Web to doorstep booze

We deliver the good news: buying liquor online is entering the 20th century.

We're slowly, inexorably, moving towards a sensible system of buying wine, beer and spirits in Canada, where consumers can go online---or use a phone, if they are dinosaurs---and order a case from anywhere in the world to be delivered to their doorsteps.

And why not? Why should booze be any different than books and music? It is ridiculous that restaurants or consumers cannot buy cases of wine directly from a BC or Ontario (or wherever) winery, like they can from local wineries, or a different province's liquor store. There is no logical reason why this sort of commerce should be restricted, as long as taxes and shipping are paid. It is a really dumb situation that simply needs to be fixed.

The heavy-handed restrictions on buying alcohol date back to prohibition, but those controls have been relaxed recently, with full privatization of booze sales in Alberta, and partial privatization in other western provinces. Quebec and Newfoundland allow certain items to be sold in groceries and gas stations. In the last while, we've seen the advent of "agency stores" throughout New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, which are privately run but still government stores. The most radical development down east has been the four private store licenses granted in Halifax. Wine lovers in the other Atlantic Provinces are understandably jealous, and want their own private liquor sales.

Halifax's private stores have several advantages over the NSLC: the ability to sell specially selected products not sold at the NSLC, a more wine- and beer-savvy staff (Bishop's Cellar sports two certified sommeliers), the ability to spontaneously put products on sale and free direct shipping.

I'm not suggesting the NSLC can't do all those things; but doing so doesn't fit NSLC's business case, I guess. The liquor corporation does, however, offer free movement of any product you want from any store to the closest store to you. Of course this service is built into their overall profit system, so you pay indirectly, but still, it is a nice service.

Direct-to-consumer shipping is completely legal. The NSLC actually does do it, but only through their gift program---you can send a boxed gift from the NSLC via Canada Post, but you pay a pretty penny: an approximately $7 shipping/handling/boxing charge for a bottle of wine.

Compare that to Cristall & Luckett, the private store in Bedford, which offers free shipping anywhere in mainland Nova Scotia for a minimum order of $150. "We also ship to Cape Breton at attractive rates," explains Todd Cristall. "Ordering is simple via our web site; we usually have it there in one to two business days."

The deliver is made either by courier or by C&L's van.

It is easy to spend $150 on wine---that's only six bottles of $25 juice---but if you buy less than that, the delivery cost is a very fair $15 flat. Again, this is built into the overall balanced budget of the business, but free shipping sure feels nice.

Getting a case of vino delivered to your porch may remind you of the time you bought a two-four from a cabbie, because you were being responsible and didn't want to drink and drive. Not so fast. This is all legit and not quite so real-time. The practice takes two or three days. If you are worried about your kid ordering booze online...don't. Someone with proper ID must sign for booze delivery. This is the law.

Buying booze to be delivered to your door in your own province is just a small step in the commonsensification of the Canadian liquor business. Could free trade between provinces be next?

Spirit delivery services

thenslc.com 800-380-7449
Shipping for gifts, for a fee.

Cristall & Luckett
cristallandluckett.com 888-531-9993
Direct shipping, free for over $150 orders to mainland Nova Scotia.

Bishop’s Cellar
bishopscellar.com 490-2675
Free delivery to licensees in metro Halifax, and delivers for a fee outside the area.

vinart.ca, 482-9463
Free delivery to licensees with a minimum one case order.

Premier Wine & Spirits
premierwineandspirits.ca, 435-6945
Members of the wine club can have wine delivered to their door monthly.

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