Cape Breton brewery loses permit to sell at Halifax market

Legally, Warehouse Market in Halifax's North End is not a market, because all products are rung through the same point of sale. At a market, each vendor accepts payment separately.  (Rebecca Pate - image credit)
Legally, Warehouse Market in Halifax's North End is not a market, because all products are rung through the same point of sale. At a market, each vendor accepts payment separately. (Rebecca Pate - image credit)

Following a complaint from a competitor, Cape Breton's Big Spruce brewery has lost its permit to sell beer at the Warehouse Market in Halifax's North End.

It all comes down to the legal definitions of a farmers' market, and bans on paying for alcohol and groceries in the same transaction.

"We want the opportunity to correct and keep going here," said Jeremy White, co-founder of Big Spruce Brewing," It's important for us as a brand, it's pretty important for us as a business and it's really crucial for the Warehouse Market."

Big Spruce received its permit to sell beer at the Warehouse Market two years ago. White said his organic microbrews fit in well.

"The beer was driving people to discover these other great local food-movement items, and conversely, people's discovery of those items was driving them to a market where they could conveniently also buy our beer," he said.

Farmers' market in form

Two Nova Scotia farm families own the Warehouse Market, which they helped found in 2017.

It stocks sustainably produced meat and vegetables from those farms, and products such as seafood and cheese from a range of local producers, many of whom sell at weekly farmers' markets around the province.

Warehouse Market co-founder David Greenberg, of Abundant Acres Farm in Hants County, said selling Big Spruce beer helped widen his customer base.

"We've got a lot of people who are really into Big Spruce beer who discover the market and then start buying vegetables and other things with their beer," Greenberg said. "So I know we've picked up customers we might lose now."

The loss of that revenue has serious implications for his business.

"The profit from selling beer was what gave us the confidence to give a really good health insurance policy to all of our employees," he said.

The space has the feel of a weekly farmers' market, with a plain concrete floor, stacked crates of vegetables, open wooden shelving, and glass-fronted refrigerators.

But legally, it's not a market, because all products are rung through at the same point of sale. At a market, each vendor accepts payment separately.

That's just one of the issues flagged by an inspector from the province's Alcohol, Gaming, Fuel and Tobacco Division. Others included storing beer on premises while the business is closed, having an employee of the brewery present, and offering beer for sale more than half of the year.

Greenberg said there's been no problems with sales in two years.

He thinks alcohol regulators could have worked out a solution.

"I think they could have given them a temporary permit to sell at our place and I think it would honour the spirit of the legislation," he said.

Discussions continue

White said the loss of sales will be significant for Big Spruce, especially during the winter months when the taproom in Nyanza, Cape Breton, sees little tourist traffic.

He hopes to co-operate with the NSLC to correct any deficiencies and restore the sales permit.

A spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation would not discuss details of any particular sales permit. But Beverly Ware said the NSLC cannot issue a market permit in violation of its own rules.

Those permits are valid for a year, but are meant for sales at weekly markets, or for sporadic events such as product launches.

Ware said brewers are allowed to open a taproom with retail sales at a site where brewing takes place.

Some producers have opened satellite brewing operations away from their main facilities to accomplish this.

"Our responsibility is to ensure that all producers and all manufacturers are treated fairly and that they're treated on the same level playing field," she said.

Meanwhile, Ware said the NSLC is still talking with Big Spruce. But she notes that provincial legislation bans the sale of alcohol and groceries at the same location.

White said those rules need to change.

"I'm optimistic that this will be sorted quickly," he said, adding that he hopes to see Big Spruce products make "a hasty return"  to the Warehouse Market.