I might as well make the distributors the bad guys in this little melodrama … at some point maybe they’ll have their say, but for now, somebody is culpable in the stupidly high price of liquor in Washington state, and it just makes sense that the middlemen are the bad men.
The large distributors of Big Liquor were publicly opposed when Washington voters were availed of the chance to kick the state out of the liquor business.
They didn’t want to pay the new 10 percent tax at distribution stipulated in the fine print of Initiative 1183. Politically, it was a smart position to take because, even if they lost, they couldn’t lose.
The distributors, who are not idiots, could see the beautiful simplicity of it: they would just pass on the 10 percent tax to the new private-sector retailers in a brand new marketplace. Pass it on, and then some.
The prices are what they are, and short of quitting drinking (really?) we pay up, if not shut up.
So, when June 1 rolled around, and the state was officially out of the game, the retailers, who deserve to make a profit, too, were forced to set prices that were consistently 25 to 40 percent higher than before June 1, and in some cases much higher. The initiative, remember, added a 17 percent tax at retail, too.
Which gets us down to the ground: the liquor consumer, the real victim, whether we voted this situation on ourselves or not. (I was against it, but who gives a rip at this point).
The prices are what they are, and short of quitting drinking (really?) we pay up, if not shut up. It’s the retailers who hear the complaints, and they don’t deserve it.
Some numbers: My bellwether bottle is Evan Williams, a more-than-decent bourbon that, when the state set the prices, always stood as one of the best bargains going at about $12.50 a fifth.
Recently, I checked in at the downtown Olympia store on Plum Street. Evan Williams was an even $20. Didn’t buy it, and made a little noise. In an earlier post on this subject, I noted I’d seen it at $18.30 at another Olympia-area store. That hadn’t tempted me, either.
Finally, in Lacey, I saw Evan for $16.79, the cheapest I’d found it but still 25 percent more than I used to pay. I bought it … a guy can only stand on principle for so long.
I did a little price research on other brands at my new favorite liquor store, the family-owned Rainier Park Liquor and Beverage, just off Yelm Highway near College Street in Lacey.
A Black Velvet pint (.375 milliliters), was $8.96, not too bad. Glenlivet single-malt Scotch, $49.71 for a fifth, $23.95 a pint. Again, pretty good, especially compared to another high-end Scotch that I’ll talk about in a minute.
I’m not unfamiliar with the bottom shelf, where Rainier Park had Monarch Canadian whiskey for $12.70. For the record: Evan Williams came in at $17.20.
At the other end of the spectrum, Talisker, a very nice single-malt Scotch, went for $81.73, about 20 bucks more than before the big change. But that wasn’t the shocker: Oban single malt, which went for $70-something before, was marked at $189.41. By my math, that’s something like 150 percent more than the old good days.
Kevin Dziedzic, a member of one of the two families that run the Rainier Park store, said he obviously wouldn’t be able to move Oban at $189.41, and he was planning a closeout sale at something like the old price just to get it off his shelves.
Now, it seems it might have been a distributor glitch that has corrected itself, and the new price of Oban will be around $90.
Even at that, there’s sticker-shock, but the thing I like about the Rainier Park folks is they’re willing to have honest, reasonable discussions with their customers about the new world of liquor in Washington.
Truth and reason, unfortunately, were mostly missing in the public discourse back when we had a chance to decide for ourselves.