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Nov 13, 2007 08:20 AM

Single Malt Scotch

Where in Montreal can I find a decent selection of single malt scotch? Is the Signature SAQ in downtown Montreal my best bet? Their offerings seem to have really slimmed down and, for the life of me, I can't figure out the reasoning behind the selections they have made. It seems spotty - with some "showy" bottles - and not evenly representative of a good single malt cabinet. I am particularly interested in Islay malts or ones from the Orkneys or Hebrides.

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  1. You're best off surfing over to the website, using the search function to find bottles that interest you and then checking which outlets stock them. For by-the-glass offerings, head to L'Île Noire on Ontario or Whisky Café on St-Laurent (corner Bernard).

    1. Just go the SAQ website and you'll see which outlets have what you're looking for in stock.

      1. I would also call the SAQ that's in the complex of the Ailes de la Mode, whatever it's called. I've always been able to buy a pretty decent (read expensive) scotch for my hubby there each Xmas.

        10 Replies
        1. re: maisonbistro

          That's the Signature outlet that lait cru's complaining about.

          1. re: maisonbistro

            Thanks all. I think I have been mistakenly still wandering into the Maisonneuve/Cours Mont Royal location, thinking that was the one Signature outlet downtown. (I've only recently moved back to Montreal, and am downtown infrequently. Didn't it used ot be the Signature store?). I checked out the list of single malts supposedly in stock at the Complex des Ailes location (posted on their website). Not quite what I am hoping to find...but I'll try going down for an in-person browse, as the website might not be totally updated and perhaps the holidays will be marked with more selection. Thanks again.

            1. re: lait cru

              The Ailes de la Mode store is the only Signature outlet in Montreal (and, soon, the province). The Cours Mont-Royal store is now a Sélection outlet and the rumour mill says it may be slated for closing (it just lost its status as an Art de Vivre activity centre). In any case, the Signature definitely has a better scotch selection, though not as good as a couple of years back. FWIW, the inventories shown on are fairly accurate and started being updated in real time a month or so ago, so don't expect to find much on the shelves that you don't see online.

              1. re: carswell

                See Carswell, that's not the store he was referring to! No apologies to little ole me???

                LOL - just kidding since it's just a fluke that the reference was to the other store.

                1. re: carswell

                  Actually, the outlet is likely to close since the SAQ is soon opening a new flagship store on Ste-Catherine Ouest. Can't remember when exactly but I read something about it in La Presse a few weeks ago.

                  1. re: Campofiorin

                    First I've heard about a new flagship outlet for Montreal. Couldn't find anything in the La Presse archives and would be grateful if you could point me in the right direction. Will also ask some of my SAQ contacts. Loss of the Signature would be a huge blow to the Ailes de la Mode complex, that's for sure.

                    The Quebec City Signature, on the other hand, is supposed to close before long -- or maybe it already has (bye-bye, Château Champlain). And rumour has it that the lease on the Cours Mont-Royal store may not be renewed.

                    1. re: carswell

                      It wasn't in La Presse, here it is :

                      As for the Signature, it's not likely to close, I was talking about the store in Cours Mont-Royal. Quebec City is a different story. it wasn't a good idea to house that store in Château Frontenac in the first place. I think but I'm not sure that the lease as been renewed but it will likely close and one of the main Selection store will eventually have a Signature corner.

                      1. re: Campofiorin

                        Ah, it all becomes clear. Montreal's Signature store is staying put. The store at 1176 Ste-Catherine West isn't a flagship outlet but the first in a new wave of SAQ Express outlets. See (though gawd knows how long that link will work). The monopoly is also overhauling the Sélection outlets (at gawd know what expense); there are already new ones in Laval, Brossard, Longueuil and Boisbriand (detect a pattern?), and the Beaubien store is slated for "reconceptualizing" in the near future. Will withhold final judgement until I've seen the new concept stores in the flesh; in the meantime, colour me skeptical.

                        1. re: carswell

                          I went to the Brossard outlet last weekend and weren't amazed. Looks too much like any store, too bright, too modern and I'm not too crazy about the color codes they're implementing. I thought that the place felt kinda "cold" as opposed to the Beaubien store which feels sorta homey.

                      2. re: carswell

                        The SAQ in Cours Mont Royal is indeed closed - it closed in late November.

              2. I hear you. Sometimes, I believe the SAQ just randomly selects their liqour. I think the people who are responsible for selecting "non-wine" items have no idea about what they are doing. If you can't find Laphroaig (the Islay of Islays, IMHO the one you should stock if you were limited to just one bottle) at any of the SAQs, then you have a serious problem, me thinks. I haven't been able to find it for a while, and I am not sure if it is out of stock, or just never stocked. Same for gin (I have ranted previously about their non-existent gin selection), or other dry drinks like a good Manzanilla sherry. Seriously, what is wrong with SAQ? What are they smoking?

                36 Replies
                1. re: emerilcantcook

                  Heartily agree! I'll raise a glass of my dwindling supply of Laphroaig to that! And good to know the scoop on the comings and mostly goings of SAQ outlets. Will go drown my sorrows at L'Ile Noire.

                  1. re: lait cru

                    I'd recommend to drive to the closest LCBO. you'll probably have better selection

                    1. re: YUL PHL

                      The closest LCBO outlet is in Hawkesbury and while the selection of scotches (and just about everything else) there is pretty good for a regular LCBO store -- thanks entirely to its proximity to Montreal -- it's nothing special. For the goods you'd have to drive on to Ottawa, and even then it ain't an order of magnitude better than here. The SAQ's website currently lists 133 scotches of which 88 are single malts. LCBO's website lists 192 scotches of which 99 are single malts BUT a number of the scotches -- eyeballing it, I'd guess about 30 -- are labelled as "discontinued product." (In both cases, a few products are counted more than once because they're sold in more than one format, e.g. 50 ml, 375 ml, 750 ml, 1 l, etc.). Nor is the LCBO immune to the vagaries of supply that plague the SAQ; they seem to run out of the Laphroaig just about as often as the homegrown monopoly (seven bottles currently showing in two Ottawa.stores, none in Hawkesbury).

                      1. re: carswell

                        I bought a few (!) bottles of single-malt at the LCBO in Ottawa when SAQ was on strike - what a drug mule! Didn't have a roller suitcase then - was very relieved to get home with everything (the single-malts, and a couple of viniers - not proud of viniers, but they pleased the people at the party under the circumstances.

                        I was visiting friends and relatives, but indeed the selection was better.

                        1. re: lagatta

                          What bags in boxes, roller suitcases and Ottawa hosts have to do with this thread is beyond comprehension. And, note, I've already agreed that the LCBO's scotch selection is slightly better than the SAQ's; not surprising given the two provinces' different ethnic makeups and traditions. Since it seems I have to spell it out, my point is that, barring some felicity of fate, driving to the nearest LCBO outlet as suggested above is unlikely to fill any gaps in the SAQ's scotch offer, while driving on to Ottawa is hardly going to provide an "I can't believe it's not Edinburgh" (or NYC, for that matter) experience. Whether a special trip -- again, as suggested above -- to gain access to a slightly superior selection and slightly lower prices is worth the time (five to six hours), cost and ecological impact is for each person to decide. You won't catch me doing it.

                          1. re: carswell

                            You'd catch me doing it, if I had a car.

                            The fact that the SAQ doesn't stock Hendrick's gin or Laphroaig scotch is just a crime. Those are two of my alltime favourite liquors, and yet I cannot get them anywhere in Quebec! And they're not overly obscure items, so not being able to get them is just bizarre.

                            1. re: phedre

                              I know what you mean. I'm trying to find a peaty/smoky scotch for the husband for Xmas - a tradition, and I'm not having much luck. Arrrghhhh. I do have a car, but I just don't have the time.

                              1. re: maisonbistro

                                If you want a nice peaty/smoky scotch that is a little less well known and as a result easier to find at Xmas I would suggest Caol Ila (saq code#: 10332551) which is $59 for the 12 year old or $149 for the 19 year old. There is a decent supply of Ardbeg out there too.

                                1. re: eat2much

                                  Thanks- I spoke to someone who has SAQ connections and was told there really isn't much out there that met my recs. I had usually spent between 2 and 3 hundred on a bottle (it IS for my husband after all, right?)

                                  1. re: maisonbistro

                                    Lagavulin is another good choice, and one that I always have on hand. It runs around $80 if I recall correctly, but it's been a few years since I picked up a bottle (I go through single malts VERY slowly).

                                    1. re: maisonbistro

                                      Selection is generally poor, but at that price point it shouldn't be too hard to find Macallan 18, Glenfiddich 30, or Highland Park 25 (my preference being the latter). SAQ also lists something called the Macallan 1841 Replica, but I have never tried it.

                                      I should add that whisky selection is just as dismal at the low end. For example, how is it possible that Maker's Mark is not available in this province?

                                      1. re: Artichoq

                                        Are any of those peaty/mossy -

                                        As you can tell, I am a total novice, usually going on the recs of the staff at the store in les Ailes de La Mode.

                                        1. re: maisonbistro

                                          Though I haven't had those particular versions of those whiskys, Highland Park should be closest to what you want. All should be excellent.

                                          Bowmore also tends to have characteristic seaside flavours and aromas -- peat, iodine, smoke -- but at least in the younger bottlings it's more subdued than in many other island malts.

                                          Lagavulin 16 may be the all-time champ for heavy-duty smoke, peat and iodine. Many find it overbearing. There is also a Lagavulin 12, more expensive than the 16 and in very limited supply. It's not in a super-premium price range, but it might be an interesting bottle for an aficionado.

                                          1. re: Mr F

                                            I second the recommendations for Lagavulin 16, Bowmore (am currently working on a 12 year), or an Ardbeg (sipping away at a 10 year). I tend to like peaty, slightly briny malts.

                                        2. re: Artichoq

                                          "how is it possible that Maker's Mark is not available in this province?"

                                          Because it didn't sell at all well when it was available at the SAQ several years ago. That said, I think the SAQ's monopoly status means it should offer a representative range of products in each category, even when the products aren't big sellers.

                                          1. re: carswell

                                            The question was rhetorical, in that I am well aware that the SAQ has long ago adopted a Walmart-style business model: the bottom 15% in terms of sales volume gets dumped. Where is Maker's Mark? White Horse scotch? Barbancourt rum? Virtually any decent tequila? (and yet they stock "Tequila Bang Bang") One might say that the customer is always right, but considering that the SAQ holds a captive market, they should have a bit more discernment. In general they show wine drinkers considerably more respect.

                                          2. re: Artichoq

                                            "how is it possible that Maker's Mark is not available in this province?"

                                            It is! (Or was) I bought a bottle about a month ago at the NDG location on Cavendish (by the Loblaw's). I also spotted a bottle in the nouveautés section at the outlet on Laurier O., where they also had some Knob Creek. But I digress, as this is a Scotch thread, and not Bourbon.

                                    2. re: phedre

                                      Hendrick's comes and goes... and it looks like a new shipment has just come in. Leave some for the rest of us, will ya?

                                      1. re: Mr F

                                        Oh sweet! I ended up getting some smuggled in from Ontario recently because they'd been out for a few months. I must go restock.

                            2. re: lait cru

                              The Signature store has just received 300+ bottles of the Laphroaig Quarter Cask single malt. As the Laphroaig website explains -- -- it's a new product that attempts to re-create an old product. Haven't sampled it yet but online commentary is very positive, with many Laphroaig fans ranking it alongside (or nearly) the ten-year-old. Runs $63 a bottle.

                              Also, in reference to a discussion above, Maker's Mark has made a return appearance and is currently available through and in several outlets.

                                1. re: bigfellow

                                  Heads up, bigfellow. Though shows them in stock at the Signature store, today's Signature mailer, which I just read, lists the release date as this Thursday, December 18. Probably best to call and ask: 514 282-9445

                         also shows six bottles at the Sélection outlet at 4152 Jean Talon East. Those weren't showing yesterday evening, which may mean that the product will be sold at even more outlets as deliveries take place over the next week or two.

                                  1. re: carswell

                                    Stopped by the Signature store on St Catherine and bought 2 bottles on hour ago on my way home. I also picked up a bottle of Bushmills 1608.
                                    I am sore, ticked off and mean right now. But a glass of Laphroaig is quickly mellowing my mood!
                                    Thank you for the heads up.

                                    1. re: bigfellow

                                      WTF?! According to the Montreal Signature store is sold out! Just called to confirm. They said they received the shipment last Friday. In other words, they've plowed through 336 bottles in one week.

                                      There are still four bottles showing in St-Michel/St-Léonard, four in Laval and 50+ at the Quebec City Signature outlet. The Signature store will ship orders free of charge. If anyone else is interested in getting some, they'd better act fast.

                                      1. re: carswell

                                        There were 3 people just behind me trying to find it. One man tried to get a bottle that I had. He tried the one per customer pitch with the staff. They were amused.

                                        1. re: carswell

                                          Did they indeed confirm they were sold out? I went yesterday around 4pm and even though stated that they had 6 bottles left, there were at least 10-12 on the shelves. They also told me they were to receive 3 more cases soon for what it's worth.

                                          Also, they're selling a 16 year old version bottled by Douglas Laing in the Old Malt Cask line for around 185$.

                                          1. re: Simon Patrice

                                            «Did they indeed confirm they were sold out?»

                                            Yes. They had one bottle left, which is now mine. Good to know they'll be receiving more.

                                            1. re: carswell

                                              The turnover for the Laphroaig Quarter Cask at the Signature store is insanely quick. I went to day, they said they had sold out and I got there just after they had received 2 more cases, so 24 bottles. Don't know how long those will last but they seem to restock them pretty quickly.

                                              1. re: berbatov

                                                «The turnover for the Laphroaig Quarter Cask at the Signature store is insanely quick.»

                                                Suspect that's because it's an insanely good buy (provided you like the style) and the legions of local Laphroaig fans have been deprived of it for more than a year.

                                                «they seem to restock them pretty quickly.»

                                                Was told that though the Signature mailer comes out on Monday or Tuesday and presents the listed products as being released on the following Thursday, that only applies to wines. Spirits often arrive on Friday of the week before and are placed on the shelves immediately. So, the two cases were probably part of this week's delivery. The fact that they got only two cases may mean that the SAQ warehouse's inventory is basically gone, i.e. that there won't be any more restocking until the monopoly receives a new shipment.

                                                1. re: carswell

                                                  No doubt about it, there is a lot of pent up Laphroaig cravings. My father is crazy about it, which is why I bought him another bottle to add to his little collection. Here's hoping it lasts him until the SAQ decides to import some more from the promise land.

                                                  1. re: berbatov

                                                    Talisker is hard to beat for peaty Scotch fans too :)

                                                    I'm lucky enough to have a bottle of cask strength Glenturret which I picked up at the distillery in the summer - it's the oldest working still in Scotland and I don't think this particular malt is exported anywhere. The still has been open since 1779 :)


                                                  2. re: carswell

                                                    First time poster - just checked - there are now 32 bottles in the downtown store I believe its the Signature store. and only 1 bottle left in the Jean Talon est store. The Quebec City Signature Store now has only 24 bottles or so left out of the 55 they had yesterday. Laphroig is barely imported by the SAQ and even LCBO gets limited quantities of it.

                                                    For those who like it no non-Islay scotch will do and some islays are not as peaty as Laphroaig and Lagavulin ( which conversely, always seems to be in-stock in the SAQ) .
                                                    I suspect the staff put aside bottles for their frequent customers who would generally tend to buy in bulk which might account for the rapid sale of the stock.

                                                    1. re: Razzmut

                                                      «I suspect the staff put aside bottles for their frequent customers who would generally tend to buy in bulk which might account for the rapid sale of the stock.»

                                                      If they did, any set-aside bottles would still show on the inventory, at least until they're purchased. I suspect it was just pent-up demand combined with the mailer, the Chowhound post (not to mention other possible online heads-ups) and word of mouth, magnified by the fact that many buyers bought multiple bottles.

                                                      Have been told that the SAQ's difficulty in obtaining Laphroaig is due to the distillery's decision to focus more on emerging markets like India, to the detriment of marginal markets like Quebec.

                                                      1. re: Razzmut

                                                        "I suspect the staff put aside bottles for their frequent customers.."

                                                        Retail employees of a govt-run monopoly play favourites with walk-in customers? That's the most ridiculous thing I've heard in some time. Firstly, why on earth should they care who buys it? Secondly, do you know how fast Le Journal would be on that story?

                                                        1. re: Shattered

                                                          «That's the most ridiculous thing I've heard in some time.»

                                                          It's far from ridiculous. In fact, it's a problem that has long plagued certain SAQ outlets, in particular the Signature store and its predecessor, the Masion des vins. Bottles are held for friends, customers who scratch the staff's back (by inviting them to tastings, taking them out to dinner, etc.), high-rollers who raise the outlet's bottom line by buying lots of expensive wine (and, it's rumoured, grease palms) and celebrities who the staff love to be chummy with. (Back in the '90s, a wine-tasting group I belonged to was desperate to put its collective hands on a case of the latest vintage of Chave's Hermitage. By calling the Quebec agent and a contact at the SAQ warehouse, we learned that the wine was to be released at the MdV on a Thursday. We called the outlet first thing that morning and tried to reserve a case but were told no reservations were being taken. At 11 a.m., a couple of the group members dropped by the store and were told that the wine wasn't in the weekly delivery. At noon, other members and I dropped by and were told that they'd sold out. While we were there grumbling among us, a Habs player -- don't recall which -- showed up at the checkout with a case of the Hermitage. And as he was leaving one of the clerks called out to him, "Tell Brian [Savage, we presumed] that we'll hold his Chave until he can pick it up.")

                                                          Even the SAQ has tacitly acknowledged the problem by developing its first ever sales ethic for SAQ employees, a big chunk of which addresses the issue, and distributing it not only to all personnel but also to suppliers, agents and volume buyers and making it available online to the public at large. And the situation has improved, though the Signature outlet still appears to view itself as a special case. Last year after I threw a fit that a wine they'd refused to set aside for me because "we have so much" was "totally sold out" when I arrived at the store a couple of hours later, they suddenly found three bottles that had been "returned by a priest and so hadn't been added back to the inventory." Right...

                                        2. re: bigfellow

                                          I was lucky enough to buy my first Laphroig and even luckier a Caol Ila (1996) as a birthday gift... And it just happens that Signature is the SAQ store closest to my office...

                                  2. I've been seriously thinking about doing a private import of some scotch, bourbon, gin and dry sherry. I am trying not to be snobbish, but SAQ's offerings are downright depressing and I am tired of hunting for liqour and packing them safe in my little bags every time I travel down the border. The web site gives very little information about the pricing; has anyone done this before? Does it cost you arm and a leg when you account for the taxes and fees? Will anyone be interested in teaming up so that perhaps we can make it even more efficient?

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: emerilcantcook

                                      I don't know if this helps, but a few years ago, my husband wanted to import wines from Romania- don't laugh, they really have quite a developed wine region and some very acceptable bottles of wine. The mark-up etc. that the SAQ imposed was just ridiculous and made it not worth his while. Good luck

                                      1. re: emerilcantcook


                                        From the website:

                                        " Private orders

                                        Are you looking to purchase foreign products which the Société des alcools du Québec doesn't list?

                                        The SAQ gives all Quebec residents over the age of 18 or any authorized commercial entity the possibility of purchasing alcoholic beverages not available in its network through private orders.

                                        To do so, please refer to the Private Order Policy (PDF format). The minimum purchase must be an average of $150 per product, based on the supplier's winery or warehouse price.

                                        A deposit equivalent to 80% of the order value, at the supplier's product price and the transport charges, must be paid upon ordering.

                                        Transport and customs clearance charges, taxes as well as the SAQ mark-up will be added to the product price. The SAQ will take care of all the transactions and will let you know you when the order has arrived.

                                        For further information, please contact the Private Order Department at (514) 254-8686. "

                                        It isn't all that complicated - just bureaucratic (lots of paperwork). If you're doing bourbon or interested in beer - I'm game and I can probably scare up some other non-chowhounders as well.