[Last Updated: September 3rd, 2016]
Online Sales of Spirits
Online liquor sales in Canada do not exist. Some of the provinces offer pseudo sales where products can be shipped to the nearest liquor store but basically it doesn’t yet exist in our country as it does elsewhere. I really, really hope we grow up and allow this to happen in the near future.
That said, some of the distilleries may hypothetically ship alcohol to your door. This author, however, knows nothing of this. Check out www.okanaganspirits.com. Additionally, at least in Ontario, there exist agents who represent many fine lines of spirits. The problem, however, is that they don’t sell directly to the public and even if they did, you have to buy a case and pay the LCBO’s exorbitant markup. A mutual cocktail gadabout, Ian Tuck, runs one such company in Toronto at www.bonvivantspirits.com.
The main websites I use in the US to ship to addresses before I arrive are:
- Caskstore.com out of California (update: it looks like they now only ship within California…)
- DrinkUpNY.com out of New York
- Astorwines.com also out of New York (update: they apparently will only ship to NY state now)
There are many others but I find the above to be most comprehensive and provide the easiest shipping. Not all states allow the shipping of alcohol so you’ll have to check out the websites shipping policies. Cask is the most restrictive. Of the three, Astor is the most reliable.
There are also great online stores in England with incredible inventories. These sites will ship to certain US states (Florida is especially easy) as well as to the EU, if you happen to be visiting Europe. I’ve used www.thedrinkshop.com, www.thewhiskyexchange.com and www.masterofmalt.com in the past with success. And, if you know someone living in Florida, these British websites can ship up to about 12 bottles to a Florida address without anyone ever visiting England and without paying a cent of duty. Try doing that in Canada. I know this because I personally spoke to Florida Customs.
New York: Astor Wines in New York has an incredible selection and is well worth a trip if you’re in NYC. There’s really no point going anywhere else if you’re in the city.
San Francisco: Though I’ve not been, I imagine the Cask Store in San Francisco is also incredible.
Los Angeles: Bar Keeper on Sunset Boulevard is supposed to be incredible.
Naples, FL: Total Wines is a massive store with a pretty good selection of everything. Don’t expect hard-to-find items but you will do well at this store.
Vancouver: Legacy might just be the best spirits store in the world, and I’ve been to so many. That said, the prices for spirits in British Columbia are absolutely outrageous but the incredible selection at Legacy Liquors in Vancouver sort of makes up for it. As Canada’s only truly independent liquor sales province, BC stocks products unavailable in the rest of the country. That said, most spirits are double the price of Ontario and Quebec, and more than three times the price in the US. Hope the province is putting the ridiculous tax revenue to good use. In theory, and if you’re really desperate, and if you have a friend in Vancouver, Legacy will deliver from their website to anywhere in BC. https://legacyliquorstore.com
Victoria, BC: Vessel is apparently a great local liquor store.
Amsterdam: Le Cellier at Spuistraat 116 is worth the trip for the vast selection of gins and genevers alone. http://www.lecellier.nl
Buffalo, New York: If you’re passing through Buffalo and want to pick up spirits before crossing the border you will do no better than Premier Wines. There are several locations in and around Buffalo but the one in Orchard Park, not far off the 190/290 circle loop highway, is massive and has a very decent selection of just about everything. http://www.premierwines.com
Boston: Marty’s Fine Wines just outside downtown Boston in Newton has a great selection and more than enough to fill your duty free quota. https://www.martysfinewine.com
New Orleans: Kiefe & Co. is the only decent liquor store in a city with more places to buy liquor than anywhere on earth. You can even buy full strength liquor in drug stores and churches in NOLA. Crazy. Kiefe & Co. sells boutique brands that are important if you’re a true cocktail gadabout.
Denver: Applejacks just off the main highway on your way into the mountains is a truly unbelievable experience. They also deliver to the mountain ski resorts. https://www.applejack.com
Toronto: Though I bemoan the limitations of the LCBO in Ontario, the Summerhill store in a converted train station is probably physically the most beautiful liquor store in which I’ve set foot. It is also the store where you most likely to find what you’re looking for. http://www.lcbo.com/lcbo-ear/jsp/storeinfo.jsp?STORE=10
Quebec: In general the spirit selection at the SAQ in Quebec is not as good as that of the LCBO. That said, they specialize in French products and will have some items not found at the LCBO. Their selection of fruit brandies, cognacs and armagnacs are far superior to that LCBO. Recently, their gin selection has exploded at the high end Selectionne stores, and is very different from the gins available in Ontario. Absinthes are also found in abundance, as is Suze and St. Raphael. www.saq.com
Alberta: The semi-private liquor stores of Alberta will surprise with the odd hard-to-find item but, in general, their selection is slightly worse than that of the big stores in Ontario.
New Brunswick: Bloody depressing.
PEI: Bloody depressing.
Newfoundland: The odd find, such as Iceberg’s gin but otherwise pretty poor.
Ecuador: By the off chance you’re traveling to Quito or The Galapagos, don’t expect much…
Tokyo: The selection at the many liquor stores in this incredible city is much, much better than in Ontario. The prices are also considerably cheaper for spirits due to the country’s low import tariffs. Go crazy.
Italy: Like everything else in Italy, Italian liquor stores mostly sell Italian stuff. That said, there is a lot to love from Italy, including amaros, aperitifs, digestifs and liqueurs like Nocino. Plan to stock up.
Israel: Other than Arak, there is not much of interest at Israeli liquor stores.
Southeast Asia: Yuck, is all I can say. Absolutely nada.
Istanbul: Amazing selection of Rakis and Araks but otherwise not much of interest.
Belgium: Incredible selection of European liqueurs and odd spirits not available elsewhere. Plan to stock up.
London: Despite being the smallest good liquor store anywhere in the world, Gerry’s Wines & Spirits in Soho (http://gerrys.uk.com) is among the best. I have no idea how they manage such an incredible spirits inventory in such a small space (their wine selection is minimal), but they do. Well worth the trip. That said, like everything else in London, their prices are astronomical. I therefore stuck to cheap but hard-to-find items like vermouths and liquors.
BYOBTO.com is the website for the Toronto store located at 972 Queen Street West. When I began work on this blog, I thought I was pretty smart for having sourced products and tools from all over Ontario. That was until Kristen Voisey opened her amazing BYOB store. Now that she has an online shop, anyone, anywhere in Canada has access to the best cocktail equipment, syrups, tonic waters, special sodas, cherries, olives and bitters money can buy. Her prices are maybe a little higher than what you will pay at the big online shops in the US but I fully support her efforts and guarantee she’s not raking it in at our expense.
Kitchen shops are hit and miss for cocktail sources. Williams-Sonoma and Tap Phong are probably your best bets but with BYOB in Toronto, there really is no point going elsewhere. Amazon.ca also has a fair selection which seems to grow by the week.
Mountain Co-op is your online source in Canada for the invaluable 5L Clear Dry Bags for bringing alcohol in checked luggage. The direct link is: http://www.mec.ca/product/5018-131/mec-transparent-dry-bag/
REI sells the same bag in the US at: http://www.rei.com/product/784156/sealline-eco-see-dry-bag-5-liters
CocktailKingdom.com is an incredible American source for everything cocktail and was all we had in Canada until BYOBTO.com. If you live in the US, however, you will find everything you need at this site. Amazon is obviously another great source (is there anything they don’t sell?).
Mason jars and lids are normally available at nearly any grocery store, especially in the fall, when most people do their canning. Off season they can always be found in Canada at Canadian Tire or Walmart.
Foodsaver systems are available at department stores, Walmart and Canadian Tire. You will almost certainly have to purchase bottle adaptors online. I found mine in Canada at: http://www.foodsavercanada.com/product.aspx?pid=9103. Amazon also sell them. Buy 10-15 as you will need more than you think.
Digital scales with 0.1g accuracy can be found in Canada using the following link: http://www.canadianweigh.com/scales/jennings-jsr-series
The only place I’ve been able to find a feuerzangenbowle was in the US at: http://www.germandeli.com/Hot-Pot-Feuerzangenbowle-Fire-Tong-Punch-Bowl-Set.html
Herbie’s Herbs: http://secure.herbies-herbs.com. I am so incredibly lucky to have this shop only a few blocks from where I work. With lab coats and solemn faces, the staff of this herb store take their business very seriously. They have everything, and I mean everything that you could ever want with which to make bitters and infusions. It’s an amazing place. The great news for Canadians is that they have an online shop, meaning everyone anywhere in the country can make great homemade bitters.
Herbie’s Herbs also sells the entire line of Essencia essence sprays. I own the lavender and orange blossom.
The equivalent online herb shop in the US is www.mountainroseherbs.com.
Quite simply, BYOBTO.com in Canada and CocktailKingdom.com in the US are the best one stop destinations for bitters. Lots of other stores are now selling bitters and Angostura is available at nearly any decent grocery store, but for the best selection, just order online.
Kola Tonic is available via Out of Africa Trading in British Columbia: www.outofafricatrading.com. Most other syrups can be found at BYOB or Cocktail Kingdom. Orgeat can now be found at specialty grocery stores as well as the above.
Aftelier Chef’s essences can some times be found at Williams-Sonoma shops or online at www.aftelier.com. They are really worth the exorbitant price.
Orange Flower Water is available at BYOB or specialty, high-end and ethnic grocery stores.
Dried fruits are obviously available nearly everywhere, but for the odd stuff, like dried persimmons or kiwi, for example, I would head to Chinatown.
Taiko Demerara Sugar Cubes are available at Fiesta Farms in Toronto. I’m not sure if BYOB carries them. They are also available at Hua Sheng Supermarket at 293 Spadina Avenue (at Dundas) in Toronto’s Chinatown.
Dry Ice (for mucking around with molecular drinks) is normally available in most city centres from wholesale ice suppliers meant for the restaurant and bar industry. In Toronto, dry ice is available at The Iceman Toronto at 782 Adelaide Street West or www.the-iceman.com. A bag will set you back around $25 and last you a day in a cooler. Dry ice, as you no doubt already know, cannot be handled with bare hands nor can it be consumed.