BC Distillery Laws Enter the 21st Century

Removing “Daft Regulations”

BC Distillery Laws Enter the 21st Century

Our daughter recently got married in a castle in Inverness, where we men wore kilts – an interesting experience – and I visited some wonderful Speyside scotch distilleries, enjoying a culture where the making and service of spirits is relatively free of arbitrary or unduly restrictive rules. In BC, we are finally seeing some movement in this direction, fostering a blossoming of local craft distillers. So in the “spirit” of both places, I highlight positive changes in BC’s regulatory framework allowing this small renaissance, and talk about and review single malt scotch.

BC’s liquor laws are a product of prohibitionist attitudes that government should discourage alcohol use. That such laws have continued well into the 21st century was an embarrassing hindrance to intelligent alcohol production and consumption. The BC government, in 2013, commissioned the “Yap Report” (referred to in Mark Hicken’s article) that made wide-ranging recommendations in alcohol regulation. With distilleries, the report noted: “Many presentations, particularly from manufacturers, spoke of the significant requirements and criteria that need be met to obtain a manufacturer’s licence…. while high standards must be required for any approval related to alcohol production, there may be opportunities… to streamline the approach.”

Minister Coleman began immediate implementation, he said, “to remove daft regulations” under the Liquor Control and Licensing Act to:

  • allow breweries and distilleries to have on-site lounges or tasting rooms like wineries;
  • eliminate the “tied house rules” where alcohol manufacturers could not sell their own products in any off-site restaurant or lounge they owned, and allow up to three off-site partnerships;
  • simplify rules on how liquor manufacturers may promote their products in bars and restaurants; and
  • give BC distilleries using entirely BC agricultural raw materials exemptions from BCLDB markups and fees when selling directly to customers and restaurants, enjoying what winemakers call “farm gate” status.

The Sun reported that when Okanagan Spirits previously sold its $45 Poire William brandy at its Vernon distillery, it netted back $28.08, while through any other retailer in the province it netted $16.03. Under “farm-gate” status, it nets $37.80.

Now to the single-malt. Why do some, like Lagavulin or Laphroaig from Islay, have “smoky” aromas and flavours, while others, like Glenlivet from Speyside do not? The difference is from the method of “malting” the barley that converts the starch to sugar before it is fermented to make the beer-like “wort,” that is double-distilled and barrel-aged. Malting barley involves it being soaked in water, germinated and kiln-dried. Traditionally, peat was the fuel imparting that smokiness. With modern heat sources, the use of peat became a matter of style. Unpeated whiskies find a large following in Asia, peated ones appeal more to the North American market and Europe in between. Within the peated range there are lightly and heavily-peated versions.

Here is a fine example of each:

BENROMACH 10 year (SKU223461, $79.99): From a family-owned and smallest distillery in Scotland, where computerized production lines are eschewed for old-fashioned manpower from its three-man team, this award-winning Speyside distillery makes a lightly-peated whisky redolent with sweet spiced orange, ginger and smoky chocolate aromas and flavours on a long-malted finish.

ABERLOUR DOUBLE CASK 12 year (SKU922658, $62.99): This Speyside distillery, like many Scotch distillers, is part of the Pernod Ricard group. The 12 year is unpeated displaying sweet fruit aromas and flavours of dried apple, red apple peel, ginger and dried apricots, with notes of toffee and cinnamon and a warm peppery finish.

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