Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why can't I get Pikesville Rye?

I break the law on occasion. I like Pikesville Rye whiskey, and in the summer, I drink it with lots of ice, ginger ale, and a big squeeze of lemon. It's refreshing and tasty. But...Pennsylvania doesn't sell it, doesn't even offer it on special order. So I hang my head, and duck across the border to Maryland and head into almost any liquor store and pick some up. It's common. I've bought it in drug stores (oh, God, the freedom...). And you know, look: if PA wants the tax, give me a way to pay it, and I will. The stuff is so darned cheap, I wouldn't mind, not really.

So I was pretty psyched when I was in Philly last week and saw Pikesville on the backbar of two bars within a block of each other! Cool, it's finally been 'listed' and I can get some legally. Only...when I got back home and checked their product search page...I still can't. Apparently Pikesville -- cheap, common as dirt Pikesville Rye -- is only available to licensees. You and me? We can't even order it. Because someone in Harrisburg apparently decided that we just didn't need to buy that whiskey. (Okay, maybe not -- see the comments -- but the effect is apparently the same.)

I know this is a little thing, but it's so indicative of one of the major problems with the whole system: a complete lack of options. I'd love to go down the road and try another store, but that's either pointless, or if 'down the road' is across the state line, it's illegal.

Privatization can't come soon enough.


Nathan said...

Actually, the decision to make Pikesville Rye and Rittenhouse Bonded licensee-only was the distributor's. They say Heaven Hill only gives them a tiny allocation of it, so it's going to on-premise only.

The PLCB never marks products as licensee-only. That's entirely the distributor's call, and the PLCB tries to discourage them from doing so.

In fact, a couple months ago the PLCB tried to stock Rittenhouse as a limited-distribution item. The distributor refused to even quote it. The same problem happened with Old Overholt and several BT whiskeys like Weller 12yr. The PLCB wanted to put them in a limited number of stores but the distributor said no.

On the other hand, North Carolina, whose state liquor stores are way more apathetic and hostile to the consumer, have plenty of allocated whiskeys like Weller 12yr. Go figure.

Lew Bryson said...

Fair enough, Nathan, but...then I have to ask: what about the PLCB's vaunted 'purchasing power' as the world's 2nd largest purchaser of wine and spirits? We hear about that all the time; and yet they can't get reasonable amounts of a fairly common whiskey like Old Overholt? Does North Carolina have our kind of "purchasing power"? I mean, if they don't, how come they get more?

Again, if we didn't have the state monopoly, it wouldn't matter what PA's allocation was; I could legally pick some up wherever I could find it. Because it really is common in Maryland.

And the distributor...if we went to a privatized wholesale/retail system, would retailers be buying directly from that distributor? Would that cut out a whole level of markup? Just asking; a lot of this stuff is still a mystery to me.

And one more thing: "The PLCB never marks products as licensee-only." I thought that was one of the draws at Garces Trading Company, that they had wines you couldn't get anywhere...oh, no, wait. That's a State Store. Of course, I see the huge difference.

Albert Brooks said...

Pikesville Rye, Rittenhouse Rye, Russell's Reserve Rye and the soon to be de-listed 6yo Sazerac Rye won't be available in PA but I saw them all lined up at a store in MD last week. I guess they really have some buying power!

Old Overholt Rye is a Beam product so I guess the PLCB doesn't want us to be confused with their Yellow label rye and made this one SLO only.

Nathan said...


I've always wondered how that "volume purchasing power" thing was supposed to work. I guess it would work when playing two second-tier brands off each other, but it's not like we can tell Diageo, "Give us a good price on Ardbeg, or else!" In the end, the distributor gets pretty much full say over the final retail pricing, and the only control the PLCB has is whether or not to stock the product.

It doesn't help that distributors effectively have wholesale monopolies on the products in their portfolio. That's standard industry practice though--nothing to do with the PLCB.

As to why North Carolina gets spirits that we don't? I have no idea. Why does PA get Antique Collection and no Weller 12yr, but NC gets plenty of Weller 12yr but barely any Antique Collection? Last time I asked Sazerac/BT how they allocated their products, I was told those decisions are made in Frankfurt behind closed doors and that's that. (If I remember right, you wrote a piece about BT's allocation policies for Malt Advocate and got roughly the same answer from them.)

As common as Pikesville Rye may be in Maryland, Heaven Hill insists that they only make a tiny quantity of it and anything you see in stores is likely to be years-old stock. So as soon as enthusiasts have scoured Maryland's convenience stores for it, it'll be as difficult to find as Rittenhouse.

If I'm reading it right, the proposed wholesaling system in HB 2350 is actually fairly alarming. It makes a distinction between "importers" who will be allowed to bring product into PA from other states, and the wholesalers who will buy product from those importers and resell it to off-premise and on-premise retailers.

Most likely, all the vendors currently selling to the PLCB will become "importers" under the new system, and they'll be restricted to selling product to wholesalers. So there won't be any change in who ultimately controls which products are available in Pennsylvania.

The number of wholesalers is capped per "region" to two in most regions and five in Pgh and Philly. Effectively, these wholesalers will become the new government-sanctioned monopolies, controlling prices and product access within their designated regions.

Thus, we'll have not one but three layers of private entities who will have business motives to limit access and charge high prices for allocated products. It's quite possible that Rittenhouse will only be available to a single Philly-area wholesaler who will only sell it to on-premise customers, and everyone else will be screwed. I understand this happens with certain brands of beer currently.

And if you noticed, this is a four-tier system. Every tier has its own mark-up.

It's easy to imagine how this system could make things worse, not better, for PA consumers. This is the wrong way to go about privatization.

We'll have to see what the new bill looks like, obviously, but I'm wary.

Jeff Frane said...

I know an Oregon liquor store that sells it, just in case you ever get out this way. In fact, cough cough, I bought a bottle a few hours ago.

Your laws are so screwy I stopped whining about Oregon's liquor laws months ago.

sam k said...

And to think, in 2009, for Christmas, I special ordered a case of Rittenhouse bonded from the PLCB for less that $12 per 750...barely more than $130 for the case, for goodness sake! Too bad I gave most of it away as presents, cause now I can't even order another one, it would seem.

So go, governor Corbett (but get a life, really, and tax the Marcellus too, you ninny)!

Jaysus said...

so... How easy is it to find Eljah Craig 12yo in Maryland??

Lew Bryson said...

What, you don't want to buy a 1.75 liter bottle of it in PA?

sam k said...

Eli's coming back in 750s, but the 1.75 is being delisted.

Lew Bryson said...

Wow, so apparently the PLCB CAN be embarrassed.

Albert Brooks said...

That EC 12 in the 1.75 is the best buy in bourbon in PA even after they raised the price $5 to $39.99. I can find plenty of it in the 750 in MD but not too many of the 1.75. However, Jersey seems to have a good supply.

sam k said...

Yeah, and on sale it's $36.99. Watch the stores for when it goes on final clearance. Should be in the high $20s.

We also have the best price in the country on Booker's, $45.99 regular and $41.99 on sale, but that barely makes up for the third-world lack of selection otherwise.

PR said...

If I were to make an educated guess Lew, it would be as follows. The bill was introduced with everything prime and ripe for privatization, with the exception of articles 342A and 448, i.e. the drink tax.

As stated by Killion (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7ts919qEyY), they will decide what the most profitable route for the state will be. Now if doing Turzai's proposal will result in a steady flow of 500M + each year (ignoring the ONE TIME BUY/SELL that the state is so good at), then it would be easy to see, that if we remained privatized, AND added the 6% sales tax (and face it, you are buying an item, so you should be paying a tax for it) then clearly the state's MOST profitable outcome would be to remain private, and impose a new tax.

Democrats will tell you they are going to tax you, take your money, and spend it on things you would rather not have to pay for.

Republicans will tell you they are saving you money, while ripping you off, and then convince you that since you are now saving so much money, you should go out and spend it.

Taxes are necessary to a functioning republic. The state is in a big hole right now, and rather than seeing ANYONE lose their job, private or public sector, the most fiscal decision one could make would be to pay small taxes here and there, to help bring stability to society. After all, this is America. Her system of rules and love for our fellow man are what makes us so great, and for that I am willing to chip in a few more cents.

If you are serious about privatization, then you must realize that now is not the time. You do not sell an asset in the time of a financial crisis. You make cuts elsewhere, starting in the places that affect the lease amount of people until you find a balance. If you wish for privatization, that is perfectly fine, but the time for that argument is in the future when we run a surplus and are able to shed ourselves of such an asset.

Lew Bryson said...

Completely wrong place for this comment -- what's this got to do with Pikesville Rye? -- but since you're here...

Your comment is confusing. "...if we remained privatized...", for example: we're NOT private, we have the 'public' system. It's hard to argue with your position when it's so unclear what it is.

But I definitely disagree that the State Store System is "an asset." It's not, it's a drag, a huge government office to collect $400 million in state taxes that could be collected -- for free, without pensioned employees! -- by a private system. Now is the perfect time to get rid of it, AND reap that ONE TIME windfall...which, by the way, it's ridiculous to ignore, as you seem to suggest.

Sorry, but your argument makes no sense.

Jaysus said...

Sam K. Said:
> Eli's coming back in 750s, but the 1.75 is being delisted.

Awesome! I had heard about the delisting of the 1.75... but the fact that the 750 is coming back is new news!

I would have been one awfully salty camper in a few months.

Jaysus said...

P.S. I did not realize how soon "in a few months" would actually be.

I will miss my friend.

Jaysus said...

I am sure that no one cares about this (especially no one from the PLCB), but I am fairly salty and feel like sharing...

I laid a good friend to rest last night ( http://tinyurl.com/RIPec12yo ) and figured that, similar to when my good buddy Old Forrester met his untimely death, I would be able to search the PLCB product catalog to find a bottle or two at the closeout price.

I was mildly surprised to find that the local state store (one that I typically avoid because it is... well, it's a dump)had 2 'units' in stock "as of the close of the previous business day" - which is great, because I checked at 8am today!

My wife, being the near saint that she is, offered to stop by the store bright and early to pick up the last two bottles for me. You know where I am going with this by now, right?

Yeah, they didn't have them. I even called back to confirm. "The online catalog does not always match up with our inventory" is the line I got.

Good times.

P.S. Does anyone know where I can find a good liquor store in MD near the border off of I-83?

keyser Hoze said...

Lew - Here's something even more insane. You can't buy "Philadelphia" brand whisky in PLCB stores. I called a store and they said that I could special order 3 bottles minimum but could not tell me when it would be delivered.
The company was originally in Philly, but was sold to Heaven Hill in Kentucky. HH said some of their products were de-listed by the PLCB and could not jump through the various hoops to get Philadelphia Whisky sold in PA ( I'm not sure how you can SLO it when its not listed??) so they don't market it.
The ad campaign in the 50's even had nostalgic scenes from Independence Hall, Fairmount Park, and the Post Office next to Ben Franklin's house.
Imagine the sales potential of a cheap whisky named Philadelphia just in the greater Philly area!!
But the PLCB says no

Anonymous said...

Philadelphia Whiskey is pretty awful stuff, but you can get it in New Jersey, I know It's sold at Bayway Liquors in Elizabeth @$14 for a 1.75.