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.


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!






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!


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

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!



This Christmas, Pennsylvania Islay Lovers Are on Santa’s Nice List

Ardbeg Winter
Islay Christmas – a little snow on the casks.

It’s true! And Santa the PLCB is treating them to some great prices. And for those of us that might be travelling to Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, there are great opportunities for buying whiskies at great prices, or for finding great whiskies unavailable in Ontario, or both!

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has cut prices on a ton of whiskies, and compared to LCBO prices, the Islays in particular are a steal.

PLCB prices shown do not include 6% PA sales tax but savings calculations do. Prices valid until Jan3 2016. Currency conversion uses 1 CAD = 0.74 USD.

Whisky                                 PCLB (USD)           LCBO (CAD)       Savings

Kichoman Machir Bay            59                             104                       $19/18%

Laphroaig 10                              46                              81                        $14/18%

Laphroaig 18                              75                              179                      $71/39%

Ardbeg 10                                    48                             100                      $31/31%

Ardbeg Uigeadail                      75                              171                      $63/37%

Ardbeg Corryvrekan                90                             189                      $59/31%

Looks pretty good! And I should also point out that even though it appears as an active item on the LCBO website, for the last year or more there has been zero inventory of Laphroaig 18 in Ontario.  No supply and a great price make this the clear pick of the litter.

And speaking of no supply, here are a couple additional non-Islay whiskies that are not -and probably never will be- available in Ontario that merit serious consideration as adds to the collection.

Whisky                                 PCLB (USD)           Price (CAD)       LCBO (CAD)

Macallan 12                                58                             78                              n/a

Yamazaki 12                               85                             115                             n/a

There’s very little Yamazaki 12 left in PA so as I’ve written before, I’d consider it a last call of sorts. Regarding Macallan, as they phase out their core age statement expression, just as what happened with the Yamazaki age statements, we should see the prices rise. But for now, $US 58 is a great deal.

Happy foraging!


The Last Yamazaki 12


Very soon, the last bottles will be purchased from a retail store. Yamazaki 12, an exceptional Japanese malt that is no longer being produced by Suntory, will only we available at auction. But I have a secret…I know a place where you can walk into a store and find some sitting idly, quietly, on a shelf waiting for a collector, or better yet someone eager to open a bottle to taste a dram, or someone who is both and will buy two bottles! Someone who will come by and take them to a good home. Yes, this place exists and if you live near there or are luck enough to live close to there can take advantage of one of the last stashes available in the world. I was even passing through Narita airport earlier this year and for some time now you can’t even get them there. So, where you might ask, is this place?

This of course comes down to the argument I have been making for some time now about local supply and demand. Locally, there is not a deep appreciation of Yamazaki and as a result it has languished on shelves now for years. I have slowly taken advantage of this but the stocks are now low and the price rising quickly. That said, would you pay $USD 84.95 for a bottle of Yamazaki 12? I was lucky to have been buying at $74.95 but just this last week the PLCB has bumped the price to $84.95 as global stocks quickly vanish.


True. Only $USD 84.95!

Yes, the same Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board I have written about previously. For some reason, Yamazaki does not appear in their whiskey, whisky or scotch lists so it’s kind of hidden on their app. Only by searching specifically for Yamazaki does the inventory make itself known. I’m not going to list every bottle available in the state of Pennsylvania, but the city of Erie shows 15 bottles available, a veritable treasure trove! There’s a few scattered bottles around Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg as well. But, similar to our LCBO, the PLCB does offer an inter-store transfer service, so if you are in PA, or can drive to a PLCB, call and reserve a bottle, or however many you feel you need.

This is it guys. If there are other states, provinces or countries out there that do NOT show ‘Currently Out Of Stock, Next Availability Unknown’ under their image of Yamazaki of any age statement, please share. I’m doing my public good for collectors by sharing this source, but if there’s others out there, by all means grab what you need then share with us. Yoichi is gone, Taketsuru is gone, Hakushu is gone. No more age statements on these malts will be found outside of pubs and bars. But for the collector who craves this wonderful malt from Suntory, this is it.

Happy foraging!

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.


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.


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!