purchased at both breweries as of Thursday. On top of that, the beer will be available for a limited time on tap at Brothers Beer Bistro in the ByWard Market and at Bar Lupulus in Wellington West, Longbottom said.

The specs, as provided by Flora Hall Brewing:

  • Name: Gerard Comeau’s Brut IPA
  • Type: Strong Ale
  • ABV: 7.2 per cent
  • Ingredients: water, malted barley, wheat, hops, yeast
  • IBU: 20
  • Description: “Highly carbonated and bone-dry, our IPA in collaboration with Brasserie du Bas-Canada is dry hopped with Hallertau Blanc and Enigme hops. Low in bitterness, with flavours and aromas of white grape.”

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