‘Santa’ beer on Ontario’s naughty list

Ontario’s alcohol regulator has moved to ban an Austrian beer favoured by connoisseurs because its name, Samichlaus, means St. Nicholas in Swiss-German.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario has decided the beer’s label contravenes rules against advertising to children. It features the name of the beer, Samichlaus, a Swiss-German nickname for the saint behind the Santa Claus legend, and a small black-and-white bearded figure.

Vlado Pavicic, co-owner of Burlington-based Roland and Russell Importers, called the decision “insulting to the average Canadian.”

“It’s quite a stretch to assume that the average consumer or child can translate from German to English,” he said. “As for the image, I fail to see how the picture even resembles a children’s character. The man depicted looks like an old fisherman.”

Or a weather-beaten hobo. Either way, he bears little resemblance to the man Canadian children know from movies and Coca-Cola ads.

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Greg Clow, a beer writer with the Toronto food and drink website Tasteto杭州龙凤,said the province’s notoriously strict labelling requirements limit consumer choice and add costs and delays for producers and importers. “It’s a lot red tape, a lot of headaches, and frankly, it’s caused a lot of producers to say they won’t deal with Ontario,” he said.

Mr. Clow blames the sheer size of Ontario’s liquor bureaucracy, in which “the right hand most often doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”

Chris Layton of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario said Samichlaus was indeed de-listed in May, but this was done for “commercial reasons,” not because of the label, adding the LCBO had no knowledge of the commission’s decision and sometimes ignored its rulings.

A spokeswoman for the commission said the ruling dates from 2001, had lain dormant for years after the commission moved to complaints-based enforcement, and was only “reactivated” recently after a “single complaint from a private person.”

But this was all news to Mr. Pavicic, for whom the commission’s letter came out of the blue after he had already sold 1,100 cases of the specialty lager, including 800 to the LCBO chain of liquor stores. He had also already complied with a previous ruling forcing him to remove the translation “Santa Claus beer” from the back of the bottle.

The process has confounded Mr. Pavicic and left him wondering if he is doing something illegal. For now he said he will continue to sell Samichlaus through the LCBO’s private ordering system until someone tells him clearly that he must stop.

“The only way to solve this, in our opinion, is [to] really get to the bottom of who’s behind what,” he said.

The Samichlaus ruling is the latest from a regime that has targeted a beer with Easter bunnies on it, a beer labelled “coffee porter” and most recently, a vodka that comes in a bottle shaped like a human skull – all found to be in breach of section 1(4) of the commission’s advertising guidelines, which prohibits liquor packaging aimed at children.

Butproducts picturing cute giraffes, cartoon trucks, little birds and colourful hobgoblins fill the shelves at the LCBO, obervers have noted. “It’s very strange what you see on the shelf, and then what they don’t allow,” said Renate Cojocaru, another Ontario agent.

“Ask them why a wine called Menage a Trois is OK, but Samichlaus is not,” Mr. Pavicic said, also pointing out that 23 saints are already represented in LCBO stock. “As far as we know, references to saints are not against [commission] rules and regulations.”

Late British beer critic Michael Jackson has called Samichlaus “the most complex and satisfying of the world’s super-strong lagers.” Aged for 10 months before bottling, it contains 14% alcohol by volume and has a distinctive oily, creamy body.

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