Management at Okanagan Spirits knew key changes to B.C. liquor laws were coming, but they didn’t know when.
Last September, NDP leader Adrian Dix announced his party supported provincial liquor law changes that would benefit artisan distilleries.
At the time, the Liberal government said those changes would likely come in six to eight weeks.
“We were waiting six weeks, eight weeks, 12, 14, 16,” said Rodney Goodchild, sales and marketing manager at Okanagan Spirits, a Kelowna and Vernon-based craft distillery.
“Then we heard it was coming soon…this is positive for the business, there’s no doubt about it.”
On Friday, Minister Rich Coleman finally announced several eagerly-anticipated changes.
Goodchild said the most beneficial change will be Okanagan Spirits’ eligibility for mark-up exempt direct sales because the craft distillery uses 100 per cent B.C. agricultural raw materials in many of its products.
“Previously it was quite a cumbersome process,” said Goodchild.
He said, under the old rules, money from all in-store sales was given to the B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Branch. Approximately six weeks later, Okanagan Spirits would get just under two thirds of that money back.
“Now we’ll retain all of it—huge difference.”
The changes will also ease the process for direct sales to bars, restaurants and private liquor stores.
Previously, if a restaurant across the street wanted an Okanagan Spirits product, the distillery would be required to ship it to the Lower Mainland, where that product would be processed and then shipped back to Kelowna.
“It’s something we’ve asked for, for a long time. (The change) makes so much sense on so many levels.”
Brewers and distillers will now also be able to apply to have an on-site consumption area such as a lounge, tasting room or event area.
Goodchild said, with the Bernard Avenue revitalization currently happening, the timing for that alteration couldn’t be better.
Although he wouldn’t go into detail, he noted one possibility may include using the widened sidewalk to create a type of patio setting featuring a cocktail bar.
The liquor law changes that will officially be implemented March 1 include:
• Brewers and distillers now can apply to have an on-site consumption area such as a lounge, tasting room or event area.
• Small- and medium-sized liquor manufacturers will be allowed up to three common ownership and business relationships with licensed establishments located off their manufacturing site.
• Rules around how liquor manufacturers can promote their products in bars and restaurants have been simplified by removing the requirement for a buy-sell agreement.
• Distilled liquor products that consist of 100 per cent British Columbia agricultural raw materials and are distilled in B.C. by licensed distilleries are now eligible for mark-up exempt direct sales.
• An honourary B.C. wine envoy will be named with a mandate to work to complement existing efforts to open up domestic markets for B.C. wines.
• Wine stores will become licensees under the Liquor Control and Licensing Act.
• The criteria on whether private liquor stores can relocate within one kilometre of an existing liquor store are now set out in regulation rather than policy.
• All increases to liquor-primary capacity will now require local government input.
• Allowing rural agency stores to purchase unlimited amounts of beer through their local government liquor store.
Urban Distilleries of Kelowna, which makes rum and spirits, will also benefit from the changes.