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‘Lost our biggest customer’: local alcohol makers struggle as Liquor Mart labour dispute drags on

The ongoing labour dispute between Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries (MBLL) and union workers took a new direction Thursday as hundreds of MGEU members rallied at the steps of the Manitoba Legislature, demanding wage increases as part of a new contract.

This, as only a handful of Liquor Marts throughout the province were open for business.

Strike actions started in mid-July and now local alcohol makers are feeling the effects.

“Every brewery in town would be the same as this. We’ve essentially all lost our biggest customer. Our single biggest customer,” said Paul Clerkin, co-owner of Stone Angel Brewing Co.

For Clerkin, the Liquor Mart labour dispute means fewer orders for his product and less selection for their customers.

“It’s very unfortunate. It’s the height of summer and people in Winnipeg are having to find it harder to get their favourite local brews,” Clerkin said.

He said beer does have a shelf-life and a lengthy strike could cause new product to go to waste.

“We’ve got beer sitting in tanks waiting to be kegged and they’re brand-new product,” said Clerkin. “And even if we can and keg it, we can’t sell it because it doesn’t have a product code from the MBLL and therefore, nobody can order it.”

It’s a different story at Capitol K distillery, where a selection of rye, vodka, gin, and other hard alcohol products don’t have an expiration date.

“On the spirit side, we don’t have the concern about shelf-life. It’s pretty much, once it’s in the bottle, it’s good for life,” said owner Jason Kang.      

Kang is more worried about his growing pile of stock building up. “Bad part is, the whole warehouse and store closing right now, so we can’t get our product out.” he said.

Kang said sales have taken a hit because his products can’t be sold at beer vendors.

“We’re able to sell some through the farmer’s market, but the majority of our product still goes through Liquor Mart stores,” Kang said.

On Wednesday, MBLL announced that all Liquor Mart Express locations in grocery stores across Manitoba will be closed in a lockout measure as negotiations between the two sides continue.

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