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Public service strike leads to boom for B.C.’s craft distilleries

Click to play video: 'Demand soars at craft distilleries amid labour dispute'
Demand soars at craft distilleries amid labour dispute
The job actions may be paused, but the BCGEU labour dispute has put a strain on alcohol supply. However, empty liquor store shelves and unfulfilled orders have been a boon for local distilleries. Grace Ke reports – Aug 31, 2022

British Columbia’s now-paused public sector strike has put a strain on liquor stores, bars and restaurants — but for at least one sector of the province’s booze business, it’s been an unexpected boom.

Craft distilleries, who are able to conduct direct sales to clients, were not affected by BC General Employees’ Union pickets outside select warehouses of the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch.

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As the market for wholesale and import products began to dry up, James Lester with the Sons of Vancouver Distillery said his phone began ringing off the hook.

“A week, 10 days ago, we started getting calls form the big franchises — they’ll go through a case in a day of vodka or gin or something like that, and then they have 30 stores to buy through,” he said.

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“They can’t go to the liquor store and buy three bottles at a time.”

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That surge in demand has distillery workers working overtime hours, and Lester said Sons of Vancouver has stopped producing whiskey as it tries to keep up with demand for white spirits and their house spin on Triple Sec.

The eight-year-old business usually allocates about 1,200 bottles per month to vodka, gin and ‘quadruple sec,’ he said. Now they’re pumping out nearly 4,000.

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The BCGEU stood down on its picket lines Monday as a show of “good faith” as it continues hard bargaining with the province over wage increase protections it says are necessary to meet surging inflation.

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After two weeks of frozen supply lines, however, it will likely be some time before bars, restaurants and liquor stores begin to see their empty shelves restocked.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Jeff Guignard, executive director for the Alliance of Beverage Licensees, told Global News.

“This is the first step, it’s going to be several weeks yet before those thousands and thousands of cases start to be distributed around the province.”

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That means the boom appears set to continue for craft producers, at least for now.

Lester, who said the craft industry still makes up less than one per cent of spirit sales in the province, is hoping it’s an opportunity to convince more consumers to choose local.

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“It’s definitely one of those businesses where you have to capitalize on every opportunity,” he said, “and this is one of those things.”

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