Crown Royal Northern Harvest – I’m Back!

Since the beginning of January there has been no Crown Royal Northern Harvest available at the LCBO, presumably because the stocks had run dry.

This:

Northern Harvest LCBO Apology Card

…has become this:

Northern Harvest I'm Back Jan 30 2016
Enter a caption

…due to a whopping 4559 (!)  bottles finding their way onto the shelves across Ontario today (Jan 30).

This begs the question, has the hype died down or is there a simmering pent up demand that will erupt in a Jim Murray-fueled avalanche of sales? I’m leaning towards the latter, given that LCBO is now actively using Mr. Murray’s name on the price card to draw interest. I will track inventory over the next few days to see which way the public is leaning but I see no reason to think that the demand is even close to sated.

Still, despite how one might feel about Mr. Murray, the hype and the rush for stock, oh and the whiskey itself, at $32 this is a fantastic buy for a high quality rye whiskey. Even if you’re not even close to convinced that it’s the ‘best whiskey in the world’, it easily makes a great Manhattan as my wife and I found out last week.

One last thought on the dubious title that Northern Harvest currently bears: if it truly is the best in the world then it should, naturally, be of comparable quality to previous years’ winners, right? Given that, I will happily trade a bottle of Northern Harvest for a bottle of last years winner, Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry 2013. Any takers? Anyone? Please, don’t all rush to take me up on the offer.

I thought so.

Happy foraging!

Malt Whisky Retail Index

With my job I travel, most often visiting Pennsylvania, Florida and the Netherlands. These locations offer great opportunities to explore local whisky shops and hunt for good deals. I have shared some of my finds in recent posts but I’ve been thinking lately about how a local market for whisky, as a whole, compares with where I live.

To create an objective measure of a local market, I have considered an ‘index’ approach, similar to a stock index, to gauge whether a market is on one hand overcharging, or on the other, offers good buying opportunities. Presented below are a range of whiskies with representation from each of the major regions in Scotland, that will form the basis of the index. Besides regional representation, each expression needs to be commonly available in local stores as well as in travel retail so that the index can be applied as broadly as possible to most retail outlets.

In this initial version of the index, I have compared the outlets I most often visit (PLCB in Pennsylvania, Total Wines in Florida and De Druiventuin in the Netherlands), to compare against my home LCBO outlet in Ontario.

 

Malt Whisky Retail Index 

LCBO (ON)     PLCB (PA)    Total (FL)    Druiv (NL)

($CAD)          ($USD)        ($USD)                 (Euro)
Lowland Auchentoshan 12  59.95          62.09                48.99               34.99
Islands Highland Park 12     69.95          54.99                56.99                34.99
Islands Talisker 10                 99.95          64.99                67.99                34.99
Islay Lagavulin 16                121.95          91.99                99.99                49.99
Islay Ardbeg 10                      99.95           51.99                59.99                44.99
Spey Glenfiddich 12               54.95          46.99                29.99                30.99
Spey Balvenie Doublewood  89.95          59.99               51.99                42.99
Spey Aberlour A’bunadh       99.95          93.99                89.99             5 9.99
E Highland Aberfeldy 12        59.95          52.19                33.99              36.99
W Highland Oban 14             109.95         79.99                 79.99              44.99
Campbeltown – none. Not consistently represented in either retail or duty free

Total (native currency)       866.5           659.2                619.9                415.9
Total incl taxes, in $CAD     866.5          984.2                925.5                 678.2

Notes:
LCBO and De Druiventuin prices include all sales taxes
PLCB and Total Wines prices do not include 6% PA or 6% FL state sales tax.
Currency conversion (Jan 7,2016) 1 CAD =  0.71 USD
Currency conversion (Jan 7,2016) 1 CAD =  0.65 Euro

First, let’s take a look at some of the surprises in pricing. I have bolded and coloured prices that lay significantly outside of the range of the others, noting deals in green and egregious overcharges in red. Very clearly, De Druiventuin is the best here when it comes to individual bottles, with Total Wines a distant second. TW offers low prices on a couple of the more, arguably, ‘entry level’ expressions (as compared to the others in the index). We also see Ardbeg way overpriced in Ontario, and A’bunadh is similarly overpriced in the US.

However, when we take a look at the aggregate pricing, we see a completely different pattern emerge. Yes, De Druiventuin is still by far the best in pricing but they do have the benefit of lower EU tariffs and much lower transportation costs compared to North American retail. Once we filter them out, we see that although Total Wines does offer a couple of deals, overall the LCBO beats out both of its American counterparts!

While I do appreciate that the typical consumer is not going to go into any of these stores and simultaneously purchase all of the bottles, the index does tell us that as a whole the LCBO is in fact competitively priced despite being a government run agency.  Within the LCBO though, other product lines may not show the same trend. For all  I know wines or cognacs or tequilas may show a completely different behavior, but as far as Scotch whisky goes, the LCBO pricing is not generally out of line.

One afterthought here. There has over the last year been a significant and steady drop in value of the Canadian dollar compared to the USD and the Euro. The good value present in the LCBO prices may be due to a lag in re-pricing that will more accurately reflects the current exchange rates. But until that re-pricing occurs Ontario will continue to be a buyer’s market for whisky. Who would have thought?

For anyone willing to price these bottles in their local market, I’d love to know how we measure up.

Happy foraging!