Liquor Hits Farmers Markets

Pemberton Distillery | BCBusiness
Pemberton Distillery sampling their locally produced spirits at the Whistler Farmers Market.

Sunday morning in Whistler and those lining up at the Farmers Market to sample Pemberton Distillery’s organic spirits—whisky, gin, schnapps and absinthe—are taking the latest relaxation in the province’s liquor laws in their stride 

It may seem “perfectly natural” to visitors, like the couple from Ontario who had no idea this was a major new innovation, but for producers, and those running B.C. farmers markets, being able to sell and sample alcohol in such an open setting is nothing short of revolutionary.
“We found out the change was happening last Saturday [June 21],” Christopher Quinlan, manager of the Whistler Farmers Market says, as we walk through the market. “And I was flooded with requests from vendors immediately.
“I told them, ‘Well, it’s not going to happen tomorrow.’”
In fact, it only took a week: June 29 was the first market day in Whistler—and the province—to include alcohol sales. Whistler municipal council had seen the changes coming and taken the initiative to amend local bylaws to allow the farmers market to move quickly.
Meanwhile, Pemberton Distillery were the first vendor out of the gate to submit an application to the B.C. Liquor Licensing and Control Branch, who—in what Quinlan says was truly startling speed—processed and approved their application within six hours.
Lorien Schramm co-owner of the distillery with her husband Tyler, says bringing their spirits, mostly derived from organic Pemberton potatoes, to the Farmers Market has been a dream of theirs for a long time. They have had a presence at the Whistler market since 2011 with their non-alcoholic lines and, Schramm says, even that has had a huge impact on interest in the distillery and uptake of their tours.
“It’s so important for us to be able to describe our products in person, because they are not standard,” she says, noting the very B.C. nature of the botanicals in the absinthe, and the unique base of potatoes and Lillooet honey in their schnapps.
There are rules to the new regulations, of course: samples may only be 10 ml (for neat liquor) or 20 ml (mixed drinks), they must be consumed within the market space dedicated to the vendor, and the vendor is responsible for making sure drinkers are of age.
While Whistler wasted no time embracing the new laws, other municipalities have yet to put provisions in place. Tara McDonald, executive director of Vancouver Farmers Markets, says they are set to launch a pilot project just as soon as city council gives them the green light; hopefully before the end of summer.
Of the seven weekly markets in Vancouver, three have been picked for the pilot: Kerrisdale’s Saturday market, Mount Pleasant’s Sunday market and Yaletown’s Thursday market.
Vancouver markets will allow a maximum of three alcohol venders per market.
“Those vendors will be rotated to provide plenty of variety,” McDonald says. “We have a huge list of prospective vendors, and it just gets longer every day.”