Duty Free Part 3: By Land

Last week I was in Pittsburgh for work. It’s about a five and a half hour drive from Toronto so I elected to drive rather than fly as the total travel time is about the same either way. Two days in Pittsburgh afforded a couple of opportunities: the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB), the state run liquor monopoly, and Duty Free Americas (DFA), a chain of stores which controls ninety duty free outlets across North, Central and South America.

First up, the PLCB. Like our beloved LCBO, the PLCB is a government monopoly that controls supply and pricing. Again, like the LCBO, the PLCB offers monthly discounts on a limited number of bottles but as far as deals go for the Canadian shopper, the competing forces of lower state taxes (compared to Ontario) wrestle with the unfavourable exchange rate between the US and the Canadian dollar. Prior to the dramatic decrease in the loonie versus the greenback, the PLCB prices on a lot of whisky were very, very appealing but one needs to look more carefully these days, noting especially the sales.

So, what did I see? A number of great deals.No picture for this one, but a fantastic deal at the PLCB is Laphroaig 18 year.

Laphroiag 18 PLCB $US 79.99 ($CDN 107)

Laphroaig 18 LCBO $CDN 179.95 (when available, provincial inventory has been at ‘0’ bottles for months now.)

I’ve tasted the 18 year old at a couple of Friends of Laphroaig events here in Toronto and it is an unbelievable expression; definitely on my ever growing list of bottle to add to the collection. Trust me, get a bottle, put it on your top shelf.

Next up at the PLCB, a pair of fantastic Irish whiskies, the ‘Spots’. I know a number of devotees of the Spots, and I’m sure the pricing here will have them consider a quick weekend trip to PA.

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Green Spot PLCB $US 59.99 ($CDN 80.39)

Green Spot LCBO $CDN 85.25

Yellow Spot PLCB $US 89.99 ($CDN 120.59)

Yellow Spot LCBO: nope

There are other gems at the PLCB that I’ll be happy to share in future posts, but for now, go get that Laphroaig!

Duty Free Americas on the other hand, doesn’t have a tremendous range of whisky at their stores. Their outlets are typical duty free store that besides spirits, wine and beer, also offer cosmetics, tobacco, hand bags, sunglasses, etc. Liquor prices tend to be a little cheaper than at state or provincial stores, with a few notable exceptions. As well, all DFA stores use common pricing so that each store sells for the same price regardless of which state you are entering or exiting the US. They have one website for all stores so a little research ahead of one’s trip can give visibility as to what they are offering and for how much, despite the limited selection.

This trip, at DFA is where I chose to make a strategic buy. Expanding the collection is rewarding and fun, but it needs to be protected otherwise the very good bottles tend to get eroded by a lethal combination of curiosity and thirst. This is where ‘buffer’ bottles come into play: ‘every day’ drams that keep me from breaking into all of that good stuff all the time. Today’s buffer: Monkey Shoulder.

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A liter for $ CDN38?!? An easy decision considering the quality of this vatted malt (a marriage of Balvenie, Glenfiddich and the elusive Kininvie; no grain liquor in this one) and comparing the LCBO price of  $CDN 54.90 for a 750 ml bottle.

My Springbank, Yamazaki and Octomore can all rest a little easier now that the Monkey Shoulder is there to take the hit.

Happy foraging!

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Whisky Forager

I collect whisky. I like good prices for whisky. Living in Toronto doesn’t often allow for both but I'm lucky enough to travel a lot for work. I get to shop around for whisky and I want to share the good buying opportunities that I come across. That’s the premise. I’m not writing about tasting or grading whisky, there’s plenty of other sources for those opinions. I just want to share opportune finds for quality bottles at below market prices. A couple of years ago after discovering a pricing discrepancy at LCBO that provided a few deeply discounted bottles for my collection, I realized that there are lots of opportunities to purchase good single malts at a discount price. And not just outside of Canada but also sometimes in Ontario. It may be hard to believe, but the LCBO can be your ally just as often as it’s your nemesis. This is not a commercial site, I only share my finds based on my own opinions of good prices and good bottles.

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