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Don’t try to bring a beer

November 16th, 2008 · 5 Comments

Last night I was having some beers with friend Troy Burtch, and the topic of beer at fine restaurants came up. He had just written a post about the subject, and we both agreed that generally it is quite frustrating that many Toronto restaurants pride themselves on food and wine, but seem to not care about beer.

What is even more frustrating is the existence of a Ontario law that could make the fine-dining experience for a beer connoisseur significantly better, if the law only applied to beer. That law is the Bring Your Own Wine endorsement of a liquor license, regulated by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.

This law, introduced a couple of years ago, promised to bring “exciting new choices in Ontario”. It allows consumers to bring a bottle of commercially-produced wine to have at a restaurant and take the rest home if they don’t finish it. Restaurants need to apply to the ACGO for the endorsement added to their liquor license, and generally they charge a corkage fee. According to, there are a fair number of restaurants in Toronto that allow consumers to bring their own wine to a restaurant. I’ve done it myself and it’s quite convenient.

Why this is so aggravating for beer fans is that the law applies to wine alone. Beer is not permitted whatsoever. The government said at the time of the law announcement that it is “good for restaurants and it is good for consumers”. Well, it’s good for wine consumers, not beer consumers. Not only does this law completely disrespect beer as an accompaniment to a meal, it prevents connoisseurs to enjoy a good beer with a meal considering that many restaurants in Toronto do not take the time to offer a decent beer selection.

Now I’m not saying that it should be allowed to bring a two-four of beer and sit it next to your table. Perhaps that was one of the reasons that beer was excluded from the law in the first place. But there’s no reason that the law should exclude beer that comes in the same packaging format as wine. The LCBO offers as a part of their general list 750mL bottles of Unibroue Blanche de Chambly, Maudite and Fin du Monde, and also the excellent Belgian Trappist beer Chimay. Having a bottle of one of these beers with a meal is just like having a wine. So why does the law prohibit consumers from bringing their own beer?

On the surface it seems to be just another example of wine being treated as a premium beverage over beer – that wine is meant for fine dining and beer is not. The Government of Ontario has shown in the past to favour wine over beer, and this is helps to add credence that theory. But the law also works against small and specialty brewers, who tend to be the ones who produce beer in packaging formats similar to wine.

It is nice to see restaurants such as beerbistro who work to level the playing field between beer and wine when it comes to fine dining. But there are many restaurants that just don’t seem interested in offering a good beer list. Allowing consumers to bring a bottle of beer for dinner might demonstrate to restaurateurs that a good beer list is worth maintaining. But more importantly it would give consumers the “choice” that the Government of Ontario promised when it introduced the law. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Beer connoisseurs in Ontario are let down once again.

Tags: Government · LCBO

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5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Chris Storey // Nov 17, 2008 at 11:59 am

    In my opinion, if a pub or restaurant doesn’t offer a beer menu to view, they never get a second visit.

  • 2 admin // Nov 17, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    For a pub, I agree. But it’s a shame about nicer restaurants.

    Take Lee on King Street. Good restaurant, no argument there. It’s wine list is about 60 bottles, I’m sure well thought through and selected.

    It’s beer list – Tsing Tao, Kirin Ichiban and Steam Whistle. That’s it. Pathetic.

    And according to, they do permit BYOW as well.

    I would go to a place like Lee as the restaurant and food experience is not like going to an everyday pub. Having to pick from that limited beer list is frustrating.

  • 3 Greg Clow // Nov 27, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    Yeah, I’ve been thinking about writing an article about the poor beer selection in certain fine dining restaurants for a while now.

    Case in point: We went to Frank, the new high-end restaurant in the AGO, for dinner tonight. They have a decent wine list – not huge, but some nice selections, reasonably priced.

    No beer list, though, so I asked what they had. My choices were Sleeman Cream Ale, Sleeman Light, Sleeman Honey Brown, and Grolsch.

    So I had a glass of Malivore Gamay. A nice wine that paired well with my food, but a nice beer would’ve been better.

    That being said, I’ve also been to a couple of higher end places in the last few months that have impressed me with their beer selection. The lists are rarely long, at least compared to the wine lists, but the quality of what’s on offer has been surprisingly good.

    And as for the whole “bring your own” deal – I agree that it should include beer, and I don’t think the size or style of the bottle should have any bearing on things. If I have a couple of nice Belgian ales or barley wines in 330/341 ml bottles, why shouldn’t I be allowed to bring and enjoy them in a restaurant that allows people to bring a bottle of wine?

  • 4 Rick Green // Dec 8, 2008 at 9:33 pm

    This lamentable situation is all too prevalent in Vancouver as well. Through the efforts of CAMRA Vancouver, some of the better restaurants are slowly starting to wake up, but most seem to have wine snobs at the helm. At a fine dining establishment you can expect to find some decent wines, so the ability to BYOB is actually even more crucial, given the prevalence of domestic & foreign swill and a very narrow range of beer styles.

  • 5 Chris Storey // Feb 19, 2009 at 6:59 am

    It would be great if I could bring my own bottle of homebrew. I would put it in a bottle of Molson whatever and of course that would fool most servers.