Growler guide to Ontario’s new drinking regulations

The Ontario government released its first full budget yesterday. There’s a lot in there worth looking at, including major cuts to education funding. We should pay attention to the whole package, but importantly for our purposes, it included the biggest liberalization of Ontario alcohol rules in at least a few decades.

Here are the major changes and our take on how we think they will affect Ontario craft breweries and beer lovers.

Happy hour can be promoted

Unlike most places in North America, Ontario’s rule had been that establishments could change their price but would have to cheap it there for a day. Hence, we got cheap beer nights on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday. And then happy hours were allowed, but establishments couldn’t advertise them, which is ridiculous

This is probably better for both bars and consumers.

Will some people abuse happy hour? Obviously.  Bar and restaurant staff will have to be trained to be more vigilant about not over-serving customers and make judgment calls on whether patrons have arrived inebriated.

Verdict:🍻🍻(out of four)

Full pints at breweries

Breweries who didn’t have a tied-house or brewpub license were limited to serving a maximum of 12 oz at a time. And, because they were classified with wineries, cideries could only serve 5-oz glasses in their taproom. The government has done away with this restriction on the by-the-glass license.

This was an extremely silly situation.

Obviously, a craft brewery will still be free to serve their triple IPA in an appropriately sized glass, but I’m very happy that we’ll be able to have an adult-sized serving of a helles or pale ale this summer.


Extended hours for beer with brunch

As I get older and am no longer physically capable of sleeping in past 9 a.m. I find myself in more situations where I want a morning beer. Beer with brunch? Nope. Quick airport beer before a morning a flight? Nada.

The government has pushed the opening time forward to 9 a.m. and I can’t wait for this one to take effect. (And the rule applies all week, not just to brunch on Sunday.)


Tailgating greenlit

Details are a bit scarce, but the announcement came earlier in the week that parking lots near sports venues will be able to get a license so that fans can throw a pre-game party.

Tailgating is fun and it’s definitely a big part of sports culture and tourism in the States. But I’m more indifferent to this change than the others. Toronto stadiums don’t, generally, have a sea of parking lots around them and I think we’re probably past the time when that was feasible in Ontario.  (The CBC spoke to a freelance sports journalist who thinks it might work in London, Waterloo or Windsor.) It also sounds like the license holders (parking lot operators or stadiums) will control what beer is sold on site and that likely means macro corn lager.

This will probably end up as a vanilla pudding change rather the chocolate cake its supporters expect or the pie in the face its detractors fear.


Beer in parks

There is nothing quite as wonderful as a cold beer on a sunny day while relaxing under a shady tree. Being able to drink legally in public parks is a change for the better.

Along with the earlier serving hours, this is another change that Toronto’s municipal politicians had given a positive nod to while they waited for provincial rules to change. Now we just need our city and town councils to make it official.

And, yes, alcohol undeniably makes some people do stupid things like making a nuisance of themselves and leaving their litter for others to clean up. But it’s definitely not automatic. The parks in Tokyo were no less pristine because I had a beer on a bench. Be like Tokyo, Ontario.


Convenience store beer

We’ve still to hear the important details on this one — What counts as a convenience store? Can I sell nothing but cheese curds and great beer and still get a license? Will there be a floor on prices? Will new retailers be limited to only carrying beer that is listed in LCBO’s system? — but it has the brightest potential.

I have some thoughts in a separate post about the idea of craft beer in convenience stores. I’m cautiously optimistic that this could represent a major improvement for beer drinkers in Ontario.


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