Emma’s foray into the virtues of Manitoba-specific condiment use reminds me that barbeque season is just around the corner. It’s pretty much standard for this crew that barbequing and warm weather necessitates imbibing. We love our Bronsons (our borrowed term for “beers” – informed by the wisdom of The Hipster Handbook), sangria, and other chilled summertime libations. Since moving to Winnipeg we have discussed some noticeable differences between the vending of alcohol in British Columbia as compared to Manitoba, and in some cases, the completely privatized sector in Alberta. Actually, this link to the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission demonstrates how awesome it is that privatization has been getting Albertans more drunk since 1993 (okay, so I’ve added my spin)!
What follows is our email conversation regarding the caveats of liquor consumption and distribution in Winnipeg…or what we know of this topic so far. A recent article in the Free Press details a significant increase in the overall sale of liquor in Manitoba for 2008. While Laurel and I hadn’t moved to the province yet, and surely this isn’t all on account of Emma’s moving here in July ‘08, we’re naturally curious about liquor, trends in consumption, and our saucy new hometown.
Emma: Hey guys, let’s talk about how awesome the sale of beer, wine, and spirits is in Manitoba. We’re in total agreement on this one, right?
Laurel: Heck yeah! We should probably start with Emma’s BC liquor store pet peeve: being closed on Sunday. There were maybe three government liquor stores in all of Vancouver that were open on Sunday – the ‘special’ premium stores. Meanwhile in Manitoba, where almost everything is closed on Sundays, the Liquor Mart is open. I am completely for this.
Aaron: Well, one thing the two provincially-regulated bodies have in common is an amazing web presence…access to their full product catalogue online? Kicks Alberta’s privatized butt any day! I will admit, however, the strange flow of regulation is a bit confusing. Some places are licensed to sell beer (if there is a ‘tavern’?) and others can sell wine but not spirits…it all seems to be the product of “yes, but no” legislation. You can do this, but you can’t do that.
Emma: What I think is super-interesting is that prices are fixed – which means that whether you go to a beer vendor (privately-run) or a Liquor Mart (provincially-run) the prices will be the same. While generally, you can’t get much in the way of cold beer at a liquor mart (or “LC”, as everyone our parents’ age calls it), you don’t have to waste any time shopping around trying to find the deals. It’s all the same price, which is a far cry from the half-private/half-public system in BC and the totally private system in Alberta. I love it!
Aaron: Emma, you’re overlooking one of your favourite features of the MLCC…the ability to participate in the Air Miles program. This must be reserved to large or large-ish companies, so I wouldn’t be surprised if keeping the distribution of liquor controlled in this province in some way enticed Air Miles to link up. That’s something to think about.
Laurel: I didn’t mind the price differences so much in BC, since the public stores also had worse hours than the private ones. The cost variation was almost justified by the convenience the private stores could offer. In Winnipeg, however, there seems to be a conscious effort to make the Liquor Marts accessible (both in locations and hours); my brief experience with a private beer store waaaasn’t that great. I haven’t seen a private wine store yet, but the beer stores (what with the tavern/hotel/whatever regulation tacked on) don’t seem to be geared towards foot traffic.
Emma: You’re right, Laurel, they’re pretty much geared towards car traffic – half of them are called drive-thrus! And Aaron, I’m glad you caught that one. I do love me some Air Miles. In Alberta, the only place you could collect ’em was at Safeway liquor stores. Needless to say, much of our Air Miles collecting comes courtesy of MLCC.
Laurel: Safeway has liquor stores in Alberta? Clearly I moved to the wrong province.
Emma: Yeah, they do! (Imagine: Safeway Club points AND Air Miles. Heaven!) Anyway, want to hear something amazing? On December 23, 2008, MLCC had a record-breaking $3.64 million in sales. Incredible!
Emma: All this discussion has made me wonder what drinks are particularly Manitoban? A couple things I’d never seen until I moved here are: OV beer and Billy Rock (aka Billy Goat) wine in a can. What stands out for you guys? I know what wine and juice-based concoction Laurel can’t wait to drink on Corydon this summer!
Laurel: I’m definitely excited for a summer of sangria, but I don’t think I’d consider that particularly Manitoban. So far for me I guess it’s been OV (which I’ve only had at a curling rink – probably part of the association) and Caribou (which I think I’ve had enough of to last me a lifetime). Billy Rock—and wine in a can in general—is new to me, too.
This province’s Liquor Control Act is available online, is searchable, and provides a great deal of valuable information. I searched for the word “price” and learned what I need to know about Emma’s mention of fixed-pricing. We’re all looking forward to learning about any Manitoba-specific beverages to look for this summer. Caribou aside, what would you suggest we must try? I know we all enjoy the availability of micro-brewed beer that is locally crafted here in Winnipeg. Half Pints Brewery makes delicious staple and seasonal beers, and they support a fun and creative Brewer’s Blog. We also appreciate The Grape Nut as a good source for information on all things related to wine here in the city of Winnipeg. What else are we missing out on, Winnipeg? Education through libation…now that has a nice ring to it!