This is the Life - On whisky and loneliness

This is the Life – On whisky and loneliness

It is a coincidence that about the same time that I was pondering on the British government creating a Ministry of Loneliness, BC Liquor Board officials were raiding restaurants to seize whiskies purchased at private licensed liquor stores.

Loneliness? Granted, it is undoubtedly an issue for many people, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t going to be resolved by a government, well meaning as it might be. But that’s a situation for the Brits to resolve. And it’s not like they don’t have anything else to worry about—like whether Brexit isn’t going to cause a whole lot more loneliness.

Here in our own province, we get the news that about a $100,000 worth of whisky bottled under the Single Malt Whisky Society label has been confiscated, not because it was brought into the province under the dark of night, but because it was not purchased directly through a BCLB store.

SMWS is a business that purchases barrels of whisky directly from distillers and then ages and finishes them according to its own program before bottling the contents to be sold in countries around the world. The practice has a long tradition in Great Britain, but SWMS is unique in that it’s a members-only business. Walk into Kensington Wine Market in Calgary, for example, and you will see in one corner a glassed-in, locked display of SMWS releases. The bottles do not name the maker of the whisky. Instead they feature numbered coding that knowledgeable members can decipher. Want to buy a bottle? You have to produce your membership card before the display case is opened.

I used to be a member, but the whisky prices are mostly beyond my budget. I do get occasional invitations to SMWS tastings, and they are a genuine treat for any whisky lover.

But I digress. Last Thursday, BC Liquor Board personnel arrived at several Lower Mainland and Victoria restaurants that apparently cater to a discerning clientele when it comes to whisky. The restaurants’ offence? They purchased the bottles from private licensed liquor stores right here in BC, because SMWS bottles aren’t available through the government liquor stores. Provincial regulations prohibit the practice—liquor sold in restaurants must be purchased directly from the BCLB.

The restaurants involved knew they were pushing their luck, but they are regularly inspected by BCLB personnel and none had ever batted an eye, apparently.

Here’s the thing—those very bottles on their shelves had already been subject to all the taxes required—paid by the private retail stores. Owners paid retail price for products not available to them through the government agency because, presumably, SMWS whiskies are in demand from their customers.

No harm, no foul, seems to have been in the thoughts of the restaurant owners, who were not dodging payment of taxes, or bringing booze into the province illegally (which is an entirely different topic, worthy of further discussion). Who is harmed by restaurants buying liquor from private retailers? No one. What danger does the practice pose to the public? None. What happened last week was that unnecessary, antiquated regulations were enforced for no better reason than they can be. The BCLB apparently chooses not to explain why its own inspectors overlooked the SMWS bottles on their regular inspections or why restaurants weren’t warned or even talked to before these prohibition era-type raids.

We have, admittedly, come a long way since the day when women had their own entrances to pubs, or even since we were not allowed to pick up our glass of beer and move it to another table. But the bigger question is, why do provincial governments need to be in the liquor business in the first place? I get that they want to ensure that the sin taxes are collected. I have no issue with those. But that can be done without the need for this obsessive, nanny state control that the entire alcohol industry operates under—it’s a 19th century practice in a 21st century society.

I think it is time that we take a close look at government operations that we have come to take for granted and ask why they continue. And, while we’re at it, let’s make sure that here in Canada our elected folks stay out of the loneliness business.