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BC Liquor announces changes to allow direct sales, in-brewery events

Wine and liquor establishments across the province have a few reasons to toast this weekend. Today B.C.'s Liquor Control and Licensing Branch announced a set of policy changes that will positively impact several sectors of the industry.

As of March 1, mid-sized wineries, breweries and distilleries will be allowed to serve alcohol in designated lounges or tasting rooms. The provincial government also rebooted its "tied house" laws so that brewery owners with off-site restaurants may serve their own products for a change.

"We applaud the government for updating an outdated and archaic law that was impeding progress," said Anthony Frustagli, co-owner of Parallel 49 brewery and St. Augustine's pub in East Vancouver. "Not only for us but a number of businesses in the craft beer industry."

Under the new rules, liquor products made in B.C. will also be eligible for mark-up exempt direct sales. This means small-scale wineries and breweries will be able to sell directly to licensed bars and restaurants without a 123 per cent markup previously imposed by the Liquor Board. According to a press release, the province says the change aims to "help grow the made-in-B.C. craft distillery industry," adding that "the use of B.C. agricultural inputs will benefit our agricultural sector."

The list of new policies suggest a province-wide shift to stimulate local food and entertainment business. "These changes reflect the evolving nature of the liquor industry in British Columbia," Minister Rich Coleman stated in the release. "As time passes, so does the need to re-evaluate our laws and find ways to ensure we’re doing all we can to create an environment where liquor-related businesses can continue to succeed."

The press release also announced the appointment of Herb LeRoy as the province's new wine envoy. LeRoy will work with other provinces' liquor boards to "reduce barriers so that B.C. wine can be enjoyed by Canadians from sea to sea to sea."

The changes, which all take effect on March 1, follow a similar breakthrough last week: B.C. caterers and party planners became eligible for liquor licenses on Feb. 6. Previously event planners could only handle food; clients had to cover their own liquor buying and serving.

"I was the first caterer in B.C. to put in an application," said Debra Lykkemark of Vancouver's Culinary Capers. Lykkemark explained her business stood to gain at least a 10 per cent boost in business from liquor sales at catered events. "We’ve definitely been losing business because of the difficulty dealing with liquor issues at events."

Lykkemark said she'd have an answer to her application in six to eight weeks. "We were very pleased to see the government actually consulted with us to help write regulations that would work," she said.

While local beer and wine producers have embraced the government's move as a step in the right direction, other establishments remain stifled by a new policy directive that bans all-ages concerts. As of Jan. 15, venues like the Rickshaw Theatre are no longer able to host dry all-ages shows.

Sarah Berman is a freelance journalist based in Vancouver.

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