"I'm going to the SAQ. Need Anything?"
Newly relocated Montreal residents will likely come across these words within the first month, if not the first week they've moved to the city.
What is the SAQ?
It's Montreal and the province Quebec's ubiquitous storefront source of all things alcoholic. And it's usually pronounced by its initials, S-A-Q. In English, that sounds like "ess-ay-cue" but in French it's more like "ess-ah-queue." And some people --like me-- just say "sack," pronouncing it the way the acronym is spelled.
Founded in 1921, the SAQ, or Société des alcools du Québec, which is French for Quebec Alcohol Corporation, is a crown corporation owned by the provincial government of Quebec. The SAQ has a legal monopoly on alcohol distribution in the province of Quebec, a mandated control on liquor sales to businesses as well as consumers.
In the words of the SAQ, “as a state-owned corporation, the SAQ provides a major income stream to both levels of government in the form of taxes, duties, and a dividend payment to the Quebec government.”
About 8,000 products in the form of wine, beer and spirits are available in SAQ stores in Montreal and across the province of Quebec to people who've reached the legal drinking age.
Can I Only Buy Wine for Household Consumption at SAQ Stores in Quebec?
No. Residents can also buy alcoholic beverages at local dépanneurs, grocery stores and supermarkets, but SAQ stores carry a superior wine selection than at other retail and food outlets in the province of Quebec. Click here for a list of wine recommendations available at the SAQ.
What About Spirits?
Spirits -think vodka, rum, gin- are pretty much only available at SAQ stores.
Beer is another story. The SAQ does sell interesting, hard-to-find beers but dépanneurs, food stores and supermarkets generally carry a better selection of commercial beers, European imports as well as choice Quebec and Montreal-made microbrews.
In fact, some dépanneurs specialize in beer, offering well over 100 different kinds, everything from blueberry beer to porter.
To give you a better sense of where to go for what, consider this. I usually end up getting my beer at the grocery store or my local dépanneur but I score my wine and spirits at the closest SAQ.
For more information on SAQ products, private imports, store locations and to purchase select products online, visit the SAQ website.