Don’t expect to pay 20 percent less for liquor in restaurants in B.C.


The most optimistic scenario is that restaurants could use some of that 20 percent to run specials on selected products, Gismondi writes.

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Temporary changes to allow for wholesale liquor pricing for the hospitality industry were made permanent last week. The change first came about back in June 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was set to expire on March 31.

Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth announced that the B.C. government is “making this change permanent to give these businesses certainty and help them recover, and to help the estimated 190,000 British Columbians who work in this sector.”

That means hospitality licensees who sell liquor, including restaurants, pubs and tourism operators with liquor licences, can buy liquor at the same price both that government and private retailers pay, calculated to be about 20 per cent less than the full retail price.

Many are touting the change as life-saving for restaurants, and it may well be. It’s just that in the middle of a pandemic, it is too hard to tell what the real impact will be once consumers return to dining out in normal numbers.


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One thing is for sure, don’t expect to pay 20 per cent less for liquor in restaurants anytime soon, if ever.

The most optimistic scenario is that restaurants could use some of that 20 per cent to run specials on selected products and give its regular wine drinkers a break from decades of paying for everything in the restaurants, including the true cost of food for all diners.

As for the government’s version of “wholesale” let’s just say it in no way describes the real-world meaning, but it sounds good.

The real cost of liquor being offered to the hospitality community is best described as wholesale plus, plus, plus. A simplified version starts with the supplier’s cost plus the distributor’s cost, plus federal duty and excise taxes.

Take that number and mark it up 89 per cent on the first $11.75 and 67 per cent of any amount over $11.75, and you get the “whole” price. For consumers, they bear that price, with another 20 to 30 per cent retail markup by retailers, government and private, before the final blow of 10 per cent provincial sales tax and a five per cent GST.

Let’s be clear. Government has much bigger issues than liquor legislation at the moment. It could be they are not finished cleaning up decades of tweaking bad policy with Band-Aid solutions. The reality is government should do what they are expert at, taxing, not operating as a retailer, wholesaler and legislator in the 2021 business world of liquor.

The new rules will negatively impact local wineries, who could lose as much as 15 to 20 per cent of income for wines they sell directly to hospitality where they determined the sale price (outside of any wholesale structure).


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Indeed, small boutique producers who likely do not even have a wholesale price given their business model are more likely to have only one price for all. My guess, they will have to raise prices online and at the winery to make up the shortfall.

The announcement left private retailers out in the cold again, prohibiting them from servicing the hospitality industry directly. You might think if there is a one-price wholesale policy, hospitality can access the lowest price from the government direct. But there are restrictions such as demanding case lot sales, the time it takes to get orders,  delivery issues, and stockouts, not to mention interacting with a giant entity with little connection to the neighbourhood.

We might add allowing private retailers to look after hospitality would help revitalize small businesses in neighbourhoods by creating a better interaction between the community. It would add to a greener world with fewer trucks and carbon emissions favouring mixed wine cases rolling down the street on a dolly heading for neighbourhood bars and wine lists — all at no cost to the government.

Nothing is simple, but when you are the police, the judge and the jury, it is hard to see a broader approach that includes your competitors. The field is not level yet.

Weekend wine picks

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava N/V, Penedès, Catalunya, Spain

$16.99 I 88/100

UPC: 033293690009

We’ve been tasting this Brut for decades, and it remains consistently well made. It is made from three classic Cava grapes: Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel·lo. The style is crisp, just off lean, with subtle notes of creamy lees and hints of fresh apples and apricots. The finish is perceptibly dry. You can serve this with an array of appetizers. Good value.


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Church and State CBS Chardonnay 2017, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

$35.99 I 89/100

UPC: 626990363194

The CBS Chardonnay is barrel fermented and barrel-aged. It is not hard to notice the oaky vanilla notes, but they are in balance. The initial attack is a mix of honey and ripe apples with a dusting of almonds and vanilla. It is not particularly terroir-based, but many will be attracted to its pleasing rich, opulent style: an updated California Chardonnay-style of the 80s and 90s. There is no rush to drink this, especially under screwcap. Perfect for a mushroom stuffed, whole-roasted chicken.

Clos du Soleil Célestiale 2017, British Columbia, Canada

$23.90 I 88/100

UPC: 857088000459

Celestial is a nod to Bordeaux, blending four Similkameen vineyards and five grape varieties: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, from Keremeos and Cawston in the Similkameen, and Osoyoos in the southern Okanagan. The superheated 2015s were barrel-aged for 15 months in French oak. It is essentially crafted to be consumed sooner than the flagship Signature blend. The attack is young and juicy with smoky cedar, spicy black cherry, albeit with ripe, silky tannins. Look for some forest floor in the finish balancing the ripeness and playing to the savoury aspects of the Similkameen. Anything off the barbecue works here.

Murphy-Goode Pinot Noir 2018, California, United States

$26.49 I 88/100


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UPC: 083722023489

A California wine shop staple, this Pinot Noir hits all the Pinot varietal buttons from its bright red fruits, mouth-filling, earthy, cran-cherry, and soft tannins. Fresh, mouth-watering acidity balances the ripe fruit before ending in a savoury, smooth finish. Ready to drink.

Culmina Family Estate Malbec 2016, Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

$39.00 I 89/100

UPC: 827413000812

This Malbec is planted on Arise Bench, on the Golden Mile Bench, one of three benches at Culmina. After traditional fermentation, it spends 16 months aging in French oak, of which 17 per cent is new. The attack is elegant and sophisticated, followed by dusty minerals and licorice with plenty of texture and mouth feel. Still, the fruit is curiously backward at this moment. There are faint hints of blueberries and blackberries, but the dryness and earthy savoury notes are dominating. A solid effort that is going to need time to develop fully. Best now with grilled beef.

Recipe match: Manila clams, white bean and jamon XO

Manila clams, white bean and jamon XO created by Chef Jacob Kent of Como Taperia.
Manila clams, white bean and jamon XO created by Chef Jacob Kent of Como Taperia. Photo by Como Taperia /Handout

10-12 manila clams

1/4 cup plus 2 tsp (50 mL) dry white wine

1 tbsp (15 mL) XO

0.4 oz (10 g) rendered, diced jamon or bacon

1/3 cup (80 mL) lingot/haricot beans

1/8 cup (30 mL) fish stock

Pinch of crushed chili flakes

1 tbsp (15 mL) parsley, finely chopped

3 tbsp (45 mL) extra virgin olive oil


Soak beans overnight, Rinse the beans and then place them in a pan with the onion, bay and enough water to cover them. Don’t add any salt at this stage or the bean skins will toughen.


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Bring the beans up to the boil and skim off any froth, then turn the beans down and simmer gently (topping up with water now and then to cover the beans). After about an hour, add 2 tbsp of olive oil and 1 tsp of salt and continue to cook the beans until tender (anything between 10 and 30 minutes).

While the beans are cooking, you can spend some time preparing the clams. You only want to cook live clams with closed shells, so discard any that are open and don’t close when tapped or any with broken shells. Wash them well and then place in a large bowl, cover with fresh water with 1 tbsp of salt and leave them for about 20 minutes to purge the clams of any grit or sand.

Once the beans are ready (and there’s nothing to stop you cooking them ahead of time), it’s time to cook the clams. Heat about 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large pan. Now add clams, sauté a little, then add white wine and cover with a lid. Give it a little shake from time-to-time, until the shells all open.

Add the XO, beans, jamon/bacon bits and fish stock to the pan and bring to a simmer. Finish with chili flakes, parsley and 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil. Season to taste. Enjoy.

Recipe Match

Manila clams, white bean and Jamon add up to a fresh, simple European white or a dry rosé.

River Stone Pinot Gris 2019, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada $21

Green melon, green apple, peach flavours, bright acidity and a refined touch of minerality will refresh each bite of this delicious dish.

Le Vieux Pin Vaïla Rosé 2019, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada $24.99

A subtle style of rosé with a dry mid-palate mixed with strawberries, raspberries and a tart finish that will light up the clams.


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