The Trouble with Casks

UPDATE: Beginning January 23, 2017 licensees will be permitted to infuse liquor and age cocktails at the establishment, provided it is done in a container other than the original container the liquor was in when legally purchased. All conditions outlined in the terms and conditions of a licence must be met when infusing liquor or ageing cocktails

Barrel-aged cocktails (spirit-only mixtures aged in new or used oak casks) have become a popular fixture in craft cocktail bars across North America. Cocktails aged in oak can develop deep and complex flavours – breathing new life into classic concoctions. As this 2010 New York Times article reports, barrel-aged cocktails are being poured from San Francisco to Boston. They’re also being casked and poured in Vancouver. Unfortunately that is violation of the Regulation of the Liquor Control and Licensing Act as well as the terms and conditions contained in the Guide for Liquor Primary Licensees in British Columbia.

The Liquor Control and Licensing Regulation requires that all liquor served in a licensed establishment must be dispensed from the original container in which the liquor was purchased from the Liquor Distribution Branch. The Act prohibits the dilution or adulteration of liquor.

As licensees cannot refill original containers purchased from the Liquor Distribution Branch with anything, they are not permitted to make barrel-aged cocktails or aged liquor (liquor not aged in its original container) or infused liquor in which substances are added to the liquor (herbs or fruit) to create customized spirits.

Alcohol & Advocacy considers these rules to be unduly restrictive, and likely hard to swallow for many licensees and patrons who were unaware of this prohibition. We hope that the new Act will bring a change to these sections of the current legislation.

If your establishment features cocktails aged or dispensed in containers other than the containers in which the liquor was purchased – you should discuss the relevant terms of the Act and the Guide with your staff to ensure that this decision is right for your business.

*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.

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