01/27/2015 11:46 EST | Updated 03/29/2015 05:59 EDT

Barge Craft Beer Drops Beer Store Legal Challenge


Barge Craft Beer and Distribution, a Toronto-based startup and would-be rival to the Beer Store, has announced it has withdrawn its application to challenge a post-Prohibition era law that gives a consortium of foreign-owned breweries de facto control over 80 per cent of Ontario's $3 billion beer retail market. 

Less than two weeks ago, Barge's owner and chief legal counsel Michael Hassell, promised to "Barge in ON" the province's beer sales by launching an unprecedented legal challenge to an almost 90-year-old provincial law that allows the Beer Store to be the only private retailer in the province that can sell beer without first having to brew it on-site. 

Now, it seems that challenge has stumbled even before it left the gate. 

"Barge has obtained an external and expert legal opinion on the proposed court application," a statement on Barge's website reads.

"The court application has a low chance of success and would be extremely expensive. For these reasons, Barge has decided not to proceed. It would be unreasonable to ask people to fund a losing, expensive battle," the statement said.

Hassell had said his proposed legal challenge would have sought to give equal opportunity to any private retailer with a license looking to sell beer responsibly, including corner stores. 

His argument hinged on a section of the provincial Liquor Act, which dates back to the post-Prohibition era, that he says no longer reflects the times. 

When the law was first enacted in 1927, the Beer Store, or Brewer's Retail as it was known then, was a small cooperative of provincial-based breweries, Hassell said. 

In the almost 90 years since, those breweries have consolidated into a consortium of three foreign-owned corporations, U.S.-owned Molson-Coors, Japanese-owned Sapporo, and Brazilian-owned Anheuser-Busch-InBev, all multinationals that own the vast majority of the Beer Store's shares.

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