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Cheers? Ontario loosening some booze rules July 1

By Antonella Artuso, Toronto Sun

Premier Kathleen Wynne picks up some beer at Loblaw in Toronto on Dec. 15, 2015 as beer becomes available in some Ontario grocery stores. (Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun)

Premier Kathleen Wynne picks up some beer at Loblaw in Toronto on Dec. 15, 2015 as beer becomes available in some Ontario grocery stores. (Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun)

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Ontario is about to get a few more sips of alcohol freedom.

Under regulatory changes that take effect on July 1, Ontarians will be able to carry their glass of wine from the winery tour to the same winery’s restaurant legally without first handing it over to a server.

Ontarians will also be able to purchase a bottle of wine or beer at the manufacturer’s restaurant and have it brought to their table and added to their food bill.

This will only be allowed during official alcohol retailing hours in Ontario — 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. — and provided the manufacturer has the proper permits.

Users of brew-your-own stores will be permitted to officially designate someone else to take over their brewing activities, like a friend or relative.

Currently, brew-your-own fans must be present to personally mix the ingredients and package the wine under Ontario’s alcohol regulations.

And Ontarians with a wine-making or beer-making relative will be able to serve the homemade beverage at a wider array of family events, including anniversaries, rather than just weddings or religious ceremonies, as long as they get the required special permit licence ($25, if no charge for alcohol, $75, if the family charges a fee for event).

A number of other regulations that place bizarre caps on how wineries and brewers go about their business will also be unscrewed.

Baby booze steps by some jurisdictions’ measure, perhaps, but leaps for the Ontario government which has sought to “modernize” alcohol retailing and distribution in the province.

The most notable of these efforts is, of course, the arrival of beer at some grocery stores. The LCBO announced this week that it would issue new licences to grocers to sell beer, wine and cider.

Debbie Zimmerman, CEO of Grape Growers of Ontario, said the changes already underway have improved the sales of Ontario wine, and the industry welcomes the July 1 regulations.

“There are many regulations that have changed – some of them were so restrictive that you couldn’t even take a glass of wine off the porch and go into the vineyard if you were at a winery for example,” Zimmerman said. “We’ve got wine in grocery stores coming. That’s a huge change for the industry.”

Ontario Craft Brewers Vice-Chair Steve Beauchesne, the CEO of Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co., said many jurisdictions have outdated alcohol regulations, and the Ontario government should be credited for addressing them.

“Any change that allows more access to craft beer for breweries is a great thing,” he said.

The craft brewery industry is happy to see that the province will now allow more “tied houses” — a licenced on-site restaurant/establishment at a winery or brewer, he said.

Ontarians will see a wider range of brewery experiences with these new regulations, Beauchesne said.

Ray Kahnert, a spokesperson for the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), said the Ontario government has signalled its intent to modernize regulation of the industry.

“Our goal is to ensure the continued safe and responsible sale of alcohol in Ontario, and make life a little less burdensome for those small operators getting established in the business,” Kahnert said.

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Here’s some of the changes to Ontario’s booze rules coming on July 1:

- Ontario manufacturers will be able to get a liquor licence to sell their product at each of their manufacturing sites. Currently, only wineries producing more than 10 million litres of wine are allowed to operate more than one so-called “tied house” — and then only two.

- If you’re dining at a winery and want to purchase a bottle from its retail store, the winery staff will now be able to bring it directly to your table and put it on your restaurant bill.

- Beer and wine manufacturers with both a tied house and by-the-glass licence will allow customers to move freely between licenced areas of the site, and customers will be able to carry and consume their drinks in the manufacturer’s adjacent retail store.

- Brew-your-own rules are lightened up so that the brewer can designate someone to take over the task for adding ingredients and packaging the final product.

(Source: AGCO Information Bulletin No. 041 effective July 1)