Legislation: Ontario

This post contains a summary of homebrewing regulations in Ontario, according to the best understanding of the author and the Canadian Homebrewers Association at the time of publish, and should not be considered legal advice.

Ontario is known around the world as one of Canada’s most regulated provinces in terms of alcohol sales. Our LCBO is famous for being one of the largest buyers of alcohol in the world, and The Beer Store is the subject of much frustration for beer fans and craft brewers. Homebrewers in Ontario face similar levels of bureaucracy and red tape, but that hasn’t stopped us from having the best homebrewers in the country (Editors Note: The opinions expressed by this author do not reflect the official stance of the CHA.).

At a high level, homebrewers in Ontario are free to brew as much beer as they want, as well as share it with their friends and family without any limitation. As with any other jurisdiction in North American, the sale of homebrew is strictly illegal in Ontario.

The sticking point comes when homebrewers want to leave their home, and gather to share their homebrewed beer with others. One of the main purposes for homebrew clubs is to facilitate the sharing of homebrewed beer, between homebrewers. This happens at club meetings, homebrew competitions, and other homebrew focused events. These kinds of events often take place in a public place, like a brewery, and require a Special Occasion Permit (SOP). Specifically homebrew can only be served with a Private No-Sale SOP, which costs $35/day, and has a few requirements (described below).

A lot of clubs start out by meeting in private places, most often the home of a member. Sharing homebrew in a private place doesn’t require a permit, so this is a great way to start. As your club grows it makes sense to move your meetings to a public place like your local brewery, which is when you require an SOP. To do this you’ll need transition your club into a more formal structure including membership dues, so that you have a list of paid members.

To qualify for a Private No-Sale SOP, you need to meet a few criteria:

  • Private:
    • Not open (or advertised) to members of the general public
    • Mainly targeted at paid members of the host organization
    • The organization must be formally organized, and have a list of paid members
    • Non-members attending the event should fall into one of these categories:
      • Prospective members auditing their first meeting
      • Invited guest speakers
      • Family of paid members (Eg. Spouses, parents, sons/daughters of drinking age, etc…)
  • No Sale:
    • Homebrewed alcohol may not be sold at the event (directly or indirectly)
    • Admission fees are allowed solely for the purpose of covering the operational costs of running the event
      • Operational costs may include: venue rental, equipment/logistics costs, guest speakers, etc..
      • Make sure you have a paper trail to prove this in case you get audited

Thanks for reading this post about homebrew regulations in Ontario, and I hope it helps your club understand what you need to do to be in compliance. Good luck!

Applying for an SOP

The only written regulation on homebrew in Ontario can be found in the AGCO’s SOP Guide:

When speaking to the AGCO they explained that meeting the spirit of this description is what’s most important, and that the questions found on the application form are written with the more mainstream applicant in mind (homebrew is a niche stakeholder). This is why you’ll need to read between the lines on the following two of the questions to make sure the system sets up the correct application, remember it needs to be Private No-Sale!

This question doesn’t explicitly mention “Beer Club/Association/Group”, but you need to answer YES, since it’s the “homebrew question”:

This question is intending to ask if you will be charging admission to cover the cost of beer. Since any admissions fee you may charge are only used for operational costs, you should answer NO. If you answer Yes to this question you will be applying for a “Private Sale”, which isn’t what you want.

Eric Cousineau is the Ontario regional rep and you can reach him at eric@canadahomebrews.ca.

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