What Is the Société des alcools du Québec?

What is the SAQ? It's Quebec's official liquor store

Julia Manzerova / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

New residents to Montreal are likely to hear these words, "I'm going to the SAQ. Need anything?" 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." Then some people 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 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 You 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 although SAQ stores carry a superior wine selection than at other retail and food outlets in the province of Quebec.

What About Spirits?

Spirits—think vodka, rum, and gin—are pretty much only available at SAQ stores.

And Beer?

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—locals usually end up getting their beer at the grocery store or local dépanneur but buy their 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.