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Beer sales guide to the provinces and territories

04/16/2015 10:28 EDT | Updated 07/02/2015 08:59 EDT
Canadians like to imbibe the occasional frosty beer. But distant relatives or friends visiting from outside the country are understandably sometimes a bit baffled by how suds are sold here.

On April 16, Ontario announced that after decades of debate, beer would be offered for sale in some grocery stores. Ontario, however, is not the only province looking at ways to make buying beer (for those of legal drinking age) a little bit easier.

Here's a roundup of how the provinces and territories sell beer.

British Columbia

British Columbia operates a mixed system for all alcohol sales. There are government-owned outlets, private outlets, and some alcohol sales, including beer, at rural grocery stores. People living in the province can also buy beer at breweries or from bars and restaurants offering off-sale products. Recently, a new set of laws was introduced allowing for beer to be sold at farmers markets.

Recent changes to B.C.'s approach to beer sales have been driven by the burgeoning craft beer industry. The B.C. Craft Brewer Guild said last year that the market share of members' products doubled from 2010 to 2014, from nine per cent to nearly 19 per cent.

Alberta

Alberta privatized its alcohol sales in 1993 and is the only province in Canada with an entirely private approach. Off-sale beer is also available some bars and restaurants. 

As a result of privatization, Alberta has become a highly competitive beer market with about 2,300 different beers from around the world for sale at any given time.

Like B.C., Alberta has seen a surge in craft beer sales and availability in recent years. The changes were spurred by the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission quashing several laws that were seen as barriers to starting a small brewery or brew pub. 

Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan operates a mixed system, with beer sold at government-run outlets and franchises in rural areas that are privately owned but operated in conjunction with the government. The province has started flirting with increased privatization of liquor and beer sales — in 2013, four fully private stores were given the green light to open in Regina and Saskatoon. 

Saskatchewan also has off-sale outlets. 

Manitoba

Manitoba operates a mixed system similar to B.C.'s, with the majority of alcohol sold by the province's liquor and gaming authority. Off-sale beer is available at privately owned stores attached to hotels that are often open until 2 a.m., and some rural communities are served by private outlets. 

The province is also experimenting with a limited number of grocery stores that will carry beer, wine and spirits, though the implementation of the program is behind schedule. 

Ontario

Ontario has, arguably, the most complicated approach to beer sales of any province. Beer can be bought at The Beer Store, an entity operated by a trio of foreign-owned breweries, and at government-owned LCBO outlets. There are also privately owned agency stores of the LCBO in under-served rural communities. These stores receive a commission from alcohol sales. 

The Beer Store has come under increasing scrutiny in the last decade because it controls what Premier Kathleen Wynne called "a monopoly" on beer sales in the province. 

On April 15, the government announced that beer will soon become available in 450 grocery stores. 

Quebec

Quebec has traditionally taken a slightly more liberal approach to beer and liquor sales than other provinces. Beer has long been available at dépanneurs (corner stores) until 11 p.m., and it's the only province where individual cans and bottles are sold at these locations.

New Brunswick

Beer is sold at provincially owned liquor store outlets and privately owned agency stores, and people can buy off-sale beer at local breweries.

Nova Scotia

In Nova Scotia, beer is available at government-owned NSLC stores and at agency stores in rural areas. Some craft beers are available at a limited number of private specialty wine stores.

Prince Edward Island

Most beer in the province is sold at locations owned by the P.E.I. Liquor Control Commission or privately owned agency stores. There also several craft breweries that sell their product for takeaway and a number of bars and restaurants with off-sale beer available.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province in Eastern Canada where locally brewed beer is available at some corner stores and gas stations. It's also available at government-owned liquor stores or directly from the few craft breweries operating in the province. 

Northwest Territories

There are seven liquor stores operated by the NWT Liquor Commission, as well as a few communities scattered throughout the territory where off-sale beer is available from restaurants. 

Yukon

The Yukon Liquor Corporation runs six stores, and some restaurants and bars offer off-sale beer. 

Nunavut

Stores in Iqaluit stopped selling alcohol in the 1970s, but people can order beer and other alcohol from warehouses in the city and Rankin Inlet and it is later delivered to them. There are many communities that do not allow alcohol or have strict regulations on who is allowed to have it. Iqaluit, however, is considering opening a beer and wine store sometime this year if there is enough support among residents.

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