Beer Law

We talk occasionally on Slaw of wine law — and that’s as it should be. But beer is also a tipple close to my heart, and so I was pleased to learn that a brew I like will be available for sale in Ontario’s Liquor Control Board stores, and not just on draught at pubs that are hard to find. The beer in question comes from the remarkable Scotch Irish Brewing Company of eastern Ontario, makers of the wonderfully bitter Sgt. Major IPA (here I forbear from going into a digression on the history India pale ales and their need for serious hops). For some time now Scotch Irish has been brewing a companion ale, Corporal Punishment, a bitter brown ale that I also quite like. It is this brown ale that I will now be able to buy in bottles.

But. This is Ontario, where matters fermented are ruled by a bureaucracy that is truly Soviet in size and style. There are advantages to having this regulatory behemoth as a brooding omnipresence, of course, its impressive impact on the world market as a buyer of alcohol being one and its ability to keep antifreeze out of the wine, typically, being another. But there are drawbacks, and the tale of this ale revealed one that is new to me.

Says the LCBO: Scotch Irish has to change the name of the beer to Corporal’s Bitter Brown Ale and it has to alter the label. Let me show you the label as it used to be:
corporal_logo.jpg The ominous cricket bat must go. This is not the first time that the LCBO has entered the label lists. Last March it prevented the sale of Goudon Carolus Easter Beer from Belgium because the label had a cute bunny on it in the lower left-hand corner: the bunny had to go.

The LCBO puts out a simplistic label guide [PDF] for producers that, among other things, says “Vignette and product name are optional but must not be misleading or imply irresponsible use of product.” Bunnies and bats don’t seem to fall afoul of this. At any event, I’ve done a really cursory look for the legislative authority behind this micro-management of micro-brewery labeling, and have come up with Licences to Sell Liquor, R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 719, particularly s.87(2), dealing with advertising:

(2) Except for public service advertising, the holder of a licence to sell liquor may advertise or promote liquor or the availability of liquor only if the advertising,

    (a) is consistent with the principle of depicting responsibility in use or service of liquor;
    (b) promotes a general brand or type of liquor and not the consumption of liquor in general;
    (c) does not imply that consumption of liquor is required in obtaining or enhancing,

        (i) social, professional or personal success,
        (ii) athletic prowess,
        (iii) sexual prowess, opportunity or appeal,
        (iv) enjoyment of any activity,
        (v) fulfilment of any goal, or
        (vi) resolution of social, physical or personal problems;

    (d) does not appeal, either directly or indirectly, to persons under the legal drinking age or is not placed in media that are targeted specifically at people under that age;

You can see how that would render a bunny bestia non grata, but I’m still baffled about the bat. Is it the confusion it offers about various forms of prowess? Is it the sugestion that punishment actually might resolve a social problem? Your shout.


  1. Simon – as the person who wrote the Bar Towel post regarding this beer and the name/label change, I’d like to make it clear that it was SPECULATION on my part that the changes occurred due to LCBO rules.

    Granted, that speculation was a pretty well-educated guess, but Donna from Heritage/Scotch-Irish did not give a specific reason for the changes in her email to me. She just said that they would be happening.

  2. Thanks for the clarification, Greg.

  3. Hi guys,

    Those regulations you quote imply that an LCBO consumer would be so suggestible to BEER LABEL depictions as to be a complete idiot.

    Such a person must read the color comics section of a newspaper and then misconstrue all the depictions as current world events. That would be the absurd level of stupid thinking the LCBO assumes to be rampant in the average consumer.

    Clearly the LCBO, as a tax-collecting entity wishes to divorce itself from any guilty liabilities, even to the extreme degree of denying the sale of certain products deemed commercially acceptable elsewhere in the first world (Delirium Tremens anyone?)

    And it is fortunate the LCBO, with all it’s moral high-horsing can STILL most profitably retail major brands of beer that are supported by fantasy-based & suggestive advertising in the major media. Sex, success, happiness popularity and good times are yours if you drink Bud. Completely at odds with the stated intent of the LCBO’s prim and serious label standards policy.

    It’s win/win for them I guess?!?

  4. This wouldn’t happen in Victoria, where cricket bats are definitely de rigure – we even have a pub downtown called the Sticky Wicket!