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Liquor shortages causing headaches for licensees

The co-owner of a Whitehorse cocktail bar says the Yukon Liquor Corporation needs to improve the way it brings alcohol into the territory.

The co-owner of a Whitehorse cocktail bar says the Yukon Liquor Corporation needs to improve the way it brings alcohol into the territory.

James Maltby and his friend, Tytus Hardy, opened the Woodcutter’s Blanket back in April.

But issues around ordering alcohol arose almost immediately, Maltby said.

“We rely on ensuring we can get the spirits required to make our cocktails,” he said.

“I make orders every week, but more often than not I don’t get something I ordered. The hardest part is I never get notified when I’m not getting something.”

Maltby said many of the licensees only find out when they go to pick up their orders.

He believes the Yukon Liquor Corporation should improve its “antiquated system” and make it easier for business owners to get the alcohol they need.

Katja Schmidt, who runs the Miner’s Daughter, the Dirty Northern Public House and the Birch and Bear, said she’s run into similar problems.

Sometimes up to half the liquor she’s ordered won’t show up, she said.

“And that’s hard because you come into the bar and it’s embarrassing because you think it’s my fault, and we’re not running a good business,” she said.

But the liquor corporation has made strides in the past five years to work with local businesses, Schmidt said.

Staff with the corporation have been receptive to complaints, she added.

The Yukon government announced in late January that bars, restaurants and off-sales agents will see about a 10 per cent discount on their purchases from the Yukon Liquor Corporation.

In the past, liquor licence holders paid the same price listed at the territorial liquor stores.

That’s helped a bit, said Schmidt, but more could still be done.

“You go out to a bar or restaurant and expect to pay the same price as you would in Vancouver, yet they buy their products for so much less,” she said.

“By the time a keg lands here it’s double the price it would be in Vancouver. Our margins are so small, we’re making very little money on it (alcohol).”

In the near future, Schmidt said, she hopes to sit down with other local restaurateurs and Stacey Hassard, the minister responsible for the liquor corporation, to talk about the issue of shortages.

Jorn Meier, director of purchasing and distribution for the Yukon Liquor Corporation, said he understands what licensees are going through.

He said the supply chain is so long that issues can arise along the way, but might only be identified by the time the alcohol makes it to Whitehorse.

“The Yukon is a special case – it’s in a very vulnerable situation with the supply chain in general,” he said.

As it stands, orders made by the corporation take about three weeks to arrive at the warehouse, he said.

When orders are made, it takes a few days for the companies to fill them. Then, the liquor is shipped to a warehouse in Port Coquitlam, B.C., where it’s consolidated, inspected and shipped to Seattle.

There, the order goes onto a barge that travels up to Skagway, Alaska before it gets unloaded onto a truck and driven to Whitehorse.

Meier said the corporation should be notified when it’s short-shipped, but that doesn’t always happen.

“If we find out something isn’t available, for example, we can re-order it,” he said.

“Other times we’ll order something and it’s identified as being shipped, but when we open the container it’s not there. That’s a big problem.”

Kokanee 15-packs of beer, for example, weren’t available for about 10 days this past summer, Meier said.

That created a problem for certain licensees for whom the beer is a big seller.

Recently, the corporation struck a deal with Alberta to provide one or two pallets of harder-to-get liquor, as a way of dealing with certain shortages.

The corporation has also been trying to find other suppliers in B.C., he added, because transportation costs are much cheaper there.

Meier said the alcohol industry is changing all over the world, which is causing headaches for jurisdictions that are trying to keep up with the changes.

“I don’t want to point the finger at anyone,” he said.

“I’d still like the supply to be coming in much more reliably, but we’re doing the best we can.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at