April 24, 2012

BC Liquor Stores App

Sir Oliver Mowat, great great uncle of that Mowat, was Premier of Ontario from 1872 to 1896 and one of our Fathers Of Confederation. He was instrumental in wresting control over rights to natural resources and other goods away from the federal government in favour of the provinces.

One of those "other goods" was alcohol and this decentralization of powers meant that the provinces could make up their own rules when the Temperance movement started influencing politics in the early 20th century. Each enacted legislation that kept tight control of what the people could drink, and when and where, in the hands of the provincial governments.

Since then Alberta is the only province that has completely privatized retail of alcohol and although it operates through a private contractor, it still has a monopoly on wholesale distribution.

Why is this interesting?

Because it is another example of Canada's essential conundrum: the delicate balance between what the people think they want and what the government thinks they should have.

From the number of Alberta license plates in the parking lots of Okanagan wineries, we can assume that some Albertans are fed up with the shelves full of Yellowtail and Molson Canadian in their local liquor shop.

In BC we love to complain about the Liquor Distribution Branch and their retail wing, the BC Liquor Stores. Their monolithic policies and control of imports and distribution can be maddening. That Rhône red you wanted to try? Only available in Prince Rupert. That 90-point Mosel-style Ontario Riesling selling for only $18? Not going to see it here.

But they do many things very, very well, too: their Signature stores are a pleasure to visit (and are open on Sundays, which hopefully infuriates a priest somewhere), they give lots of shelf space to BC wines, and their website is excellent.

Another thing they do alarmingly well is the BC Liquor Stores iOS app.

Free from iTunes, the app is stable, well-designed and updated regularly.

The landing screen ties in to the content of the latest issue of their in-house magazine, Taste, which is handy if you're trying to find a product you just read about.

Here we are looking up a Wild-Ferment Chardonnay from Errazuriz. Text-recognition finds the product after typing in only a few letters.

As well as the price, details, tasting notes and pairing suggestions, it tells you the nearest open store that actually has the wine in stock. This is the best use of government funding we've seen in since paved roads.

You add your own rating and notes about the wine and then organize them into lists of Favourites, Recommendations, Under $20, Never Again, or anything that makes sense to you. You can share these lists by e-mail or you-know-what.

One excellent feature is that the lists are stored on your device so you don't need to go on-line to review them (like when you are standing in a shop). This is very helpful for people like us who are using an iPod Touch that relies on wi-fi access.

Got a bottle and wondering what to eat with it? Scan it with the iPhone's camera (or type in the bar code number) and check the tasting notes for pairing recommendations. There is also a Pairings section that works the other way, showing suggestions based on a variety of typical dishes.

The Pairings section could use a little improvement, we think. One option in the "Meat" category is "Pork or Veal in Cream Sauce with Mushrooms". Why mushrooms, in particular? Strangely, one of their four wine recommendations for this specific dish was "Pomino Bianco" which actually yielded no results in the product list. Oops.

Here is another issue: if you don't spell the item correctly the search feature doesn't help at all. By now we are used to Google interpreting our typos and suggesting what we really meant, so this old-school, "Chardonnat? Does not compute!" kind of result is no longer acceptable.

Over all, this is really a very, very well-done app and the LDB should be congratulated. However, there is one glaring omission: 

Where is the Android version?

While it is not always easy to decipher the stats (Google counts in units shipped and doesn't sell phones (yet), while Apple counts retail sales), by many reports the Android platform now outsells Apple's iOS.


There is no longer any rationalization for not developing an app for Android devices, especially if you are a publicly-funded branch of a provincial government, awash in tax revenue.*

*Edit April 25/12: We just received a call from someone at BC Liquor Stores who tells us that they do have plans to make an Android version of their excellent app. There is no release date yet, however.

How does BC Liquor Stores' app compare to those offered by commissions and boards in the rest of the provinces?

Alberta has LiquorConnect which doesn't seem to have a mobile app at all, which is what happens when you privatize retail.

SaskLiquor  doesn't either, but for different reasons.

From the design of Manitoba's Liquor Marts Online it looks like apps of any kind are still a couple of decades away.

Ontario's LCBO is on the iPhone but doesn't have an Android app.

Quebec's SAQ does.

New Brunswick's ABNL leads the maritimes with apps for both platforms.

The NSLC in Nova Scotia has a series of podcasts and videos, but no mention of mobile apps.

Neither PEI nor Newfoundland seem to have a mobile app between them.

Nunavut Liquor Commission... well, you can read their annual reports.

Northwest Territories Liquor Commission...
The Yukon Liquor Corporation isn't doing much better.

So congratulations to BC's LDB on a job well done. We look forward to reporting here that an Android app is on the way soon. Can't let New Brunswick out-shine us, can we?

And to our northern brothers and sisters, we offer a hearty ᐅᒥᐊᕐᔫᑉ ᐳᓪᓕᓕᒫᐸᒐ ᑕᑦᑕᕐᓂᖅ ᐊᒻᒪᔭᖅ (Umiarjuap Pullimmaqpaga tattaurniq nimiraq.) and we hope you can find a good bottle of wine this summer.


  1. It is true that there is no android app yet, but if you do use your android and go to the bcliquorstores.com website, it will redirect you to the mobile version of the website which has a similiar interface.

    1. You are right, and a robust mobile version of the site is a great way to get many of the same functions.

      As noted above, we just heard from someone at BC Liquor Stores that an Android version of the app is planned.


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