MLCC o’ Our Hearts

April 29th, 2009 by Aaron

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!

MLCC online product search
BC Liquor Stores online product search (one advantage to this website is the ability to search inventory by store…a feature that would benefit the MLCC site)

13 Responses to “MLCC o’ Our Hearts”

  1. cherenkov says:

    I can’t believe you’ve already tried Caribou! Most people don’t even know what it is. I’ll say this about it: if you drank it indoors or in a season other than winter, then you have to give it another try. It’s a great outdoors drink-from-the-bottle warm you up kind of beverage for the winter. Ya, a little nasty at first but …

    … on to microbrews: I think you found our only one! Something we are definitely lacking here are microbreweries and brew pubs. A few have come and gone, but for some reason they didn’t last. If you’re a brave entrepreneur you should start one up in a warehouse in the exchange district so I can wander over there after work for a bronson.

  2. Aaron says:

    We have tried Caribou, and I think for the most part we liked it!

    Our first experience was at Festival, so it was definitely winter, and we were inside a tent…so technically, that was indoors. Good point about the lack of micros in the city! Some adventurous soul needs to get her or his “micro” on.

  3. A says:

    The LCBO also has a very good search engine (www.lcbo.com)

    And I’m biased, but I think the private wine stores are pretty darn good. The best ones are a little farther out though, but if you’re willing to make the trek to Grant & Kenaston you won’t be sorry.

    I’d have to agree with cherenkov’s comment about microbreweries/brew pubs. For some reason Manitoba is totally lacking in that area (Half Pints being the notable exception). We could really use a good brew pub and a few more microbreweries to crowd out the watery lager section of the beer market.

  4. Emma says:

    I *love* Half Pints’ Stir Stick Stout! It’s even better than Big Rock’s Espresso Stout any day. I’ll admit I will miss Granville Island Winter Ale, though.. mmm… chocolate beer.

    I can’t wait to discover who makes a great hefeweizen this summer. Anyone got tips?

  5. Aaron says:

    I am definitely looking forward to Half Pints potentially making a special holiday brew to rival the Granville Island Winter Ale AND the Big Rock Winter Spice…c’mon Half Pints – I know you’ve got it in you!

  6. Marianne says:

    About private wine stores, having worked in a food & wine store in Wpg, the prices are legislated as to how high they can be but you might find deals when some of the private wine stores do promotions or sales as they are allowed to sell for less but not more than the MLCC stores.
    Why have I never heard of “Caribou”?

  7. Marianne says:

    The one other little plug I’ll give to the private stores is that they often carry wines you won’t find in the provincial stores.

  8. Aaron says:

    Have you attended Festival during your adult years? If not, there’s a possibility you haven’t noticed this fortified wine beverage due to your being too young to partake in some Voyageur-esque drinking!
    There is a brief description of Caribou from the good ol’ days here, but as I understand it Caribou is a fortified wine similar to sherry, only waaaaaay stronger. It’s worth a try next time you’re home during Festival!

  9. Marianne says:

    Ok, if I plan a trip to Wpg during February (not very likely my dear) we will go and you can show me this curious “Caribou” business.

  10. “I am definitely looking forward to Half Pints potentially making a special holiday brew to rival the Granville Island Winter Ale AND the Big Rock Winter Spice…c’mon Half Pints – I know you’ve got it in you!”

    We already do. Burlywine day is the second Saturday in December every year. Line up at the brewery, open house all day, and grab a bottle or two or 24 of what is quickly becoming recognized as a world class barleywine that’s being brewed in your own (current) backyard.

    There were still a few bottles left at Crestview Liquor Mart as of two days ago – they even had one of the 2007 vintages with the red wax seal. The green wax is 2008.

    Our spice beer is Punk’n Brown or Amber (depending on the base beer I have available) and it’s done up whenever the mood strikes and only then in very limited quantities. We just did one for a dinner at the Winter Club. Stop by the brewery and if I can find a leftover bottle, you’re welcome to it.

    Dave ;)

  11. thatlush says:

    Wait a minute – I call it the LC, and I’m only 33, hardly an old fogey (right?). Maybe it’s a Manitoba lexicon thing you’re not hip to.

  12. Aaron says:

    Well, to be completely honest Lush…we’re close on your heels in the age department, so “No” that doesn’t make you an old fogey! :)
    I am starting to train myself to call it “The LC” however, it will be hard battle. I already find it comforting to simply say all of the letters M-L-C-C. I’ll let you know how it shakes down.

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