Leiden, Netherlands: Deal or no deal?

Ah, Leiden. This was the first place I ever visited in Europe and remains one of my favourites. Leiden is a charming Dutch city of just over 100,000 people about half way between Amsterdam and The Hague. It is rich in culture, canals and the love of whisky. There’s the annual ‘Whisky in Leiden’ event, and there’s the North End Pub, a must visit for whisky drinkers.

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The pub’s whisky menu, which is actually a binder, is in itself a wonderful thing to peruse. The last page of the menu is a picture of whisky writer Michael Jackson sitting at the booth beside the doorway with a dram in his hand. And if that in and of itself wasn’t enough to lend credibility to the establishment, the SWA awarded the pub recognition of being one of the top whisky pubs in the world; the plaque announcing this hangs proudly above the door.

During my most recent visit however, I discovered another one of Leiden’s treasures, De Druiventuin. A magnificent shop in the north section of the city that claims to hold stock of 1800 malts! They offer samples, private bottlings, and a truly stunning selection of rare and unique bottlings. Plus, they love to chat about whisky. Again, finding this store was one of those things that you kick yourself for not know about; all this time it was right there waiting patiently for you.

Their stock is, it pains me to say, too large to do a price comparison that in any reasonable way would approximate thorough.

De Druiventuin - Leiden

Some of what I saw was more or less in line with other shops in Europe, some was more expensive (the bottle of Yoichi 10 I just bought in Poland for 80 Euro was 99 Euro here) but what they do have is rotating discounts. While I was there they had marked down Octomore 6.1 to 95 € (VAT included in the price). Please, find me somewhere, anywhere, that one can get such a great bottle for this price! Or even at De Druiventuin’s regular price of 115 €, for that matter. If you’re reading this in the Netherlands, order a bottle on line. They will deliver and even taking into account the delivery charge of 8 €, I can’t possibly imagine anyone selling this remarkable and highly collectable bottle for a better price.

De Druiventuin’s line of 6 cl sample offerings were from some nice bottles too, a great way to test out a more expensive whisky before deciding to take the plunge to buy a bottle for drinking, or collecting, or both. I opted for a sample of Kavalan Soloist Sherry Cask. A rich and rewarding dram that made me appreciate what Kavalan is offering and why they receive the accolades they do. The rich cherry and caramel notes would have made this dram a brilliant pairing with the right cigar.

To be fair, there is another apparently excellent whisky shop in Leiden, WhiskyDock.com (in English) that unfortunately I did not have the time to visit this trip. I promise to visit it next time I’m in Leiden.

Now go get that Octomore.

Happy foraging!

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Nikka Yoichi, with an age statement!

From Japan to Poland. Yeah, not a connection often made for most people, let alone whisky drinkers, but it’s an opportunity that I want to share. In future posts I’ll share some secrets about where to find Nikka and Suntory bottles with numbers on them in the US, but today I’m in Poland so that’s where we’ll start. The city of Poznan is one of the larger cities in Poland, a wonderful, slightly gothic city close to the border with Germany. Full disclosure: I lived here for two years while working so I know the city reasonably well but that said, I had never in that time been to either of the stores mentioned below.

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There’s been plenty written already about the Japanese TV show Massan so I won’t go into details suffice to say that it has, inadvertently and single-handedly, reshaped the global market for Japanese whisky.

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Nikka and Suntory announced they are moving to NAS bottling exclusively. The horror! The horror! I’ve tried Yamazaki and Hakushu with and without numbers and, well, numbers are better. Your mileage may vary of course, but I truly think that something has been lost with the introduction of the vague and ubiquitous ‘Distiller’s Reserve’ releases. Don’t get me wrong here, they are still good whiskies, just not as full of character and uniqueness as the age statement bottles. Which brings me to today’s post: Nikka.

I had never tried any whisky from Nikka until this week. There is a cigar bar here in Poznan that has, in my opinion, the best whisky selection in the city and they have both Yoichi 10 and 15 available. I tasted both and loved both (deliciously paired with an H. Upman Majestic). I had done a little research about the liquor stores here and was planning on buying a Springbank 15 but after trying the Yoichis I thought I would, just to be sure, check the local supply of Japanese whisky because you never know where a gem of a deal might be hiding.

Joy.

While the Whisky Shop linked above only had the Yoichi NAS (but did have Hakushu 12 as well as numbered Taketsuru and Hibiki) there was another major whisky shop in town that did have Yoichi with an age statement. The website is in Polish but the numbers don’t lie for Yoichi 10, 12 and 15. Sure, 850zl/~$300 CAD for the Yamazaki 12 year is completely out of hand, but for the Yoichi? Look at the prices. I felt the forager’s rush, like discovering something that no one else appreciated for the value that was right there. Right in front of me.

Hiding in plain sight.

Of course Canadian duty free protocols and the patriotic imperative to import no more than 1.14 litres of liquor into the country prevented me from buying any more than a single bottle so I chose the Yoichi 10. It, to me, after trying both the 10 and the 15, seemed like an exceptional price/quality ratio. So the lesson of the day here is: shop for whisky where the demand is uncertain. The prices here in Poznan clearly reflect the global situation for Suntory products, but, oddly, not for Nikka products.

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Happy foraging!

Edit: Wow. A mere 48 hours after I bought that bottle for 359 zloty, the store has bumped their price to 449 zloty, about $30 CAD more than I paid on Saturday. It’s still not an awful price for Yoichi but, damn, finding deals and sharing them with other collectors is going to be tougher than I thought!