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Oct 12, 2007 05:29 AM

Lillet - what the *censored* ?

It has come to my attention that Lillet, a French aperitif wine has been discontinued by the LCBO? Why on Earth would the LCBO do that? It's an enormously popular drink used in MANY famous cocktails or enjoyed straight up. One of my favourites, in fact. So what could be so ridiculously dangerous about Lillet that the LCBO would decide to kill all access to it for people in Ontario?

Does anyone have any info? And the food/drink community continues to grow throughout the world... while it shrinks in Ontario.

What's next? The discontinuation / banning of wine all together?


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  1. From what I understand, what the LCBO stocks is based pretty much entirely on sales. So if you're the only one buying it -- it's gone, and the shelf space is turned over to a product that moves faster, regardless of how "good" it might have been. Many of my favourite beers have been discontinued over the years too, because most people would rather buy some Steelback buck-a-beer. Oh, well. Look at is as an opportunity to find a new favourite, I guess.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Gary

      This is, in my opinion, one of the main weaknesses of the LCBO. If they decide they don't want to carry it, forget it, unless you are willing to take a trip to Quebec or New York State.

      1. re: ekammin

        Just because the LCBO has delisted it doesn't mean it isn't available. Most wine and spirits companies are also represented in the province by local agents who can sell to the public. There may be a one case minimum, depending on the agent, but that's more than likely for wines.

        Another option is to go back to the LCBO and do a special order, again minimums may apply. Or, you could have them send remaining inventory to your closest store from anywhere in the province (no minimums, no handling charges).

        Much better than vermouth in a martini, by the way.

        1. re: ekammin


          the problem with the lcbo is that they only carry product that sells. a quality ma&pa shop would carry a greater variety of product that just wont sell.

          ive been all over the states and every little shop carries 10s of wines & beers and several that arent carried by the lcbo. as an added bonus because they like to hold stock longer it gets aged before you buy it!


          1. re: HarryLloyd

            "the problem with the lcbo is that they only carry product that sells. a quality ma&pa shop would carry a greater variety of product that just wont sell."

            And thus the reason for the disappearance of ma&pa shops.

            This argument seems to me absurd - that it is a problem that a distributor/retailer would not stock an item which they could not sell in a profitable manner.

            Is that how you run your business?

            1. re: FrankJBN

              There are no Mom and Pop wine stores in Ontario. There is but one business in Ontario to sell, or not sell, Lillet.

            2. re: HarryLloyd

              i have been to smaller private operators in other provinces and the states and they severely curtail their inventories to what sell...selection is very poor-especially when it comes to wine...i don't mean to defend the lcbo but really they do offer more than anyone else-like it or not

              1. re: ingloriouseater

                Been in Calgary a couple of years now, and youare right about selection generally. Ther are however some stores, Willow Park for example, that offer tremendous selection in French wines and Scotch that will rival and usually surpass the LCBO offering. Generally though liquir stores here offer what sells.

                Price is another matter as well, not to the good re the LCBO. The LCBO will have a "sale" on something, offering a buck or 50 cents off. In Alberta, a sale is a sale. Name brand beers (a few only) will sell for $30, all in, name brand rum, vodka, whiskey, $18 all in. Expensive wine and booze is less too at regular prices.. Example, Lagavulin 16 year is I recall $125 in the LCBO. It ranges from $75 to $115 here.

        2. I am on on your side here. I love Lillet, my favorite aperitif. Also, you must remember that many tradionnal French recipes call for Lillet (fish sauces, etc...) and I can not imagine a French Chef cooking without it. My late grandfather who was a respected Chef was famous to use more Lillet in his coffee cup that in his sauces... Good old times I guess.
          A revolution is called for...

          1. It's a two edged sword.

            Yes, some large urban centres have fabulous wine/spirit shops, but they are few and far between. It happens that Buffalo and Rochester each has such a store, but these are definitely NOT the norm. The typical mom & pop liquor store has a pathetic selection and is not necessarily cheap. Even the crappy little LCBO in my neighbourhood puts the average US liquor store to shame. That's not a positive situation, but it's true.Some US states control alcohol sales even more stringently than does Ontario. And you will not find Lillet in a typical North American private beverage outlet.

            Wine and beer in the supermarket or corner store is undeniably convenient, and we should have this as an option. We don't, and we won't, since the moral crusaders on one side of the political spectrum believe this will promote excessive drinking (likely untrue) while the parties on the other side worry that decent government jobs will be replaced by minimum wages (likely true). But the Alberta setup isn't an improvement since purveyors MUST make a profit, can't buy whatever they want at a wholesale price, and must even more necessarily carry only what sells well.

            The newer, larger LCBO stores offer a good shopping experience with a large stock and, especially in Vintages, decent and competent service. They have come a long way from the crappy, Soviet style stores I found when I first moved here. You needed to fill out a form and write your name (many people I knew gave as their name John Robarts - the Ontario premier at the time and a major consumer of LCBO products) to buy your Jordan Crackling Rose or Baby Duck.

            The LCBO is certainly a much better place to shop than the private enterprise Beer Store which, despite their policy of refrigerating everything and their awesome recycling abilities, remains a horrible place to shop with a pathetic product selection. You'll find a much better beer selection at a good LCBO.

            The minimum price policy certainly limits availability, but - as someone who drinks Lillet - would you really consume cases of "Two Buck Chuck" if you could buy it in Ontario?

            As the world's biggest booze buyer, the LCBO has considerable clout. They don't necessarily use it as skillfully as I would like. They overcharge for cheap stuff and they they overcharge at the top. But their midrange prices proved better than I expected when I looked around a bit. (Our restaurant booze prices are unconscionable, though I believe restos must pay a premium price rather than getting stock at a discount, which is weird). Their size allows them to test for adulterants, which are also more common than I would have expected. But their size also limits their flexibility and their ability to carry slow moving items -- which is exactly the situation of a small shop, though for the opposite reason.

            As other posts mention, you can special order from the LCBO, from private agents, and from wineries. Sometimes this process is expensive and cumbersome, but not always. Yes, you probably need to buy a case. But few private liquor stores will special order one bottle.

            I can't easily get many things I want, whether wines (and I also have Lillet at home, BTW), foods, or general merchandise. I wish it were otherwise. But when something doesn't move enough volume for any retailer to stock it, or a manufacturer to offer it, we're screwed. It's a problem with all products, not just with tightly controlled alcohol.

            I wish they would make the system more open and flexible, but things aren't nearly as bad as you suggest.

            12 Replies
            1. re: embee

              I agree that the selection in most small U.S. wine or liquor stores is pretty pathetic. Some California this or that, a few inexpensive wines from Chile, and one bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape gathering dust on a shelf.

              On the other hand, i recently read that the SAQ has a far bigger selection than the LCBO. If Quebec can do it, why can't we?

              1. re: ekammin

                Maybe because Quebec has a bigger wine culture then Ontario... As in beer try to find "Ale" in Vancouver.. whereas it is the majority in Quebec.. different regional preferences dictate different selections.

                If 20 people write the LCBO asking for Lilet the may start carrying it again.. demand causes supply...

                1. re: OnDaGo

                  Of course, but I suspect that, to influence the LCBO, 2500 people would need to write

                  1. re: embee

                    not really companies usually assume for one person who complains there are a 100 that are upset but say nothing.. (which is usually true). So if 25 say something they may think that 2500 would also want it...

                    1. re: OnDaGo

                      Possibly true overall. But while I'm telling Bueno that things are not totally bleak, I don't want to be viewed as claiming the LCBO is a truly customer centred organization :-)

                2. re: ekammin

                  I think that, as in Ontario, it depends a lot on the specific SAQ store. In the past, the SAQ had a much larger selection, and lower prices, than the LCBO. I don't really think this is still true.

                  A good SAQ store probably has a better selection of French-style wines. They did at one time bottle decent French plonk under their own label - I don't know whether they still do this. And though Quebec has a more venerable "wine culture", it does not have Ontario's wine industry. Also, we likely have more "new world" wine here than we do French.

                  When I lived in Montreal 40 years ago, there was decent plonk and at least some fine wine around, but mainly in specific cultural circles. Most people I knew drank Manischevitz and the vast majority of people drank lots of Molson Canadian and a long defunct garbage ale called Dow. Ontario "wine" at that time was a joke, but that sure isn't true now.

                  As I said in an earlier post, I wish our system was more open and flexible, but I wouldn't call it truly awful. And wine is a relatively recent addition to the North American scene generally. Growing up in Brooklyn, typical liquor stores carried hard booze and kosher wine. In lesser neighbourhoods, you could add muscatel. "Good" wine meant going to a small, snooty specialty store on Madison Av and paying through the nose.

                  Every grocer had beer, but you probably wouldn't want to drink it. Bud and Miller were the top of the line. More common were Piels, Rheingold, and Schaeffer ("the one beer to have when you're having more than one"). Yuck.

                  1. re: embee

                    You are correct about the SAQ. I visited about a half dozen of them this summer, mainly looking for products we had researched beforehend, and your comments are true.
                    Most are small with limited selection. Liquor choices are surprisingly fewer than in Ontario, as are beers. There are surprisingly limited selections of Quebec cider products. The exception is French wines which will be more numerous in selection.

                    While the "flagship" stores are very good with greater selection, they still pale in comparison to the Summerhill or Queens Quay stores. Naturally though there are products that the LCBO does not carry, but I will stress that the LCBO has much greater breadth and depth in its product lines.

                    The depanneurs will carry beer and wine, but selection is limited to inexpensive volume products, as would be expected. Nevertheless it is convenient to have the option when you run out of beer between periods.

                    The real treat in Quebec is buying 24 Export (substitute many popular beers) for $20 at a Maxi grocery store, or 24 Heiniken or Corona for $24 at Costco, instead of $38 bucks plus at the Beer Store, more if you buy at the LCBO.

                    1. re: Scary Bill

                      Thought I'd take a look for Lillet at the SAQ. They carry two types.

                      Plan a weekend in Montreal and pick up a case.

                      1. re: Scary Bill

                        Thanks for this, Scary Bill ... do they carry the Lillet Red in Quebec? I had to have it picked up in Chicago last year to make a special cocktail that I had at the Plaza Athenee in NYC ...

                        ... and as someone who lived for a decade in Montreal, embee is bang on ...

                        1. re: CocoTO

                          Take a look at and you should be able to narrow it down to a specific store where it is available.

                3. re: embee

                  Thanks once again embee for a balanced opinion. Too often the LCBO debate is polarized. I really appreciate all your contributions to this board, actually.

                4. Lillet is the only aperitif my wife will drink (she doesn't drink much anyway: there is also the killer Tanqueray Rangpur which is not yet available in Canada)...Lillet has now been DELISTED three times in the past 20 years. Each time I load up when it goes on sale at the delist price...You can also check with Maxxium, the last known agent. I have already protested to them, but their hands are tied. Try Bob Peter, CEO of the LCBO. If enough people complain, they might bring it back, maybe through Vintages. After all, it has been delisted before, and has reappeared like a phoenix..

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Dean Tudor

                    One service the LCBO does render is to people in smaller, isolated communities.

                    Suppose you were living in a town as small, and as isolated as, say, Wawa or Moosonee in the U.S. Your choice of wine, or any alcoholic beverage, would be so limited as to be nonexistant. In Ontario, if you are willing to buy a case, the LCBO will deliver anything they list to your nearest store.

                    1. re: ekammin

                      Not even a case is necessary. A Vintages rep. told me they send stock from store to store by courier at a customer's request, often just a bottle or two.

                      1. re: jayt90

                        My wife's sherry was unavailable at oiur small LCBO when we moved here. The shop would order it in for us even a single bottle at a time. It took roughly a week. Occasionally we encountered others ordering the same wine and in short order it was stocked on the shelves. With its limited shelf space the staff sock what locals demand. The LCBO does respond well.

                        They do this now even in the smallest communities. You now find LCBO outlets in small, private variety stores in villages and hamlets across Ontario.

                        Less regulated jurisdictions have a problem no-one has touched on - illicit aclcohol palmed off as brand-name product on the shelves andd in bars.

                        Also, legal spirits are typically shipped full-proof in tank trucks to distribution centres where they are cut with neutral spirits, bottled, labelled and sold. I prefer more, rather than less, regulation in this situation.

                        1. re: DockPotato

                          You add an interesting, and valid, point to my comment about LCBO testing for adulterants and contaminants. Substituting and watering does happen here in bars - including supposedly good ones. Not every resto owner or bartender toes the straight and narrow here (with apologies to those that do). And there was an interesting recent accident involving sealed bottles of Stella, meant for display in bars, that contained pure alcohol. But it isn't likely to happen with sealed bottles at the LCBO.

                          I was very surprised at how often things like broken glass turn up in wine. And there are occasional episodes of things like antifreeze adulteration (which can, supposedly, make garbage wine taste fabulous) that they seem to protect us from pretty well.

                  2. Recently moved to Alberta. I miss the LCBO. Stores here all have inconsistent pricing, with some great sales ($18 for 24 Heineken, no PST) often getting cancelled out by higher than normal prices most of the time. At the lower end of the spectrum, I often find identical wines priced 2-4 bucks higher than LCBO, and I find that there is a lower selection of "everyday" wines. (What incentive does a retailer have to stock the basic wines with the smaller profit margins?) What I find most of is mediocre Aussie and California wines in the $15-25 price range. Ontario wine is hard to find, although there is a great selection of BC VQA stuff available. I have no less than 3 liquor stores within a 5 minute walk, and if you extend that radius to a 15 minute walk, probably 7. The market here is ripe for consolidation with a few efficient operators rather than having dozens of "mom and pop" stores with small selections, high overheads etc. They purportedly offer more "convenience" but I've found that most normal adults don't need the convenience of buying booze at 1am or having the store 100m from their home instead of 500m. I'm used to the LCBO at Yonge & Davisville, which is about 2-4 times as large as where I shop now, and had everything from the basic plonk to the Vintages section.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: egon61

                      I totally agree egon61. I just don't drink wine as often out here.
                      Have you seen any Lillet??

                      1. re: littlegreenpea

                        I don't drink Lillet (have never tried it, actually) so I haven't kept an eye out for it. deVine Wines & Spirits on 104th just north of Jasper Ave. doesn't show it in their online inventory, and they're more of a "specialty" store with a unique selection. Not sure where else to suggest...