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St. Albert distillery discontinues vodka jugs after controversy

Minister Dale Nally said the vodka jugs were "not very responsible"
A sign advertising Super Value Liquor's vodka jug promotion. SCREENSHOT/Facebook

A St. Albert distillery has discontinued its four-litre vodka jugs after a viral social media post sent a wave of criticism towards the product and the business.

The decision came only three days after Edmonton Journal and Edmonton Sun reporter Lauren Boothby posted a photo of the jugs, similar in appearance to a milk jug and with a nondescript yellow label that says “value,” to X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. The store, Super Value Liquor in Mill Woods, Edmonton, had the vodka on sale for $49.95.

“Alberta rules!” the post said.

It was viewed over 8 million times. Replies compared the vodka to rubbing alcohol, said even cheaper vodka could be found in the U.S. and warned that the product’s packaging and size could be dangerous.

In a Monday press conference, unrelated to the jugs, reporters asked Service Alberta Minister and Morinville – St. Albert MLA  Dale Nally whether he had concerns about selling hard liquor in containers that resemble those used for distilled water.

It was "not very responsible," Nally said.

A new bill that Nally was introducing at the press conference would clarify that the his ministry has control of liquor pricing in the province.

He said the legislation would allow him to “respond very quickly” to bring forward responsible alcohol pricing.

However, he said that the vodka jugs did not break any Alberta Gaming Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) rules.

“I think what it’s not in compliance with this is the spirit of Albertans, which is we believe in responsible pricing,” he said.

Speaking with the Gazette, Nally said that the alcohol's price point made it "a little too accessible for vulnerable Albertans and younger Albertans."

"Albertans made it very clear that they thought that this product did not meet the definition of responsibility," he said. "I think that I think Albertans got it right, and I think T-Rex distilleries got it right to stop making the product."

Nally said he would not consider raising alcohol prices or introducing stricter rules around liquor sales because the problem was limited to one vodka maker.

Distillery calls for Nally to reinstate rule for craft spirit-makers

The owners of T-Rex Distillery, who asked not to be named because they claim they have received “some threats of violence,” said in an email statement that AGLC reviewed the product.

“The product that was photographed at Super Value Liquor is a private-label product which was specifically produced and bottled for that customer at their own requested price,” T-Rex’s owners said. “In general, there are no rules or guidelines provided by AGLC to how a product should be priced.”

The statement says that the owners have not heard from AGLC, the Government of Alberta or Dale Nally.

T-Rex has received “split” public feedback on the jugs, the owners said. “About half of the comments express concern, while the other half praises the jugs for innovation and convenience… In response to the feedback T-Rex Distillery has received, we are halting the production of the jugs.”

The statement also responds to Nally’s comments on irresponsible alcohol pricing, noting that other distilleries sell alcohol at even lower prices than T-Rex.

“We have often voiced our concerns with the current system to AGLC,” the statement says.

The owners criticized the province’s removal of the 80/20 rule, which required craft distilleries produce 80 per cent of their spirits in-house and import only 20 per cent in bulk.

“It meant that anyone can just blend and sell bulk-purchased vodka without even owning a single piece of distillery equipment. This forced T-Rex and other craft distilleries to lower their prices to stay in business, especially after making heavy investments into their distillery equipment.”

They recommended that Nally reinstate the rule.

“It’s time to put the ‘craft’ back in craft distilleries,” they said.

Nally told the Gazette that he does not intend to reinstate the rule. 

"We removed that 80/20 rule because we wanted to incentivize small business to grow and create jobs and create investment, and I think it's worked," he said.

Super Value Liquor ended its promotional sale on the vodka at the end of the day on Tuesday, co-owner Sunny Bhullar said in an email. They made the decision after hearing Nally's comments, he said.

Bhullar said it "was a successful promotion."

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