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Scotch at Trader Joe's

What is the deal with the Scotch at Trader Joe's and why is it so inexpensive? Is it inferior stuff, or is it just an amazingly good deal?
Specifically, I'd like to know about the Macallan 10 that I've been reading a lot about on this site. Is it worth it, or would I be better off splurging for a Macallan 12 at a reputable liquor emporium?

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  1. If it's the same brand that you've seen elsewhere (a Macallan, for example), then it's 100% safe to buy at Trader Joe's. I don't know where they get their stuff, it's just cheaper. It's my place to go for sparkling wine because both Gloria Ferrer and Piper Heidseick are cheaper than anywhere else (the PH by almost $10).

    The liquor you take a gamble on are the ones labelled Trader Joe's or that are obscure brands you've never seen elsewhere. That's not to say they don't sometimes turn out well.

    1. Where is the Trader Joe's you're talking about? I'm in Michigan and they don't carry the hard stuff in the ones I've been in. That reminds me, I need to make a trip there soon.!

      1. State alcohol control laws are all over the map - it may just be that in Michigan it's not worth the expense to get licensed for liquor if the "supermarket" license they must have already covers wine and beer...

        1. Unfortunately some of us live in states where the laws only allow state controlled liquor stores to sell spirits. My cousin in California can buy single malts for $20 a bottle at Trader Joes that I have to spend $30 or $35 for a bottle in the state controlled stores here in Oregon. Of course I don't have to pay that nasty buck or two per bottle in sales tax that he does!

          I'm betting that Michigan doesn't allow grocery stores to sell anything other than beer or wine.

          I think Costco is trying to challenge some of the State Monopoly laws that are relecs left from the repeal of prohibition.

          1. The Costco that I go to does sell liquor. And what's rather archaic about Michigan is that you can't buy any alcohol before noon on Sunday. Even worse, in Indiana you can't buy alcohol at all on Sunday!

            1. Because Trader Joe's buys in such enormous bulk they get great prices from the importers. Then they can still make a nice profit and pass along the low prices to the consumer. I live in NY where only beer can be sold in supermarkets so Trader Joe's, Costco, etc. don't sell wine or liquor. A real bummer, although since I have friends who run liquor shops I usally pay wholesale prices for my wine and spirits.

              2 Replies
              1. re: JMF

                That's not necessarily the case, particularly since retailers generally are required by law to purchase from wholesalers, and depending on the state, it can also be the case that each store is treated as a separate account, hence the quantities become rather small. If it's a private-label product, then the retailer has more control over pricing, since the product is sold only to them. All this varies from state to state, so it's hard to generalize.

                1. re: JMF

                  Trader Joe's in LA sells 10yr Laphroiag at 29.99. In Pennsylvania's "Wines & Liquor Stores" I pay 41.99 for the identical bottle. Since all wines/spirits sales in the entire State of PA can only be done through the state run shops, I find it hard to imagine that TJ's buying power exceeds that of the PA Liquor board. Welcome to govt control.

                2. Is this Trader Joe's brand?

                  We only get the wine, and it's three and four buck chuck here...

                  1. In NYC, both Whole Foods and Trader Joe's opened "separate" spaces for wine/liquor sales, but it gets even better in that any one person/entity can have a retail license, either in delimited areas or possibly even the whole state. Kind of a buzzkill for corps like Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Costco, etc. In this case, I guess they figure I'm sure rightly, that the stores in the city will be their biggest moneymakers in that department.

                    Lotsa luck to Costco. They'll have to get a federal constitutional amendment before they can affect state alcohol laws in any fundamental way. (And in today's political climate, think: "snowball in hell.") It is indeed a relic of Prohibition, but it's a relic of unquestionable authority. The amendment that repealed national prohibition also granted to the states nearly unlimited power to regulate it - in no uncertain terms.

                    As for Trader Joe's "house brands". I tried 3-4 wines a few months ago and all of them were really bad. Really. Not exactly undrinkable in the classic sense, but nothing you would want to drink even with a hamburger or pizza. And I drink a lot of cheap wine; I'm not comparing apples to oranges. Their prices for recognizable "brands" aren't better than where I already shop, if not a bit higher - but I assume that's not what the OP was talking about....

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: MikeG

                      The problem with Trader Joes' house brands is you have to know what you are getting -- some of them are overflow from top vintners, and are the same stuff you'd pay top dollar for under the "true" label. But other stuff is just a batch of slush, and Trader Joe's is not, of course, allowed to tell the consumer the difference. Occassionally a wine writer will alert readers to the presence of good stuff.

                      It may also be that most of the good stuff stays in California.

                      1. re: Capybara

                        Or, possibly, in Southern California. I never shopped at TJ's in San Francisco because frankly, I never found anything worth buying. Here in LA, I find stuff to buy all the time.

                    2. This thread has gotten WAY off the question originally asked!

                      I have tried the "distilled by Macallan" 10-year old, single malt sold under the TJ's label (for $19.95 in the San Fran area). I cannot say whether it is the exact same stuff that is sold by Macallan under their own label, but I can say it is very much in the Macallan style and it is VERY drinkable. It is certainly well worth $20 a bottle!

                      The TJ's in this area are also selling the Dalmore 12-year old single malt for $20, which is a terrific price on a very good whisky from the Highlands.

                      1. The TJ labeled single malt scotch is tasty and a good deal for the money. If the label scares you, pour it into a decanter.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: socal boy

                          I've been very disappointed with both TJ SMS I've purchased. Bland is the best I can give them.

                          1. re: The Ranger

                            Can you tell us which of the TJ's single-malts you bought? Macallan? Bowmore? Aberlour?

                            I have opened a bottle of the TJ's Macallan 10-yr old and thought it was very nice.

                            1. re: DavidT

                              I found the 10-yo Macallan decent as a mixer and the 18-yo Bowmore was returned; no questions asked, personal opinion offered, money refunded without issue.

                              Both were terribly bland and denuded of taste.

                              1. re: The Ranger

                                I recently enjoyed a bottle of the TJ's Macallan 11 and just purchased a bottle of Glen Grant 10. All of the "Trader Joe's Rare Aged Scotch Whiskey" is bottled by Alexander Murray & Co. in Broxburn, Scotland. It seems good to me and the price is right at about $22-$25. I live in Pasadena, Calif.

                                I not clear if Alexander Murray is a front for Trader Joe's or some other company. I couldn't find any information online about Alexander Murray. I also wonder if I just don't appreciate scotch, as I wouldn't touch TJ's house brand beer (actually Gordon Biersch) with a salty potato chip and the two-buck Chuck (Charles Shaw aka Bronco wines) turns my stomach.

                                If they carry it, TJs is also a great deal for whisky such as Dalwhinnie for $40. (A few years ago it was in the low $30s)

                                I did make the mistake in the past of buying a Trader Joe's blended scotch, which was terrible. But the company does hold true to its no questions asked returns.

                                1. re: mattmh

                                  As I mentioned above, the Dalmore 12-year old Highland single malt that TJ's sells for $19.95 (in San Francisco) is a very good whisky at a great price.

                        2. i was told by TJ in NY that the only state that TJ sells hard liquor in is California. which sucks for me. i know they're based in CA and have a lot of stores there, but if it's not something they can sell throughout the country, i wonder how much volume-discounts they are really able to procure?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: charlie_b

                            TJs can carry hard liquor in CA, NV, & NM. With half the stores based in CA, & the business model of the company, most of the stuff is an excellent deal.

                          2. One of the things to remember, too, is that Trader Joe's can sometimes make an arrangement with the importer/supplier for an exclusive. For example, The Macallan TEN Year Old was (IIRC) sold in Italy and the UK, but not in the US.

                            Historically, a lot of their wines were similar exclusives -- they began by focusing on either close-outs or wines purchased from caves-cooperatives with "control labels," and thus -- they were exclusive to TJs.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: zin1953

                              I bought a bottle of their 18yo Bowmore today and am very happy with it. It's been a few months since I had some from the 'official' Bowmore bottle and from what I remember... this tastes very much the same. I think it's a great buy - sweet and peaty.

                              1. re: chimni

                                If you like the peated malts from Islay, try the Finlaggan malt that TJ's sells (in San Fran) for about $17.

                                1. re: chimni

                                  I just bought the Trader Joe's "Macallan" 18 YO for my sweetie who is in possession of a 30 year old Macallan which I have had the great good fortune to sip a few times. I didn't expect it to be anywhere near as good as the 30 year bottle, but I did expect it to have that special Macallan single malt taste. Unfortunately, it did not. However, it did taste like a good Cognac, and I like Cognac, so it wasn't complete waste. Next time I'll try the TJ's Bowmore, just because.

                                  1. re: Ameline

                                    I keep a bottle of the TJ's 10-year Macallan in the vacation home I have in the Scottish Highlands (talk about bringing coals to Newcastle!). Everyone here who has tried it, likes it.

                              2. I would have to say splurge on the Macallan 12 year and avoid Trader Joe's scotch. My friend and I have been purchasing many high end scotches. Namely Laphroaig 12 and 15 years, Macallan 12 and 15 years, Bowmore Dark, Highland Park 12, Balvenie 12, and the list goes on.

                                My friend and I experimented by picking up two bottles from Trader Joe's, the TJ Macallan 12 and the Bowmore 18. First I must add, each bottle smelled as though it came from the original distillery. After the initial nosing, we began back to back tasting of each scotch. Shortly thereafter we shared our independent conclusions with one another. The results were astoundingly clear, Trader Joe's scotch does not hold a candle up to the "original" bottled scotches. Trader Joe's scotch is watery, lacks any sort of body that is even closely reminiscent of the original distillers bottles. I was so disappointed that I took both the bottles back to Trader Joe's and requested a refund. After explaining to the management that these bottles were complete misses in the scotch world, they promptly gave me an in-store credit. Trader Joe's is a wonderful store, but if you are a serious scotch drinker, do not bother purchasing Trader Joe's bottle scotch.


                                1. I just bought a bottle of "Kirkland" Macallan 18 at COSCO for about $47 -- 1/3 of what it costs if it is the real McCoy. It is decent -- though not nearly as good as the "real" Mac 18. These are specific casks of Macallan that are at least 18 years old, and are being sold to this Alexander Murray & CO, who bottles them. I don't yet know if they are mixing various casks together, or if these are single casks. I am doing research -- asking my recent guide on a trip to Scotland where I visited the Macallan distillery. It is a decent bottle of Scotch, and and excellent value. haven't tired the Trader Joe's version yet. I will post more when I hear back from my Scottish buddy.

                                  1. OK, I'm coming late to this thread, and haven't read all 27 replies (so if some of this is repetitive, I apologize), but . . . .

                                    Trader Joe's buy wines and spirits like everyone else does, only more so. Mike G says that "state alcohol laws are all over the map," and that's true -- the US is a patchwork of different jurisdictions, federal, state, and -- in some states -- counties. By that as it may, as all with all things, Trader Joe's buys in VOLUME. So, instead of buying five or ten cases of Cache Phloe Chardonnay, TJ's buys 5,000 or 10,000 cases. When it comes to liquor, OFTEN (but not always) TJ's buys spirits or sizes that FEW, IF ANY, other stores carry. For instance, they may strike a deal for 10,000 cases of Macallan 10 while most stores carry Macallan 12 . . . or, they may buy 5,000 cases of a Vodka in litres, rather than in the 750ml that are popular in most retail stores . . . or . . . or . . . or . . .


                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: zin1953

                                      Trader Joe's can't do that in many states. For instance, Michigan, mentioned above, has less than 1/2 dozen wholesalers who can legally bring liquor into the state and the state sets the retail price. Trader Joe's could get licensed to sell liquor here but would be required to buy from one of these wholesalers and to sell at the same price as every other supermarket or neighborhood liquor store in the state.

                                      1. re: davebough

                                        Absolutely right, but . . . .

                                        TJ's has locations now in 24 states, but is restricted/prohibited from selling alcoholic beverages in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania -- that I know of; there may be more.

                                        Since TJ's began in California in the 1960s, they have ALWAYS done this . . . legally. What they do is simple: they cut a deal with either the state wholesaler (easiest when they were ONLY in California, where they now have 140+ stores), or with the national importer (who then works it through each state's licensed wholesaler), OR with the producer directly (be it a winery, brewery or distiller, either in the US or overseas - they have their own Federal import license for both beer & wine, and for distilled spirits). In this way they purchase in VOLUME at a consistent price nationwide.

                                        (In the case of working the deal out directly with an overseas distiller or brewery and then importing it themselves, TJ's often works out a deal for a wholesaler -- or possibly importer-wholesaler -- to clear the container at a greatly reduced price, as the goods never have to be off-loaded in the wholesaler's warehouse. I know; I did this kind of deal for years.)