The Great LCBO Caper

First, some valuable context:

  • Tina and I live in a place called Ontario, Canada.
  • Canada is a former realm of the British Empire, and a current member in the Commonwealth.
  • The Empire and Commonwealth are widely populated by stodgy prudes who, in many ways, still wish that Queen Victoria were still on the throne and the world made sense.
  • As a result, we tend to trust the government with far more responsibility than they actually deserve.
  • Consequently, in our Province (home of the Loyalist Highway!) one cannot purchase liquor outside of the confines of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.
  • The LCBO is widely regarded as evil, particularly by its own employee union.
  • That has finally led to a nasty labor situation in which– HOLY HELL WHAT DO YOU MEAN THE LCBO MIGHT GO ON STRIKE?!

Yes, that’s right:  with the public workers supporting the LCBO on strike, nobody in Ontario would have access to the majority of wine and liquor that they so love to sup on a daily basis.

Sure, there might be a minimal selection available through The Beer Store… but what would your buddy’s miserable girlfriend drink at the pool party?  Your neighbor, who “gets a headache” with anything other than white wine or possibly the best scotch you have in your cupboard?  You, who feels that mowing the lawn deserves a richer reward than Molson Stock Ale?

Exactly.  There is only one logical response to the crisis:


Lesson 1:  Arrive early


For real, you cannot arrive early enough.  Owners of restaurants and local businesses were actually stocking up as early as the end of May, so worried were they about the lack of supply.

These scores of people were packed into a liquor store that’s probably no larger than the Refunds & Returns section of your local Wal-Mart, and there wasn’t a single soul who had fewer than a half-dozen items tucked under their arms, pushed along the floor by their feet, or being courteously packed into several boxes by LCBO employees.

The line-ups started at roughly two o’clock in the afternoon, and never got to shorter than thirty minutes throughout the day.  So, unless you have a passionate desire to spend a lot of time in a liquor store with a lot of frightened people and disenfranchised employees — be aware of the strike deadline, and shop two days earlier.

Lesson 2:  Be Thorough


If there’s one thing you need to keep in mind during panicked, irrational speculative shopping, it’s that you can leave absolutely nothing to chance.  You must gravely consider questions like:

  • When was the last time I really enjoyed banana liqueur?
  • What if I suddenly require banana liqueur in the near future?
  • Am I likely to suffer a home invasion in which, however unlikely, I am required to produce banana liqueur or the lives of my family are forfeit?
  • I had better buy this stuff, no matter how much it tastes like cough medicine.

Under no circumstances should you ever take a potential shortage of this type, or your knee-jerk response to stock up with a fifteen-year supply of alcohol, to be your opportunity to re-assess your drinking habits.  If anything, your drinking habits must take a front-and-centre priority against all the other tiny, middling expenditures that demand your attention.

Gas bill?  Not due for at least a month.

Cell phone?  Ontario made it illegal to use those in the car, spoiling 99% of the fun of having one at all.

Children?  When was the last time they did anything for you, anyway?  “I need this, I’m hungry for that, the teacher at school says it’s immoral how you neglect so-and-so.”  Please.

Lesson 3:  Vodka equals value


See what’s missing there?  All the Stolichnaya, Grey Goose, Smirnoff, and pretty much nothing else.  That’s because the serious liquor drinkers — you know, the guys who work high steel or drive the commuter trains — knew exactly that they needed to make it through the tough times to come, and cleared every last drop of it off the shelves.

That’s because, dollar for dollar, you simply cannot do better than vodka to boost your blood alcohol.  What else can be favorably mixed with everything from orange juice, to cola, to other liquor, to Clamato? Frankly speaking, what else could ever justify Clamato?

That’s right, nothing else.  And when it comes to a relative punchiness-to-cost ratio, there are few items that will ever do better than vodka.  Remember, one 1.5 litre bottle of Russia’s patron booze will deliver the same impact as an entire case of wine, with nowhere near the same hangover.

Remember that next Sex & The City DVD marathon night, ladies.  Which, if the clubs, pubs and bars are all out of booze, might be your plans for this Saturday.

Lesson 4:  Wine snobbery is temporary; alcohol is forever


Go on and pretend that you’re perusing the shelves for the best value, or perhaps for that hidden gem… when there’s something for you to actually choose from.

But when the labor-relations shit hits the fan, you’d better believe that even the ugliest bottles of dreck are going to fly from the shelves.  What’s that about delightful palette?  I couldn’t hear what you said about subtle interplay between the sweet and the bitter sides of your tongue, because you were coughing too loudly after that first sip of the Lithuanian red you just bought by the truckload.

Let’s face it:  When you’re confronted with the possibility that you’ll have nothing to drink at your Canada Day BBQ except for Coke Zero and — God himself help you — fruit juice, you are going to find yourself pretty willing to forget everything you learned from the wine column in the Globe & Mail.  Very quickly, your criteria will descend from:

  • Colour
  • Tone
  • Region
  • Grape
  • Tannins
  • Sweetness
  • Critical reception
  • Cellaring potential


  • Is it wet?
  • Is it on the shelf?
  • Get out of my way, I saw it first, I don’t care how old you are

Might as well accept it now, because it makes the shopping experience so much easier.

Lesson 5:  Try not to feel like too much of a sucker


What’s that you say, Ontario?  You collectively rallied and pushed nearly $60 million dollars into the LCBO’s coffers in a single, record-setting week on the mere rumor of an impending strike?  At a fiscal quarter-end for most businesses, during an economic downturn?

And then you found out that the day after that historic splurging, in which many of you spent more on liquor than you did on any other item in your household budget, packing your cellars full of rum coolers to last you until the Rapture, the LCBO employee’s union didn’t go out on strike after all?

And that the most critical comment the local media can make about the whole suspicious affair is, “Break out the bubbly“?

It’s good that you can be so giving.  Me, I’d be just the teensiest bit enraged about the whole thing.

That is, if I didn’t have these seven bottles of vodka to get through, all of a sudden.

  • Tara

    I heard they did 10 million dollars more in sales the Monday before the “strike” than they did the previous year – for a total of 17 million dollars.

    That’s quite a jump.

  • Susan Rough

    Fantastic posting. I too was one of the millions who swung by just in case, but luckily, I
    arrived during a brief break from the chaotic masses. I onlly waited for 10 minutes, placed
    my purchase in the trunk of my car (pomegranate coolers, my latest favourite), and then off to
    work I went. I had made jokes all day that this was either a serious labour dispute that would
    result in Ontario resident’s rioting ( you cannot take away people’s ability to drink, they will
    kill you) or perhaps the most brilliant mass marketing campaign ever. By the way, lesson #3
    upset me a little, as there is an abundance of Iceberg vodka on the shelves. Beyond the
    fact that Iceberg vodka is Canadian, it was also ranked number #2 a number of years ago,
    meaning it beat Belvedere. It also cost much less. I say let’s be patriotic and economical,
    and buy Iceberg.

    • Mike

      I had no idea vodka was such a divisive issue!

      All I can say about Iceberg is that it failed the Headache Test for me, so I have steered clear of it. I am all for financial jingoism though, so I urge everyone else to pick it up, if only to offset my own costant indirect financing of the Soviet Union.

  • kristie

    Ha! I would MAX THE FUCK out of my credit card faced with imminent liquor famine. I’m actually feeling a little nervous right now, in case it spreads like a zombie apocalypse. I’m headed to the LQ. Lates!

  • Margie

    No available booze? That’s a terrifying thought!