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Beer shortage caused by Molson Coors strike looms in parts of Quebec, bar owners warn

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MONTREAL - The head of the Quebec bar owners' association says some suds sellers could soon run dry because of an ongoing strike at a Molson Coors brewery.

In a phone interview, Renaud Poulin said he has received dozens of calls from pub owners who are worried they may be out of beer by next week, in particular those in rural parts of the province and under exclusive contract with Molson Coors.

"They think they'll have to shut down their business. A big concern,'' he said in French.

Other Quebec beer producers are likely to prioritize deliveries to Montreal and Quebec City, where bars are concentrated, rather than haul cases to remote areas. "It's a question of economy,'' Poulin said.

In a letter dated Thursday to Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon, the Corporation des Proprietaires de Bars, Brasseries et Tavernes du Quebec called on the provincial government to ease restrictions on beer sales and let them buy brews from other retail outlets for resale at the saloon.

Under provincial regulations bars and restaurants can only sell bottles that are marked specifically for "on-site'' consumption, as opposed to those intended for home consumption that are sold at convenience and grocery stores.

Owners are now looking out of province for cases to fill the void left by Molson products, but a limited supply of beer packaged in the on-site-branded bottles means many pubs are facing a shortage.

On March 25, some 420 workers went on strike at a new Molson Coors plant on Montreal's South Shore.

Frederic Bourgeois-LeBlanc, a spokesman for Molson Coors, said a contingency plan to deliver products to clients is underway and that the company is in direct communication with the bar owners' trade group.

"As always, our door remains open to negotiate with the Teamsters representatives. It is important to mention that they decided to go on strike without even consulting our best offer on March 25th. We remain very disappointed,'' he said in an email.

Teamsters Canada spokesman Stephane Lacroix said the union has not heard from Molson and that any movement toward a resolution has stalled.

"No negotiations, no contact. Nothing. Management got caught using scabs a couple of weeks ago, so I guess they're not too happy with the way things are going,'' he said in an email.

Poulin, who owns a sports bar in Chateauguay, an off-island suburb of Montreal, said he's feeling the pinch personally, with clientele less satisfied.

"Customers consume less. They stay shorter. They're not happy,'' said Poulin, who has run Bar La Chope for 32 years.

"Now Molson's customers have all gone to Labatt,'' though he said the rival brewer's stock is also running low in Quebec as a knock-on effect of the Molson Coors strike.

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