I have been enjoying whisky for a few years, now. When I go to the local liquor store, it’s the same routine – stand in front of the whisky section for ten minutes, analyzing every bottle. Hoping the something new or different will magically appear. It never does. So where do I go to find that new and exciting bottle that will tempt my taste buds?
The answer? Lot’s of places. For example, duty-free shops can offer a good selection and great deals. Mind you, these airport and border shops are not the whisky treasure troves that they once were. They can be, rather, dumping grounds for lower level whiskies. But every now and then you can find good deals and excellent product. A good rule of thumb is “When in Rome, do as the Romans”. So, if you are in a duty free in Great Britain, look for good scotch. If you are in the U.S, look for Bourbon, etc. They like to showcase their own stuff.
I went though a duty-free shop in Mexico looking for scotch. Good luck. Two hundred different tequila labels, to be sure. In this situation, I recommend that you either buy the tequila, or pick up a replacement for one of your standard buy-anywhere whiskies. The price is usually pretty good – about two thirds of what you would pay at home.
Where else to look? Specialty shops. Every time that I travel, I go online and research the best whisky shop in the area. There are some great selections out there. In Canada, for example, Calgary is the whisky mecca. The Kensington Wine Market, located downtown, has, by far, the best selection in the country. Hundreds of brands and private labels. And you can taste it before you buy it (except for the really expensive stuff). There is also a fabulous shop at the Calgary airport that has whisky that I haven’t seen anywhere else. I got an Edradour there last year. And a friend found a Douglas Laing -Scalliwag for me there.
You can also find treasures in the most unlikeliest of places. Three or four years ago, my wife and I were shopping in Maine. We took a trip down to Portland for a few hours. I didn’t have any expectations about finding great scotch in the craft beer capital of New England. But, while killing time at the local shopping mall, I did a little online research about buying scotch locally. I got a recommendation to try a little private liquor outlet nearby. So, on our way out of town, I entered the address into the GPS and decided to check it out. Turned out to be a cinder block building with bars on the windows. In a seedy part of town. Real seedy. I’d come this far. Might as well see for myself.
I walked into the store, past the pallets of Bud and the rum specials. The clientele here was definitely not shopping for scotch. I asked a not-so-young clerk if they had any nice scotch. She stood up and looked me right in the eye, like she had been waiting for this moment her whole life.
“It’s over there.” she pointed, “In the glass case. I need to go get the key.” And off she went. I wandered off in the direction she had pointed. Twenty feet ahead of me, I spied a tall, four-sided glass case, right in the middle of the store. Between the gallon wine specials and half-gallons of Mr. Boston. With multiple spotlights shining on it. Like a lighthouse. Except that it was full of scotch.
The clerk followed by a small entourage of co-workers, appeared at my side with the key. I wondered if it might be the first time they had ever opened the cabinet. Inside, was an impressive display of premium scotch whiskies. I perused the selection for a few moments, under watchful eyes, before choosing a Mortlach Rare Old. I handed it to the clerk, who whisked it off to the cash amid nods of approval from the others. Mission accomplished.
Although not as much fun as bricks and mortar, online shopping can offer up great whisky. Except if you live in Canada, where buying liquor and tobacco online is taboo. But if you find a great whisky on Master of Malt, or any of a number of other great websites, you can have it send to a friend who can reship it to you. It will, of course, drive up the overall cost, but who can put a price on good whisky and happy taste buds?
Next time, let’s take a look at whisky marketing and how they make you a buyer.