BC Ferries is Selling Liquor. So We Graded Their Choices

At first blush, it’s exciting news. But how does it hold up?

After forays into Internet (not good) and debit cards (pulled it off!), the province’s favourite boat company has started selling liquor on board its vessels.

Of course, the alcohol (beer and wine only) is available exclusively in the Pacific Buffet. You have to pay upwards of $20 to enter the damn thing, so it’s no surprise that BC Ferries is handing out four wine options compared to just two for beer.

Here are the drink options in their entirety:

Gray Monk Merlot

See Ya Later Ranch Pinot Noir

Tinhorn Creek Gewürztraminer

Poplar Grove Pinot Gris

Parallel 49 Lager

Phillips Blue Buck Ale

Here’s food editor Neal McLennan on the vino:

First things first, I’m the realest. So I’m not going to start whinging about there not being some low production skin contact Gamay on the big boats. It would be great, but a large entity like BC Ferries can’t be dealing with any supply or quality issues that take away from their main focus of charging people and arm and a leg to occasionally get customers their destination on time. 

So with an eye towards the required pragmatism, how did they do? A solid OK. To the average consumer this looks like an assortment of different, if mainstream wineries. But  drop this and let the whole world feel it—both the Gray Monk Merlot and the Tinhorn Creek Gewurztraminer are actually owned by the behemoth Andrew Peller. The See Ya Later Ranch Pinot? Owned by the even larger Arterra. Only the Poplar Grove is what you’d call an independent, although I don’t think anyone would call Tony Holler’s operation “up-and-coming. ” Corporate ownership aside the selection is variable.

My least fave choice is the Gray Monk Merlot—there’s nothing wrong with it at all, save for a massive lack of personality. People accuse merlot of that all the time, but it’s actually not true in the Okanagan where some of our merlots can be broody and muscular (given that the buyer likes Poplar Grove, they could used their Merlot, which has a really beefy streak of character).

In the middle are the Tinhorn and the SYL. The Tinhorn Gewurz used to be a sub $20 smoking deal, but it’s crept up to $23 and while it’s a nice balanced expression of the grape, for that price you could get a riesling from Tantalus that would knock the thick woolen socks off all those German tourists we have.

As for the SYL Pinot, it’s a nice, well-priced middle of the road Pinot, a oenological version of Coldplay, if you will. Nice red, fruit, some acid, but not a lot, not much in savoury department. You know, like Yellow.

Then there’s the Poplar, which is my fave choice. I’ll start by expressing my overwhelming meh about Pinot Gris generally. But the people of our province have spoken and they love the stuff, so given that I think that Poplar’s represents the best the grape—ripe peaches, lemon zest, all cool and fun. A solid choice.

In the end I feel like they could have gone a little up market on two of the selections given how expensive the ferry is, but it seems like safe and sensible was the order of the day. So they get a safe and sensible B. But maybe I’m so fancy.

Grade: B­

And associate editor Nathan Caddell has some thoughts on the beer:

Just two choices? OK, fine, white wine will easily be the top choice for Pacific Buffeters considering the demo there. But beer drinkers can be classy too!

Nothing a little heavier and dark for those rainy nights on the boat? And no hef or sour for when the sun is shining?

As far as classic, easy choices, P49’s lager and Blue Buck are about as safe as they get. And they’re very B.C. And that was clearly the goal here.

Both good beers, so no real complaint here. But you kinda have to wonder if they could have diversified the list a little bit. Travellers to B.C. who get on the ferry will wonder whether this is actually the best the province has to offer. It ain’t.

Grade: B­–