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Some brews could cost more: Manitoba has new minimum beer pricing

WINNIPEG - Prices are expected to increase for a small number of discount beers in Manitoba next month as the province revamps its minimum-price policy aimed at discouraging excessive drinking.

On June 2, the provincial liquor authority is changing the so-called social responsibility premium on beer sold in government-run stores and private vendors. The premium is a flat rate of $5.64 per litre that has been applied since 1998 to all beer brands with an alcohol content of seven per cent or more.

The flat rate will be replaced with a sliding scale that will calculate the minimum price based on alcohol content — the higher the content, the higher the price. It will also apply to all beer types, including those with lower alcohol.

Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries expects the change will only affect a few cut-rate beer brands among the hundreds that are sold.

"It will have minimal impact, and from a social responsibility point of view, it protects against having extremely low prices for higher-alcohol products," spokeswoman Susan Harrison said.

"We always try to mitigate the risk of over-consumption in that area."

Under the new pricing, a case of 24 bottles of six per cent beer will have to sell for at least $28.16, plus deposit and taxes.

The changes were drawn up in consultation with the industry, Harrison said, and follow similar moves in other provinces.

Manitoba also has minimum booze prices in bars and restaurants. Those will not be affected by the new calculation.

The NDP government has recently moved to update its liquor laws, some of which date back to the 1950s. Drinks can now be had at spas and hair salons. Restaurants have gained more flexibility to serve drinks without food and bars have been allowed to open in the wee hours of the morning for special occasions, such as the recent Winter Olympics.

Harrison said the new formula is more fair to beer brands that are not-too-high in alcohol content.

"If you were someone who was producing a seven per cent beer, or someone who was producing a 19 per cent beer, you would have, in the past, received the (same) strong-beer premium."

"It ... really makes it more equitable. The higher the alcohol, the higher the price."

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