A small lunchtime run on whisky started when Rebecca Young put up today's article in the Globe on Facebook.
The news: single malt whisky distributor (and the world’s largest global drinks company) Diageo stopped selling their so-called "Classic Six" Scotch whiskies---Cragganmore, Dalwhinnie, Glenkinchie, Lagavulin, Oban and Talisker---to the NSLC. These whiskies won't be sold anymore in the maritimes after current supplies run out. And mind - supplies are running out.
According to the Globe, we're not Scottish enough to jump to international whisky buying queue. Minutes after the article is posted, James Covey parries online, "I'm making a whiskey run this lunch hour. Who's coming?"
I arrive at the Port of Wines on Doyle Street. Covey and Young are in the Single Malt section. A few other scotch drinkers shop alongside.
"I think it's a marketing ploy by Diageo," said Young skeptically. "The tax thing is a scam," said Young, "They pay high taxes on this in the UK, too." She's referring to a statement by an unnamed maritime liquor commission in the Globe saying that Canadian booze taxation is to blame. If our taxes were lower, they said, we'd be a more lucrative market. According to Royal Mile Whiskies, a British online Scotch retailer, a Dalwhinnie 15 year is 30.95 GBP, which is not far from the $79.94 Canadian.
"Bottom line, this is a profit driven decision. People in New Delhi know as much about single malts as we do," says John Hurley, who works at the Port of Wines. NS prices are more competitive than Ontario's, Hurley continues, but NB is cheaper than ours.
"Multiply this shelf price by 5 pr 6 and that is what they will be paying in China or India." says Ron Crooks, the Manager of the store. Crooks says this problem of supply and demand isn't new. "It goes back a decade," he says, to when single malts were first marketed to us en masse, "but the crunch is now. There are a thousand new millionaires in Beijing who want to buy labels for the prestige."
From a certain point of view, these six are beginners' single malts. They’re great, but they’re also priced for week-end warriors, nouveau riche and the Russian mafia. "What the Classic 6 did was to introduce people to the regionality of the pre-eminent styles of whiskies", Croooks said. What he means by style is both regional tastes - Islay, Northern, Western Isles - and flavours - smoky, peat, salty or sweet. Once you get an idea from these six, "you go from there. That's what the whole experience is about."
The trick now is to identify what's going to be popular and buy it before it becomes too pricey. We return to the shelves. Crooks points to the 12 year Orcadian Highland Park, priced at $59.95. "That price won't last long," Crooks says. A 16 year old Lagavulin is $124.95. "Not so long ago, that was $89," Crooks said. Caol Ila, Ardbeg or Laphroig are smoky Islays that could stand in for Lagavulin and are considerably cheaper, in the $60-80 range.
Will the loss of the Classic 6 hurt his store? “A little bit of a gap will be felt," Crooks says, but he's confident that it will be filled by alternative brands. There has not been a flood of buyers coming into the store since the news hit, says Hurley, but "licensees bought up a lot of product."
Drinkers haven't arrived in droves yet, Crooks says, "because there is not enough awareness about the problem.” I guess my friends and I are ahead of the curve. Covey came down expressly to buy a bottle of Lagavulin, but the price turned him off. He opted for the Dalwhinnie. Young buys some Highland Park. We all head home, ready for winter.