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Canada: Water in vodka find leads to LCBO clampdown

Canada: Water in vodka find leads to LCBO clampdown


Source: Toronto Sun

By Mike Strobel

Thursday, January 14, 2016


The LCBO has called in the cops and curbed resale of returned booze after my column this week about vodka gone wrong.


The liquor board also ordered shelf checks at its 865 outlets and will give all retail staff a “refresher” course in quality control.


If they’re smart, they’ll also raise a toast of thanks to Rick and Marilyn Crumpton.


On Monday, I wrote of how the Pickering couple discovered their newly purchased 1.75 litre of Smirnoff was actually water. Or at least they sincerely hoped that’s all it was.


They’d downed a couple of shots, with orange juice and club soda, before realizing Rick’s trademark Saturday night beverage, the Rickster, had lost its usual kick.


Well, the LCBO test results came back Thursday: Sure enough, the plastic bottle they bought at Kennedy and the 401 was full of water with a trace of vodka.


“There is sufficient evidence,” LCBO spokesman Keeley Rogers e-mails me, “to indicate this was the result of deliberate product tampering … this is a criminal matter.


“Effective immediately, all (plastic bottles) that are returned to the LCBO will no longer be offered for resale, regardless of condition, while we investigate.


“We are also taking the appropriate steps to revise and strengthen our existing policies and procedures…


“All retail employees are required to complete mandatory refresher training.”


The good news is no one’s gonna die, including me, from taste-testing the bottle. The Crumptons had felt no ill effects from their watery Ricksters, anyway.


But, my goodness, talk about bringing down the hammer, Ms. Rogers.


“The LCBO takes product tampering and fraudulent returns very seriously.”


I’ll say. But you can’t blame them. Imagine if that “Smirnoff” had been something nastier than water. Imagine if someone downed an anthrax martini. Think of the broken trust. Think of the lawsuit.


You buy booze from the government, you damn well expect to get booze.


“Obviously, there was a flaw in the system,” says Rick Crumpton, 62, drily. He’s a pro hockey coach who has tutored the likes of St. Louis Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo and Nashville centreman Cody Hodgson. Marilyn, 56, is a Scotiabank exec.


The LCBO has turned the case over to Toronto Police, so we’ll likely soon know how that bottle landed on its shelf.


Did some fraudster refill a recycling-bin empty with water – from a tap, from a pond, from a toilet – and return it for a $56.95 haul, before a busy staffer put it back.


And how often does it happen?


The LCBO calls this an isolated case, but Ruth Schnarr, 47, of Kitchener, saw my column and called to report the liquor board’s lab was also testing her bottle of Banff vodka. It, too, had tasted funny, though more like rubbing alcohol. “The smell was completely off,” says Ms Schnarr, who, ironically, is in the customer service business.


I asked Ms. Rogers about it.


“Our preliminary findings indicate that this was a product quality complaint, and not product tampering,” she e-mailed back.


Whatever, it goes to show, eh? You can’t be too careful. Today’s metal seals are hardly foolproof. Check before you chug. Don’t rely on the government booze merchant to do it for you.


“Looks like something really needed to be done,” Rick Crumpton says of the LCBO safety clampdown. “I must say, we’re impressed with how they’ve responded.


“All we wanted was public awareness of a concern that next time it could be something else in the bottle besides water.”


Mission accomplished, folks. Go celebrate with a Rickster.