SEARCHING FOR CHOICE IN ISLAND STORES

PEI’s liquor laws in need of overhaul

De gustibus non est disputandum. There is no accounting for taste. A common saying when it comes to all kinds of matters of taste: food, politics, religion, fashion, and so much more. So what about alcohol? Or more specifically, liquor laws and their implications?

In a country that is on the cusp of legalizing cannabis, provincial liquor laws and regulations seem somewhat outdated. PEI has some work ahead for its Liquor Control Commission (PEILCC) in order to heave the Island into the 21st century booze-wise.

James McLeod, director of corporate services of the PEILCC said, “I wouldn’t use the word ‘temperance’ but our Liquor Control Act warrants a very strong and serious review and amendments.” The Women’s Christian Temperance Union was a movement supporting prohibition. With its heavy influence in PEI, alcohol was illegal on the Island until 1948, whereas most other provinces ended their bans in the late 1920s.

The PEI Liquor Board is currently undergoing a process of review and consultations, including research into other provinces’ legislations that may be suitable to adapt, and even learning from other countries. Stakeholder consultations have begun and will continue into the fall. “I can’t predict what changes those may be, and they won’t be immediate. We have some ideas,” McLeod said. There are several ways to revise the current legislation, some easier than others. A regulation amendment would require Executive approval only, and be the most expedited way. Whereas a change to policies of the Liquor Board or even the Liquor Control Act can only be achieved with a sitting of the House. Hence, a potential timeline of fall 2019 seems most realistic, as per McLeod.

Discussions about said act were recently stirred up by a provincial liquor inspector’s decision to not allow kombucha, a fermented beverage with a possible alcohol content of 0.5%, in a restaurant holding a liquor license because the beverage was not purchased via the PEI Liquor Control Commission. Upon a big media uproar supporting the two local entrepreneurs affected, the decision was quickly reversed. But beverages containing low residual alcohol remain an interesting topic. Common grocery store items such as orange or apple juice, Sauerkraut or even some breads have traces of residual alcohol, and no one seems to know or care. And rightly so. But section 71 of the current Liquor Control Act states: “Any liquor that contains more than one-half of one per cent by volume at sixty degrees Fahrenheit of absolute alcohol shall conclusively be deemed to be intoxicating;...”

Ryan Neale, manager of Environmental Health, and Chief Public Health Office in the Department of Health and Wellness on PEI said, ”We would consult with PEILCC on any food or beverage that may contain alcohol to determine if PEILCC action is required. In addition, we can refer any food or beverage products with an alcohol content over 0.5% to the federal government to ensure any labeling requirements are met. Environmental Health’s main role is to ensure that food and beverages are safe to consume in terms of where the ingredients are sourced and how the product is processed.”

It is understood that the Liquor Control Commission is looking out for the health and wellbeing of consumers. Not drinking alcohol or a beverage with very low residual alcohol could, in many situations, be a better lifestyle choice for Islanders; drinking and driving, for example. In a rural province such as ours, almost all of us have to drive home after a visit at the pub. But what other beverage choices do we have? Boring water or sugary pop? Thankfully now there is kombucha. But what about non-alcoholic beer, I wonder, having spent the first three decades of my life in Germany where every brewery made a non-alcoholic version of their beer. Asking Mitch Cobb from Upstreet Brewing Company why they came out with a line of sodas and not a non-alcoholic beer he said, “It never came up.” Surprised by my tales of great-tasting, satisfying non-alcoholic beers, Cobb opens my eyes to this being “a cultural thing”. He even uses the words “social taboo”. “I didn’t know that you can make one [non-alcoholic beer] that tastes great,” he added. Another case of there is no accounting for taste. Or rather, one of the lack of really good non-alcoholic beers in the PEI marketplace.

The method of making non-alcoholic beer? The simple answer, according to Guy McClelland, president of McClelland Premium Imports, “You can boil it to get the alcohol gone.” Doesn’t sound very tasty, right? And it isn’t. Erdinger Non-Alcoholic, a wheat beer with residual alcohol content of 0.4% imported by McClelland uses a more natural way. “They interrupt the fermentation before alcohol develops, and there is no added yeast for alcohol development,” McClelland said. The end result, a beer that is not only full of taste but even good for you. In Germany, Erdinger and other non-alcoholic beers are often promoted as sports drinks due to their isotonic nature.

As well, the blood alcohol concentration even after drinking multiple drinks of said Erdinger never reaches a limit that is the slightest intoxicating, shown in a scientific study conducted by the University of Freiburg, that measured blood alcohol content in probants after consumption of the non-alcoholic wheat beer.

‘Non-alcoholic’ or ‘alcohol-free’ is a claim that McClelland cannot make for the Erdinger he wants to bring to the island. The import of this product is currently almost impossible as there is no place for it. Not in the liquor stores as it doesn’t fall under the 0.5% alcohol by volume law, nor in the grocery stores, as it’s not alcohol-free. So while Erdinger non-alcoholic wheat beer is now selling in grocery stores from coast to coast, PEI remains a dry exemption.

I’ll have a Martini to drown my frustration, shaken, not stirred please.

 

We are one Canada, a proud federalistic nation, but not when it comes to alcohol. Individual inter-provincial import of alcohol is limited, if not forbidden. To quote the current PEI Liquor Control Act under paragraph 33 (1) – Liquor not bought in province: “No person shall have in his possession or keeping within the province any liquor that has not been purchased from a vendor under this Act.” A New Brunswick man was fined by RCMP at the NB-Quebec border in 2012 for violating the NB Liquor Control Act by bringing a larger than permitted amount of alcoholic beverages across the provincial border. The Campbellton Provincial Court ruled in spring 2016 that this restriction was unconstitutional (according to section 121 of the Constitution Act: “All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other Provinces.”). The Supreme Court overturned the provincial ruling in late April with their unanimous decision that provinces have the constitutional right to restrict the importation of goods from each other, as long as the primary aim of the restriction is not to impede trade. Taxation or the loss of tax income from liquor sales was the provincial government’s biggest concern, the opening of the market the liquor industry’s biggest interest.

About Jessica Fritz

Jessica is "from away" in the truest sense of its meaning: her roots are in Germany. She immigrated to Toronto, Canada in 2010 and moved to PEI two summers ago. As a passionate home cook Jessica likes to explore different types of cuisines including her native one. "Thinking globally, buying locally" is her foodie mantra, and being able to grow veggies in her own backyard was one of the big drivers for her move to PEI.
Putting words on paper has always been a way to express herself. Hence, writing for Salty combines her love for food and the written word while at the same time discovering PEI's thriving culinary landscape.
And recently, Jessica and her husband launched their own food business: Maritime Marzipan offers hand-made traditional European almond treats inspired by Island living. She is blogging about her adventure here on saltyisland.com or you can find them at maritimemarzipan.com.

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