BC Liquor Enforcement Branch Undercover Operations

BC Liquor Enforcement Branch Undercover Operations

It’s not just retail stores and busy pubs that attract the attention of liquor inspectors and their masters at the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch. As the decision of the General Manager in re Tri-Cities Wine Kitz, case EH11-068, explains, even mild-mannered UBrew/UVins can attract the ire of the Compliance and Enforcement Program.

For readers not familiar, UBrew/UVin or “ferment-on-premises” establishments are businesses that provide their customers with the ingredients, equipment and advice they need to make their own beer, wine, cider or coolers.

UBrew/UVins are also permitted to offer barrel-aging services (for products made on site) and can permit a customer to add distilled alcohol (brandy or vodka for example) purchased elsewhere to port and sherry made on site immediately before bottling. Importantly, the customer him or herself must be involved at various stages in the production process. The exact requirements are set out in the Liquor Control and Licensing Regulation and the terms of licence. Liquor produced at a UBrew/Uvin is for private consumption only and cannot be sold to others.

While the Branch’s decision in re Tri-Cities is most obviously a direct reminder to UBrew/UVin licensees to review the terms of their licence periodically, and be diligent in following those requirements, it also provides important insight to licensees on the clandestine operations conducted by liquor inspectors, and the Branch’s tolerance for these sorts of “stings”.

In February, 2011 a liquor inspector conducted a covert visit to the Tri-Cities establishment in Coquitlam, British Columbia. The inspector met with the licensee, identified herself as a prospective customer, and enquired about the UVin process. The licensee advised her she would need to mix the components of the wine together to begin the fermentation process, and return at a later date to bottle the wine.

The liquor inspector selected a style of wine that Tri-Cities did not currently have in stock, and she was advised she would have to return at a later date to start the fermentation process. The inspector said this would be “inconvenient” and asked if the licensee could start the fermentation process for her. The licensee advised he would – but told her it was a requirement of the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch that she (the customer) do this herself.

In April the inspector returned to the premises to bottle the wine, and accepted delivery of 30 bottles of Merlot. At no time did the inspector pitch the yeast, add fruit juice or water or take any steps required to start the fermentation process.

At the enforcement hearing the Branch’s position was that the licensee contravened s.23(1) of the Liquor Control and Licensing Regulation by failing to ensure that the inspector (customer) perform the required tasks when producing or manufacturing wine – namely starting the fermentation process. The Branch alleged that the licensee was aware of this requirement and knowingly circumvented it by asking the inspector to sign an acknowledgement that she started the fermentation process personally when he knew she did not.

The requirements set out in s.23(1) of the Regulation are necessary to differentiate between the services provided by a UBrew/UVin and the production process of a winery or brewery which require a different licence.

The Branch was troubled by the comments the licensee made to the inspector that this was a service he performed regularly for customers when they were “busy”. Having found a contravention of s.23(1) of the Regulation to have occurred, the General Manager ordered a four-day suspension of Tri-Cities’ licence.

In Tri-Cities the licensee was not represented by counsel, and the reasons for the decision do not clarify whether or not the General Manager’s Delegate was concerned that this instance of “random virtue testing” amounted to an abuse of process (entrapment) on the Branch’s behalf.

Regardless of what sort of licensed establishment you operate in British Columbia, your staff need to be aware that they may be approached by undercover liquor inspectors, and asked to contravene the Act or your establishment’s terms of licence. If this occurred do you or your managers know how to respond?

*Alcohol & Advocacy publishes articles for information purposes only. They are not a substitute for legal advice, and persons requiring such advice should consult legal counsel.

Dan Coles
Retired bartender. Young lawyer. From the East, living in the West. Interested in British Columbia's producers and purveyors of wine, beer and spirits.