|Rebekah Jarvis pours a beer in a Calgary pub as Albertans learn they are paying more for bottled beer than anybody else in the country. (Sun Media/Darren Makowichuk)
CALGARY -- You can cry in your beer if you want to -- but it isn't going be cheap.
Alberta, in a mere 12 months, has gone from having the cheapest beer in Canada to the most expensive suds in the country, by a long shot.
You might spit and splutter, but don't waste any.
A survey of beer prices from St. John's, N.L., to Victoria shows Albertans are paying as much as $5 more a case for the same brew.
"I'm not surprised at all -- you can blame Stelmach, because he did the worst thing, boosting taxes," said John Dong, owner of Calgary's Royal Liquor Merchants.
But alcohol taxes, which went up $1.30 a case just last month after the province decided to squeeze more revenue out of drinkers, are only partially to blame for the beer-price boom.
Over the past year, aluminium and energy prices have all increased, along with distribution costs and minimum wages.
Add sin taxes to the mix and Albertans who enjoy a cold beer have been repeatedly burned, a nickel and dime at a time.
The price of Alberta beer is now higher than in any province, a complete reversal from April 2008, when this province boasted the lowest average price in Canada for a 12-pack, at $18.42.
That Alberta advantage is now history.
Using a 12-pack of Molson Canadian as a middle-of-the-road, universally available barometer, Alberta registers a dubious place atop the price pile.
In Newfoundland, traditional home to cod cheeks, drizzle and the most expensive beer in Canada, the price of a dozen Canadian is $22.25, including taxes and deposit.
Alberta, at four random liquor stores in Calgary and Edmonton, the same beer goes for between $23.98 and $24.99, including tax and deposit.
You can start weeping now -- like it or not, we are Canada's beer-price champions.
In B.C., the same Molson product is $21.15; Saskatchewan sells it for $20.50.
Out east, in New Brunswick, the dozen goes for $20.50, with Nova Scotians paying $19.99 and P.E.I. residents handing over $20.49.
In Quebec, you can walk into a grocery store and score the Molson case for $18.12, while next door in Ontario, it's $20.50.
In Manitoba, lucky old Manitoba, a case of Canadian is a mere $18.03.
One B.C. Liquor merchant, who asked not to be named, mocked his neighbour's suffering: "You have to be kidding -- that's pretty hilarious," he said.
"Alberta has always been way cheaper. Maybe customers will cross the border and buy beer here for a change."
Those running liquor stores locally say Alberta's latest price bump, courtesy of April's provincial budget, has been a serious buzz-kill for customers.
"They're angry and they're blaming us," said Dong, who runs a quartet of stores in Calgary.
"All we can tell them is it's not our fault."
Alberta beer drinker Greg Morrell says he's not pleased about the climbing prices, and like many on a tight beer budget, he's been forced to switch brands to save money.
"I'm unhappy about it -- there are no major label brands for a reasonable price, so I have to buy the cheap stuff," said Morrell, 47.
"In response to the prices, I buy Black Label -- it's about as cheap as I can go and still find it palatable."
The government that helped push Alberta to the lonely peak of prices refuses to discuss the impact on customers -- people who once naively believed liquor store privatization would lead to cheaper suds.
Along with beer, the new taxes pushed wine prices up 75 cents a bottle and hard liquor $2.85 a bottle.
That decision, made as part of last month's budget, will add about $180 million to the $658 million raised through booze sales in 2007-2008.
Lynn Hutchings-Mah, spokeswoman for the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, said Alberta's government wanted more revenue from liquor sales and higher prices are the result.
"The government made the decision to increase the liquor mark-up to increase revenue, and pay for programs Albertan's need," said Hutchings-Mah.
"They made the decision, and that's about all I can speak to."