Some excerpts so far:
Frodo, the LCBO [Ontario governmet liquor monopoly] sounds to be unusually enlightened, progressive, and responsive--definitely the exception to the rule.My friend Marc, a bar manager in Québec, not only has to live with the limited offerings from the SAQ, but must deal frequently with ignorant and apathetic staff.
When I made the comment about Canada being more civilized, I perhaps should have said more relaxed. True, there's a monopoly with the provincial stores, but I can't even imagine most private retailers in the States would offer that kind of service, even if the antiquated state liquor laws most states have would let them...
MG, there are whisky shops that offer that kind of service in the States, and if they are few and far between, well, you can bet that it's only a handful of LCBO shops that do, also.
If you are ever in Boston, I can recommend Federal Wines & Liquors on State Street, a tiny shop close to Quincy Market with an astonishing array of quality stuff. The owner is very knowledgeable and always available for a blether, and always offers me samples which I reluctantly refuse, as I am usually on duty (I am a commercial driver). His prices are a tad high, but that goes hand-in-hand with the service. Unfortunately, no website.
Anyway, I've just spent some time on the LCBO site, and I see they're not immune to bureaucratic idiocy. [Long list of petty complaints.] On the plus side, I see you can get both 700ml and 750ml bottles, which increases your options considerably.
1) While I agree that only the "flagship stores" have everything I mentioned, the air miles, limited time offers, and value added item programs are in place at all LCBO stores large and small. The return policy and access to magazines are similarly applicable to all stores.
2) Their inventory on their website is not the best or most accurate, and is updated only once every couple of weeks or so. Having said that however, it is transparent. Most private companies put product lists and prices on-line for public consumption, but I'm not familiar with any who attempt to put their inventory on-line for all to see it.
Why don't you people come to the Netherlands, there are three shops with more then 1200 whisky's on stock and one has even more then 1400 whisky's on stock. OB's, MCMD, DL, Sig., Cad., BA's, JMA etc. You name it and they've got it.
[MrTattieHeid wrote: If you are ever in Boston, I can recommend Federal Wines & Liquors on State Street...]
Sounds like a guy who runs a quality buisiness. I pick up a red flag when you say his prices are a tad high though. I find LCBO Scotch prices in Cdn $ match US on-line delivery in US $. Don't forget, US$1=Cdn$1.25 or thereabouts. If his prices are high for the US, I'm not sure how well they'd compare to LCBO prices. I think this might be part of the price one pays for privatization. Here, I can get the service and the price. Selection is not exhaustive but it's not bad either.
My current favorite store is Park Avenue Liquors in NYC, but I don't get there nearly as often as I'd like...Philadelphia's controlled by the state liquor board, which makes the mob seem cuddly. Limited selection in the state stores, along with high prices. There are a few decent stores in NJ, but they're hard to find.
Above have been edited--apologies if in so doing I have omitted something pertinent or changed anyone's meaning.
And locally in Western Canada there's the The Strath Ale Wine And Spirit Merchants in Victoria, a great selection and good prices.
MrTattieHeid wrote: Just consider what those free samples cost.
My understanding is that the LCBO got the booze companies to subsidize this program. I notice two things about it. One, the samples are usually better quality than what's in the bottle. An example of this would be a mini of Bushmills 10 with a bottle of Jameson, or a mini of JW Black with a bottle of JW Red. I've also seen minis of Glenfiddich 15 with bottles of Balvinnie 10, and a mini of Knob Creek with Jim Beam White Label.
The other pattern I've noticed is that the minis are usually from the same company as the main purchase bottle. The company would be doing two things at the same time: exposing drinkers to a better class of drink, and adding something of value to the purchase making it more attractive to the custemer. I've been known to go for this kind of a deal when buying something for my stepfather. He doesn't care much what he drinks, and I like the minis.
So my impression is that WE are not paying for this kind of value. Tells you what the worlds biggest booze retailer can do on behalf of us little guys! Say NO to privatization in Ontario!!!
I spent overnight in Inverness deciding whether to buy a bottle of Laing's Old & Rare Brora at The Whisky Shop. When I returned in the morning, the sales lady offered me a sample of their own bottling of Laphroaig 17. Of course I bought them both. Everything tastes great at 10:00am!
Frodo, it's not for me to say whether Ontario should privatize or not--that's for yez to decide, eh?--but I will say that the service and selection you get from the LCBO is very unusual, if not unique, among government monoplies in North America. It is, in my experience, the exception to the rule--the private sector generally does this better. Not consistently better, by any means. Around here, we have shops with poor selection and high prices, shops that sell tons of Budweiser and Johnnie Walker cheap and a few other things not so cheap, and a few shops with a large selection at good prices. If I want an exceptional range, I have to go to Boston, 90 miles away, but that applies to someone living in Penetanguishene, too. (Okay, the LCBO will get it to him...but he can't go in to a local shop and look at shelves full of bottles.) If you privatize, you'll miss your air miles and other perks, but, living in Tronna, you won't lack for choice.
Having said all that, what you really need to do is dump The Beer Store....
There are 3 or 4 stores in town that stock upwards of 150 malts. Their prices are usually at the high end though, probably comparable the bigger US stores or US online retailers. Far less expensive than UK stores tough.
But, we do have The Great Canadian Liquor Superstore, that carries mostly lower prices malts - an odd selection of 10-12 yrs, not much older but Glenfiddich. But, its cheap. I recently bought a bottle of Laphroaig 10 yr for under $30 Cdn (about $24 US, or 12 UK pounds. Various items there under $40 Cdn include Talisker 10, Highland Park 12, a couple of Bowmores, Glenlivet 12, Balvenie DoubleWood...
You can find the folowings shops on thes url's
Those are the three largest shops in the Netherlands.
Then ofcourse we have quite some smaller shops spread out thru the country who have between 400 and 600 bottles on stock.
Unfortunately there's nothing so far on Amsterdam/Schiphol Airport, I mean a large shop.
We might be a tiny little country compared were the most countries of you're living in, but when we do certain things we do these things big.
Dan G wrote:But, we do have The Great Canadian Liquor Superstore, that carries mostly lower prices malts - an odd selection of 10-12 yrs, not much older but Glenfiddich. But, its cheap. I recently bought a bottle of Laphroaig 10 yr for under $30 Cdn (about $24 US, or 12 UK pounds. Various items there under $40 Cdn include Talisker 10, Highland Park 12, a couple of Bowmores, Glenlivet 12, Balvenie DoubleWood...
Damm!!! That's what I call value! But eventually, I'd miss the higher-end ones after running through all the entry-level ones.
I live in British Columbia - but frequent Alberta (both Calgary & Edmonton) and occasionally I get to other provinces - including our "Centre of the Universe": Toronto, Ontario and the LCBO stores. I shake my head whenever I hear the BC babble in support of staying with the lethargic, unresponsive, uncompetitive and antiquated government run stores.
British Columbia has a fairly pedestrian selection - and we pay through the teeth for what we do get here. The service can be great from some of the handful of more knowledgeable staff - the "specialists" - but for the most part most of the staff are in "union mode" and couldn't care less if you were buying a case of beer or a $300 bottle. There is no ability to order-in specialty product and the agencies/distributors have little incentive to get involved in tasting events. (That being said - our West Coast Whisky Society has had some great support from local agencies.) I will echo Lawrence's comments on The Strath - in Victoria, BC - a real anomoly in our province and a great store to visit.
In Calgary - the premium store has to be the main Willow Park Wines & Spirits store - south of the city. Great selection and one of the most keen and knowledgeable whisky buyers around: Dave Michiels. Dave frequently travels to Scotland and finds some real gems. The great benefit with privatization (and Alberta's flat tax) that I can see is that the prices are reasonable, especially in the $40 ~ $150 range - the supply is always growing - and this store conducts great tasting events. Last fall, for example, they held a "Whisky in the Warehouse" night with over 800 in attendance - and featuring such dignitaries as Peter Gordon (from William Grant & Sons), Andrew Gray (Bruichladdich) and Kate Wright (Springbank). Not bad for their first effort for an event of this scale. Their monthly events tend to draw crowds of 100 ~ 300. Willow Park is a great example of a store that wants to grow, attract a loyal clientele and build a reputation as "the store" in it's marketplace. (NOTE: I do not work for this - or any other store!!!).
Dan G had some comments on the Superstores in Alberta. Dan - are you sure you didn't mean the "Real Canadian Superstores", part of the Loblaws chain? They do have some great prices on a limited selection (typically 30 or so single malts - but no service or knowledge... Higlights of their bargains include: Glenfarclas 15 at $61 Cdn. (n/a in BC ), Springbank 10 at $53 Cdn (compared to $95 in BC ), Bruichladdich 15 at $61 (vs. $94.50 in BC ), Balvenie 12 DW at $41 (vs. $67 in BC)... OK - you get the picture.
Other stores of note in Alberta include Kensington Wines, J. Webb, and the Crowfoot Liquor store (all in Calgary) and Chateau Louis (Edmonton).
My experience in Ontario is that their sheer size give them some buying clout and great selection - but their website and supply system is out to lunch and their employees either don't know - or don't care about the product. Their prices are - for the most part - very close to those in BC. Given Ontario's market size - private stores could really shine in a free market system...
My 2 cents (Cdn.)
Fear of the unknown, Frodo...come on...make the leap!
My first choice is LFW as much for the ambience and location as anything else - also a very good online shop and news letter.
Secondly Royal Mile Whiskies although it seems a little hurried compared to the easier pace of Loch Fyne.
Thirdly a wee shop in Crieff - McGills - which has a good selection of whiskies and some at pretty good prices.
Lastly I visited Luvians in Cupar last weekend. It has built up quite a range of fine whiskies as well as a great deal more. Even Mrs C found something to keep her occupied while I studied the top shelves.
Visited Luvians in St Andrews last summer - good selection - and it surprised me a bit to be able to buy a malt whisky at almost 10pm. Will definitly try the shop in Cupar too, if we head that way sometime.
Did you try the Whisky Shop in Callander? Also a nice selection with quite a few DL Platinums on the top shelf.
(Callander is our second hometown, as it's the place we spend a lot of time during our yearly trips to Scotland)
Callendar is a nice place. Haven't been for a while so must mark that on my to-do list for spring
Danny wrote:As I live in Dawson Creek, BC, I frequent both Grande Prairie and Edmonton, Alberta, and visiting liquor stores is now my favorite hobby. The only two places I have been that have Scotch Whisky as cheap as Alberta shops is Duty Free in Fiji and about any sake shop in Japan. In three weeks in Scotland and Ireland in 2005 I never encounteered any shop priced as low as Alberta shops including duty free in the Glasgow Airport. I have not been in mainland Europe lately so can not compare their duty free shops.
Now I'm really sad...I drove out of Alaska a few years ago through your town, along with Edmonton and Calgary, and didn't stop at a single liquor store along the way!
Edmonton's Chateau Louis has a very good selection and competitive prices, but you would be hard-pressed to find staff there who know much about the products they are selling. As for the likes of Superstore, you get a tremendous price on a limited selection of malts and nothing more. It serves its purpose but I only go there if I happen to be in the area already.
I'd agree - you'd be hard pressed to find the enthusiasm of a Dave Michiels within the BC Government Liquor Stores... Dave loves whisky and it shows. He puts on some fun events and is always keen to talk whisky. I want to be that Dave when I grow up!!!
There are a few others in Calgary that deserve honourable mention:
Andrew Ferguson at Kensington Wine Market and the guys at J. Webb...
Peter Heemskerk, Manager of The STRATH Ale, Wine & Spirits Merchants (Victoria, BC) is doing what he can to raise the bar with his private liquor store within the limited framework and restrictive environment of our provincial goverment strangle hold on distribution. Of course, he has Lawrence for a customer... that helps to keep the lights on and the kids fed!!!
There is one BC Liquor Store employee - one of their "specialists" - who loves whisky and does what he can to spread the word... but I could only imagine his frustration - working in such a shackled bureaucracy. He has been a member of our Whisky Society and for anyone in search of whisky while in Vancouver - search out Ken at the Alberni & Thurlow store and you'll be well rewarded...
All that being said - Willow Park is as good as it gets in Canada... my hat's off to Dave Michiels.
Outside of Canada... while I haven't been to the shop - I have met Richard Joynson of Loch Fyne Whisky - and I was very impressed.
Find people passionate about Whisky - and you've found good people!!!
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