Liquor branches in B.C., Alberta sue after drinks shipment freezes en route from Montreal

The agencies responsible for distributing liquor in B.C. and Alberta are suing a trucking company after hundreds of bottles of wine and spirits froze on their way from the east coast last year.

The B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB) and Alberta Gaming, Liquor & Cannabis (AGLC) together claim they were supposed to receive 1,459 “cartons” of alcoholic beverages from Montreal last December.

But instead of using proper heated trucks to make the journey, Simard Transport used “standard, unheated dry trailers,” exposing the alcohol to Canadian winter temperatures, the lawsuit claims.

“The cargoes experienced [subzero] temperatures resulting in freezing of the wine and liquor in their bottles, causing freezing expansion of the wine and liquor and damage to the bottles and exposure of the contents to the atmosphere,” read the notice of claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Dec. 13.

“The freezing of the wine and liquor caused damage to the bottles and carrying boxes,” meaning the products could not be sold.

CBC News contacted the organizations’ lawyer to get a sense of the total volume lost, but he declined to comment.

Freezing is bad for wine: sommelier

Extreme cold can ruin drinks in several ways.

First, liquid expands when it freezes. Frozen wine will either leak out of the bottle, push the cork out or break the bottle altogether. Sparkling wine can explode. 

If the cork pops out or the screw top loses its airtight grip, air can seep into the bottle and oxidize the wine. Oxidized wine can end up with a vinegar taste. 

A sign outside a building that reads 'British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch'.
A B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch facility in Richmond, B.C., pictured on Aug. 25. Bottles of wine and liquor bound for B.C. and Alberta could not be sold after they froze en route from Montreal last winter, a lawsuit claims. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Frigid temperatures can also kill yeast in the wine that affects its flavour. 

“As wine is still a living matter, it can potentially also have yeast in it that has not completely died — so by killing that [yeast] from the extreme cold or heat, it can actually ruin the style of wine or just actually hamper the taste in flavour,” said sommelier Shiva Reddy, who is not connected to the lawsuit. 

“As soon as you kind of mess with the heating system, with it going to one of the extremes, the wine will be unbalanced.”

Beer can also lose its flavour if frozen, or expand and damage the can.

Heated trucks part of contract, branches claim

Simard Transport has not filed a response to the claim in court.

The lawsuit says the alcohol left the Port of Montreal around Dec. 11, 2021.

It said Simard Transport was “specifically directed” to use heated containers strong enough to “keep the cargo warm during carriage in cold weather conditions to be expected during a cross-Canada rail or road transit” from Montreal to B.C. or Alberta. 

Using heated containers was a term of a contract signed earlier that year, the lawsuit added. 

“Contrary to its contractual obligation, Simard did not load the cargoes … in heated trailers to protect them from freezing,” the claim said. 

The lawsuit is asking for more than $55,000 in damages. 

It did not specify which varieties of wine or spirits were lost.

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