PLCB Alert: Scapa 16 (and Yamzaki 12…)

It its efforts to purge inventory that cannot be replaced due to the distiller phasing out the expression, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has finally sold off all of its remaining Laphroaig 18. I had mentioned the deep discounts offered on the 18 in a previous post and, given the recent announcements regarding other distilleries moving solely to NAS (No Age Statement) expressions, I decided to check other similarly affected bottles.

Two casualties of the NAS movement announced last year are Longmorn 16 and Scapa 16.

scapa-16-and-longmorn-16

Both will be sorely missed, the Scapa 16 being replaced by Scapa Skiren and the Longmorn 16 may or may not be replaced by Longmorn Distiller’s Choice. Regardless, Scapa 16 is disappearing and, like Laphroaig 18, PLCB is slashing its price to clear it out. And I mean it’s really slashing the price, from $US 79.99 to $US 51.99! This Scapa expression is a uniquely floral dram in no way similar to the neighbouring Highland Park distillery and deserves a place in the collection, particularly at this price. Move fast on this one, as of May 31, 2016 there were only 34 bottles left scattered across the state of PA, with none in the major urban stores.

Also, as an update on our old friend Yamazaki 12, despite a global shortage of this vanishing dram, a remarkable amount still sits on the shelves of PA, waiting patiently to delight foragers. Still priced at (a very reasonable) $US84.99, it’s really not clear why the PLCB has not discounted this item in the same way it has for other discontinued whiskies. Regardless, PLCB must have been sitting on quite a hoard of it when Suntory nixed its age statement: an astounding 1000 bottles remain on the shelves! One PLCB outlet in Allentown shows 63 bottles in stock! Go. Get. This.

 

Happy foraging!

 

 

 

 

LCBO Garage Sale

The end of March is when the LCBO performs its end-of-(financial)-year inventory. This in and of itself is far from an interesting topic yet it is a time of great interest to the collector. And please note that for anyone living in a territory where alcohol sales are government controlled this should also apply, adjusted to the local end-of-year schedule, of course.

This is the time of year when oddities are found, cases of sold out limited releases suddenly re-appear, and, sadly, others are delisted permanently. As inventory date approaches, I keep a vigilant eye for anything of interest like out of the ordinary bottles appearing. To some degree I’m kicking myself for not noticing the timing of this before. Almost exactly two years ago I saw a half dozen bottles of Tobermory appear on the shelves of my local LCBO, where none had been stocked for months. As well, it was deeply discounted to $49, compared to the regular $67. Similarly there were bottles of Glenfarclas 12 year for $63 , compared to the usual $75. I didn’t act immediately on either deal and was rewarded by missing out completely. I realized later that it was only the one store that had this specials. In hindsight I understand now what was going on.

Flash forward to this year. Last week my wife and I drove to one of the larger LCBO outlets in Toronto, the Erin Mills store where I was after a Mackmyra Special 08. Eight bottles had appeared in Ontario and according to the LCBO website, two were at this store. I was not disappointed. The real surprise though was what was also on the shelves. Two bottles of Longrow. For Ontario, this was like a sasquatch sighting; any Springbank product for that matter is like a sasquatch. While in the store I tried to look up the bottle for price comparison but it didn’t show either by name of by scanned barcode; it was truly hidden inventory. So I did the only thing possible, I bought it.

LCBO Garage Sale

I do wish that I could give some solid  guidance about how to find lost treasures like this across the LCBO network. Unfortunately there is no pattern nor app that will assist here because the really great finds are completely off the grid. It’s all just about being in the right store when they pull out lost inventory. Start looking around the end of March, targeting larger stores in out of the way places for the ‘garage-sale’ clearance items. Now that I recall, there was a lone bottle of Macallan 12 on the shelf at the Kingsway LCBO in Toronto last year this time. This expression hasn’t been seen in Canada for over two years, perhaps longer. Treasures abound out there, just keep your eyes open!

Happy foraging!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PLCB Alert: Laphroaig 18 Years Old

I’ve never called out an alert for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, but I noticed a dramatic offering that needs to be shared. I’ve mentioned before that the state of Pennsylvania is one of the few places that still has Yamazaki 12 for sale at a non-auction price point (yes, dozens of bottle still remain on shelves in and around Pittsburgh), but there is another now that needs mention.

Laphroaig 18 year old, marked down to $USD 63.99. Seriously.

 

For those of us in Ontario, after the currency exchange the price of this bottle is comparable to what we would pay for the Laphroaig 10 year old at LCBO. I cannot say enough about how exquisite this expression from Laphroaig is. All the smoky goodness of the 10 year, but mellowed, rounded and rich after its extended rest. Back when LCBO was carrying this expression, it was most recently priced in the $CAD 175 range, and a quick  search shows a similar price point online and at retail in the US and UK. For this price it’s a steal, a truly can’t-pass-up kind of deal if you happen to find yourself in PA.

According to the PLCB website there’s about 110 bottles scattered over the state. With this  pricing I can only assume that this expression is on clearance. So, like the Yamazaki 12, don’t expect any more to be gracing the PLCB shelves in the future. Get it while you can.

 

Happy foraging!

 

Crown Royal Northern Harvest – I’m Back! Update February 22

At the beginning of February I posted about the most recent LCBO release of Northern Harvest, replenishing Ontario stocks by about 4500 new bottles. That was followed over the next week by additional releases of 2000, 3000, 800, 500, another 2000 and probably a few hundred or possibly thousand that I may have missed. All totaled, a minimum of 12,8000 bottles were released across the province of Ontario over the first week of February.

It’s now three weeks later and there hasn’t been any new product since then and stocks are sitting at 720 bottles today (February 23). A staggering 12,000 bottles sold in three weeks! I had suggested at the beginning of the month that there was pent-up demand for this expression but that now seems like an gross understatement. Aside from a couple of outliers, the majority of the stock is now sitting in smaller stores in markets well removed from the major Ontario ones, further suggesting that the urban demand for Northern Harvest is still strong and will likely continue of LCBO manages to obtain another tranche of the dwindling producer stock.

Also of note, most of the pubs I’ve frequented of late now have a bottle displayed and available, so there’s also been a commercial stock allotment set aside in addition to the retail. So I’m now asking, what happens next? Will the retail price rise and/or will there be empty shelves once again? LCBO, in general, doesn’t bump their prices based on demand but will based on currency fluctuations and import duties, so the $CDN32.60 price isn’t likely to move. What’s more likely is that Northern Harvest will join the throng of LCBO products with no inventory and no guidance on when more will become available.

This is a disappointing policy with the LCBO, that they cannot state or even estimate when they expect an out-of-stock item to be replenished. If there’s no producer stock available, I completely understand but as a courtesy to us consumers can’t this be communicated? Yes, they posted signs in the stores related to shortages of Northern Harvest, but nothing on the website. In addition, there are hundreds (maybe thousands?) of out-of-stock items listed on their website with not a single note related as to whether the item will be replenished and if so when, or if it will be delisted. Case in point, this just happened with Springbank 10 year. It was out-of-stock for months then a few hundred bottles were released last summer, they sold, there was  zero stock for a few more months and then suddenly the item vanished from the website. This does not serve us, the people who use the service provided by the LCBO. That’s us, the people of Ontario, the ones who own the LCBO.

Happy foraging!

 

 

LCBO Alert: Breizh Breton Blended

Rather than post these alerts in a separate page that won’t appear in a reader, I will instead now post these alerts here on my main page.

February 18, 2016

LCBO is clearing out its remaining stock of Breizh Breton Blended Whisky produced at Warengham Distillery in France.

Breizh

This whisky is 50% malt and 50% grain and has been reviewed well by Whisky Magazine , scoring a pair of 84’s. I can’t personally speak to the quality of the whisky but at the reduced LCBO price of $CAD 29.95, it is definitely an intriguing bottle. I can’t find the original LCBO selling price but Master of Malt has it listed for $US 43.84 for comparison. Only 64 bottles remaining in the province as of today.

As a reminder, the LCBO will do inter-store transfers if there is none available at your local store.

Happy foraging!

 

 

 

 

 

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!