The province of Alberta (AB) is currently the only Canadian province to have enacted completely privatized liquor retailing. All other provinces maintain government ownership and control over much of the liquor industry, especially with respect to distilled spirits. This privatization was carried out in late 1993 and early 1994 under the Alberta Liquor Control Board (ALCB), which is now known as the Alberta Gaming & Liquor Commission (AGLC) .
The U.S. has similar alcohol controls. There are 18 Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) states where the state controls wholesaling/retailing of some or all categories of alcoholic beverages, e.g. beer, wine and distilled spirits . Each state also has their own policies defining when alcohol can be sold (e.g. alcohol sales prohibited on Sundays) and the types of alcoholic beverages that can be sold in grocery stores. The state of California (CA) is not a control state, or ABC state.
Even though I am originally from Alberta, where liquor is privatized, alcohol is not readily sold in grocery stores. Grocery chains with alcohol departments generally sell alcoholic beverages in an adjacent building on the same property premise or a separate store. By contrast, in California, where the sale of alcohol is relatively unrestricted, it was a bit of an adjustment to see beer, wine and spirits available everywhere – at grocery stores (from the wine department to the check-out till), convenience stores, gas stations, warehouse clubs and even some fast food restaurants like The Melt (grilled cheese sandwiches) and Asian Box (Vietnamese takeaway box).
|Whether you are looking to buy wine for yourself, buy wine as a gift, buy a specific vintage to add to your cellar collection or pick up a bottle for a hardy stew, these wine and liquor stores should have something to suit your needs.|
• BC Liquor Stores & Signature BC Liquor Stores (BC)
• Liberty Wine Merchants (Greater Vancouver Area, BC)
• Liquor Depot
• Liquor Select (Edmonton, AB)
• Marquis Wine Cellars (Vancouver, BC)
• Real Canadian Liquor Store (AB)
Silicon Valley (U.S.A.)
• Cost Plus World Market
• K & L Wine Merchants (Redwood City, CA & San Francisco, CA)
• Whole Foods Market
Although Canada and the U.S. both apply excise/markup rates on alcohol plus sales tax, alcohol is generally more expensive to purchase in Canada than the United States, even when accounting for currency parity. Alcohol excise or markups depend on product type and alcohol percentage/proof. Because markup schedules for each province/state tend to be very detailed and have varied markup systems, a clear comparison cannot be easily made so only a snapshot is presented to give an idea of the markup rates to expect. Here’s a general breakdown:
|Excise Tax Rate||Sales Tax||Bottle Deposit/
(<= 100 proof)
(> 100 proof)
|Beer||Wine||Sparkling Hard Cider||Champagne & Sparkling Wine|
|minimum 124%||minimum 124%||$1.08/L||minimum 89%||73%||73%||15%||$0.10|
• AB: 5% GST is applied to alcohol
• BC: 5% GST + 10% PST is applied to alcohol
(Keep in mind that PST in BC is generally 7%, but for alcohol, it is raised to 10%.)
• AB: The markup for each alcoholic category is more granularly defined according to certain Percentage of Alcohol by Volume (% AbV) ranges than in California.
• BC: The markup schedule for each alcoholic category is a graduated markup system. For instance, a 124% markup would be applied on the first $21 cost per litre and 93% markup would be applied on the next $8.20 cost per litre, and so forth. In other words, the total markup would be calculated as (124% x $21) + (93% x $25-$21) for a 1L bottle costing $25 .
|If my understanding of the alcohol markup schedules is correct, then a fictitious 1L/0.264 gallon bottle of wine with 14.5% alcohol purchased wholesale at $25 would then be sold commercially for a minimum of:
• AB: $25 + $3.45 wine markup + 5% sales tax = $29.50 CAD
• BC: $25 + (124% x $21 + 93% x $25-$21) wine markup + 15% sales tax = $55.91 CAD
• CA: $25 + ($0.20 x 0.264 gallon) wine markup + 8.75% sales tax = $27.24 USD
Although this calculation is rough, it briefly confirms why Canadians tend to bring a couple bottles of liquor across the border back up to Canada from visits to the U.S.
There is no federally defined age for legal alcohol purchase or consumption in Canada. Each Canadian province and territory is free to set its own drinking age . By and large, the minimum alcohol purchase age in Canada is less than the United States. All 50 U.S. states and most of the U.S. territories have a minimum purchase age of 21. Exceptions are the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands which have minimum purchase age of 18 .
|Legal Age for Alchohol Purchase|
|Canada||Silicon Valley (U.S.A.)|
• 18 years of age in AB, MB and QC
• 19 years of age in BC, NB, NL, NWT, NS, NU, ON, PEI, SK and YT
|• 21 years of age (excluding Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, 18 years of age)|
In the wine region of California, Napa, CA and Sonoma, CA offer various wine activities from individual wine tastings, winery tours to wine biking tours. Wine biking tours fun way to check out the vineyards, but do heed caution as wining and biking can be a dangerous mix. Depending on your biking group and the number of wineries you visit, the biking can be quite strenuous. Many of the wine bike tours run rain or shine, so be prepared to wear layers and to get wet. When it rains in Napa/Sonoma, it rains.
Celebrate and enjoy moderately and responsibly. Be happy. Be safe.
Happy National Wine Day! Cheers! Santé!
“The best wines are the ones we drink with friends.” — Unknown
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 Wikipedia: Alberta Gaming & Liquor Commission (AGLC)
 Wikipedia: Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) State
 Wikipedia: Alcoholic Beverages in Canada
 Wikipedia: Alcohol Laws in the United States
 BC Liquor Distribution Branch (LCB)
 California Board of Equalization (BOE)