Alberta distillery behind jumbo vodka jugs wants apology after getting 'load of hate'

Distillery wants an apology

An Alberta distillery behind four-litre vodka jugs that stirred controversy this week says it was unfairly targeted on social media and wants an apology from the cabinet minister who said the product was not responsibly priced.

Earlier this week, Service Alberta Minister Dale Nally said the price of the product, on sale for $49.95 in some Edmonton stores, was offside, even though the product complied with all regulations.

Yvonne Irnich, CEO of the Edmonton-area T-Rex Distillery, told The Canadian Press on Friday that negative public feedback over the jugs was initially overwhelming.

"This is why I am so really angry right now — because of these comments the minister made out of turn and harming my business. I have done nothing wrong," said Irnich.

"I would like to see a public apology."

The jugs had been on the market for almost a year without causing a fuss before a photo on social media of the containers at the special sale gained traction.

"It was an extreme load of hate that was dished out," Irnich said.

T-Rex announced Monday it would halt production. By Tuesday, Super Value Liquor stores announced it was pulling the special sale price and selling remaining stock at the regular price of $60.

"Yes, we got a lot of publicity, but it wasn't all good publicity," said Irnich.

Since then, Irnich said, support from customers praising the product's affordability prompted the distillery to restart production next week, with the aim of getting the jugs back on shelves for $56.99 within days.

"It is a matter of supply and demand, and the demand for low-price alcohol is big," Irnich said, noting there are even cheaper vodkas on the market.

Under current rules, the provincial oversight agency, Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis, sets the wholesale cost retailers must pay for products. Retailers can in turn set their own sale prices.

After Nally expressed his concerns about the vodka jugs and said he was looking at intervening, he clarified that he would not impose floor prices.

In response to questions from The Canadian Press on Friday, including whether Nally believed the regular sticker price of the vodka jugs was socially responsible, his press secretary Nicky Gocuan offered a brief statement.

"Alberta’s government supports a free and open market while prioritizing social responsibility and the health and safety of Albertans who engage in gaming, alcohol, and cannabis consumption. Alberta’s distilleries are known to produce world class products and we want to maintain that reputation," said Gocuan.

The distillery has called on the government to reinstate a rule requiring distilleries to produce at least 80 per cent of their products in-house. T-Rex said when that rule was removed a few years ago, it forced them and others to lower prices to stay in business.

Nally has said he considers that rule red tape, and he isn't looking to reinstate it.

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