View Full Version : Free vs control states

01-11-2005, 13:32
I think most would agree that free is better than control, but sometimes there are exceptions. Just put a three bottle case of Elijah Craig 18 in the bunker and can't stop grinning about the price: $20.99 per bottle in the neighboring control state. Their regular price is $28.99 and normal sale price is $24.99, which is what it was just last month, but $20.99 for an 18 year old single barrel bourbon that I love? And three bottles! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/bowdown.gif http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/bowdown.gif http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/bowdown.gif Thanks, control state! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/bowdown.gif http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/bowdown.gif http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/bowdown.gif Thanks, Heaven Hill and Bettye Jo! (I can see what she meant about packing those bottles: the shape makes them extra work,)
So here in my free state, the EC 18 is at least $43.99. Hmmm http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/skep.gif http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/skep.gif This leads me to believe that control states are not completely bad. Sure, their selection is probably little worse in general, but it is the same for their entire state and their citizens. And their (NH) state web site is always up and almost 100%accurate in my experience. Meanwhile, here in my free state, what you can buy is theoretically more diverse, but what you can ACTUALLY buy depends on what you know about: who sells what, where are they located (driving in Boston is no picnic), and most stores either do not have web site listings of their stock (no need for e-commerce, a simple typical listing would do) or they have cob web sites, out of date by years.
So,is NH the exception that proves the rule or do other folks find any redeeming value, at all, in their control state? Just curious. Ed V.

01-11-2005, 13:45
I used to live in MA (free) and now live in PA (control). I prefer free. The advantages of free include better selection, usually better prices, more stores, and more varied and interesting stores and proprietors. The advantages of control include one web site/one price state-wide. On some items PA will have a lower price than MD (say), but this is the exception. A disadvantage of control states is that they tend to not allow interstate sales (i.e. mail-order, internet sales, etc.).


01-11-2005, 13:51
I just did a xmas visit to Michigan (free state), comparing to my home state of Washington (control state). It might just be a shortcoming of Michigan in general, but I wasn't impressed with what I could buy there. The selection in Seattle (at least in the big downtown store) was better and cheaper than what I found in Detroit, by and large.

01-11-2005, 18:20
Maybe it is not entirely a matter of free vs control. New Hampshire is known as a particularly low-taxation state. I am guessing that probably has a lot to do with the low price that you have noted.


01-11-2005, 18:22
As the saying goes, "freedom isn't free."

The ways in which each of the 50 states regulate, and profit from, beverage alcohol sales are bewilderingly complicated. While it's true that the control states almost universally have poor selection, high prices and inconvenient, user-unfriendly stores, the nature of the regulation in each license state also has a big effect on selection, price and convenience. I can't speak to every state but I know Illinois, for example, permits many kinds of promotion and "free enterprise" that are restricted elsewhere. Indiana, also a license state, has many more restrictions than Illinois. I believe it is still illegal to sell cold beer in Indiana, for example. Taxes also vary widely, which impacts price. Control states do, however, tend to use formulas, based on their cost, to set prices, rather than letting the marketplace influence pricing. They also use sales not in the normal ways retailers usually use them (such as to generate traffic) but simply to reduce inventory in products which their formulas tell them are overstocked, so sometimes there are good deals to be had. Unfortunately, they also use sales to get rid of products they are discontinuing, so maybe you won't be seeing EC18 there again soon at any price.

01-11-2005, 18:28
Here's another interesting resource for information on this subject.

The National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA). (http://www.nabca.org/about.html)

01-11-2005, 18:54
They also use sales not in the normal ways retailers usually use them (such as to generate traffic) but simply to reduce inventory in products which their formulas tell them are overstocked, so sometimes there are good deals to be had. Unfortunately, they also use sales to get rid of products they are discontinuing, so maybe you won't be seeing EC18 there again soon at any price.

Chuck, in PA the vendors decide what items go on sale. Our sales last 4 weeks. Popular items are always on sale. The vendors absorb the lower prices. Jim Beam White 750 ml is $1.00 off right now. There are several popular brands on sale at any one time.

01-12-2005, 04:45
Unfortunately, they also use sales to get rid of products they are discontinuing, so maybe you won't be seeing EC18 there again soon at any price.

Chuck, that's exactly what I'm worried about! Maybe I should bunker a few more, while the bunkerings good. Right now, EC 18 is 40 cents cheaper than Buffalo Trace, which requires a road trip to RI (about 210 miles round trip). And Tim is probably right about the NH taxes thing: NH folks are consistent about not liking taxes. Right now, though, I'm happy with the situation. Ed V.

Hedmans Brorsa
01-12-2005, 06:00
Sweden, of course, is 100 % control. Im sure there are pros and cons with any system but what I miss most is the 'sale' phenomenon. This never, ever happens here.

01-12-2005, 06:18
The Liquor Control Board of Ontario occasionally will mark down a product. Usually, the discount from list is modest but it can vary (5%-15% generally but sometimes more). There seems to be two types of sales: those for products being delisted and those where I suspect the supplier is absorbing the discount because from time to time regular-list items are discounted. I have noticed that when, say, a regular-list Canadian whisky is reduced in price, almost always there will be fewer of those bottles on the shelf than others in its category. Clearly, many people buy, within a given product category, on price alone. This happens with vodka and other spirits but it is most noticeable with Canadian whisky since the prices are virtually identical for the various categories (e.g. Seagram VO competes with the regular CC, CC 12 year old with the regular Crown Royal, etc.).

We have, at the biggest outlets, a pretty good selection, yet when compared to the largest U.S. retailers such as Sam's or Binnie's, or (in bourbon at least) Premier Liquors in Buffalo, NY, the lack of choice is evident. Currently there is a very good selection of whiskies from Scotland and Ireland but even then only at a small number of stores in Toronto, one has to know which ones, so people who live in suburban or rural areas will have less choice than people who live in central Toronto. In bourbon the choice has varied but I wish it was twice as large as it is. Also, I am waiting for the day when a U.S. straight rye whiskey will be sold in Ontario.

As it happens, I saw this item on the elevator ad screen coming up to work today: LCBO announces appointment of review panel to advise Government on possible overhaul of the Provincial (Ontario) beverage alcohol distribution system. This is the first such review to take place since the current system, adopted between the wars, replaced a period of Prohibition in Ontario.


01-12-2005, 15:51
I agree with the notion that NH is 'different'. Even though I'm on record as preferring free states, when I lived in MA I would occasionally buy in NH for various reasons.


01-14-2005, 11:36
Michigan is a contol state. It all depends on where you go to buy your bourbon. I have a store here(Holiday Market) where they have a wonderful selection and the Liqour and Wine guy is getting some Eagle Rare 17 year in for me.

01-14-2005, 15:00
Michigan is NOT a control state, at least not by how I typically define "control state."

Washington (where I live) is definitely a control state -- you can only buy liquor at state-run stores, all of which are closed on Sunday, and are subject to the whims of the State Liquor Board for pricing and selection.

Michigan, on the other hand, allows you to buy liquor at the grocery store, at the quik-e-mart, and practically anywhere else that wants to sell it. Stores are allowed to set prices and decide for themselves what to sell.

Every state has controls of some kind, of course, but that's not what that phrase usually means, as far as I can tell.

01-14-2005, 16:53
Michigan, where I grew up (and where I still visit regularly with siblings -- most recently last month), was at one time a control state, with state-run stores. I have childhood memories of a couple trips to the state store with my dad, who almost never purchased liquor (he was a beer-a-day man!) except prior to hosting an annual card-playing party. One had to wait at the counter while the cashier went to the back and got what you'd asked for.
While it is no longer a control state in that sense, it was only recently -- post-Nov. '04 election -- that the state has relinquished control of liquor pricing however. Since Jan. 1, local storeowners can set their own prices, but competition has thus far precluded most from increases.

01-14-2005, 22:03
According to the NABCA, the association of control states, Michigan is a control state. As has been said elsewhere, every state "controls" beverage alcohol sales and does so in myriad different ways, but "control state" is a term of art that means something specific.

The control states (and one county) are: Alabama, Ohio, Idaho, Oregon, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Maine, Utah, Vermont, Michigan, Virginia, Mississippi, Washington, Montana, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Wyoming, North Carolina...and Montgomery County, MD.

What distinguishes a "control" state from a "license" state is that in a control state the state is the sole wholesaler of beverage alcohol products. Some control states also have "state stores," which are state-owned retail stores, and others do not but are still control states. In a control state, there is only one legal wholesale source for beverage alcohol products and that is the state agency.

In license states, there typically are many wholesalers and they are all private companies. In license states, the state issues licenses and controls how wholesalers and retailers operate through that licensing authority.

01-15-2005, 20:55
Thank you, Chuck. That was a very helpful clarification.
I stand corrected.

01-16-2005, 16:19
I believe it is still illegal to sell cold beer in Indiana, for example.

Not entirely true.

Liquor stores can sell cold beer and so can convenience stores. But I believe full-service grocery stores are still restricted from selling cold beer.

Admittedly, Indiana has lots of strange alcoholic beverage laws. No Sunday sales unless you do X amount of prepared food sales and then only by the glass. Bars can get either a two-way (beer and wine) or a three-way (beer, wine, spirits) license. Bars have to serve hot food. You can't have children in a bar unless they are in the "family dining" area which must be separate from the open bar area. Store clerks can't ring up alcohol sales unless they are 21 or over. Beer wholesalers have established territories. Etcetera, etcetera, and so forth.

Some liquor stores are definitely beer and run-of-the-mill booze oriented. There are a few good ones. In the Indianapolis area, Kahn's, John's Spirits, and Crown Liquors generally have good selections. Prices don't seem as good here as they were when I lived in Kentucky. Bought a bottle of Rock Hill Farms a week or so ago at Crown for $44.99.


01-17-2005, 11:08
To be honest I have had little dealing with control states until I moved to PA, and at this point I have found absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I have received terrible information from store administrators. The few times I have complained about whisky availablity, I have received nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders. There are whiskies that are readily available everywhere and then all the sudden they are gone.
I have been told that they can order anything you want but of course you have to buy it six bottles at a time. hardly the way to sample a new product.
Unfortunately even though I am a novice it seems I often know more about whisky than the employee who orders it. Just as an example I was told that I would never, ever see a bottle of Stagg and therefore there was no way they could reserve one for me. Tell that to the 3 bottles I bought off the shelf a month later.
I have stories concerning scotches and Irishes that are along the same lines.
I mean this as no slight to mobourbon at all, but it seems that as state employees there is no incentive to go out of their way to help you find anything. After all, who else are you going to buy it from. And driving across the border,even just for selection, is still technically illegal. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/soapbox.gif

01-17-2005, 12:59
If it is anything like Alabama, they are state employees. They make their money whether the store sells anything or not. There is no reason for them to care whether the customers are satisfied. They just work there.

You may occasionally find an employee or particular store where they are more customer-friendly just because of their personal nature. But, don't hold your breath.


01-17-2005, 19:17
Ratcheer and Hookfinger are right. A lot of PA State liquor store workers do have the attitude that they are just there to do a job. But my attitude is it is still a retail store. I treat the customers the way I would want to be treated. We are now connected to the PLCB intranet and we can look up any item to see whether it's available and where it's available with the quantity available in each store. I will always take the time to search for an item. Several times the customer will tell me they've been to 2 - 3 other stores and they were told it wasn't carried at that particular store. A lot of these people would not last a week in privately owned liquor stores. There is no incentive to please the customer. I get real satisfaction in seeing how appreciative the customer is when I find the product they are looking for.

01-18-2005, 09:55
mobourbon - you can bet the next time I'm in your neighborhood, I'll stop by. Thanks!!!

01-18-2005, 15:16
A big "Thumbs Up!" to you, mobourbon. You are one of the good guys who takes pride in what you do. Thanks for being there.


01-21-2005, 15:47
I have been told that [the PA state stores] can order anything you want but of course you have to buy it six bottles at a time.

That's interesting. I've been told that I can order a single bottle, although I've never tried. mobourbon, can you enlighten us?

I agree with the comments about the customer service, but overall I don't have such a bad view of the PA state stores. That's likely because I'm within walking distance of two of the "premium superstores" that have a good selection of bourbons (~ 50). I haven't been paying attention long enough to notice how consistent their stock is though.

01-21-2005, 19:37
That's interesting. I've been told that I can order a single bottle, although I've never tried. mobourbon, can you enlighten us?

The Vendor's warehouses are in the Philadelphia area. They will ship any amount, even 1 bottle most of the time, to the 5 counties close to Philadelphia. There is a 6 bottle or, with some vendors, a 1 case minimum to the counties outside of the Philly area because of the increased cost of shipping. The vendors usually deliver their own Special Liquor Orders in the 5 county Philadelphia area.

01-22-2005, 08:30
Thanks Fred. I guess with all the Vendor's warehouses and the
premium stores around here, my experience isn't quite typical for PA.

01-23-2005, 11:45
In Oregon, one can special order just about any whisky from any supplier in the U.S., or abroad -- provided they order an entire case. That's the catch, and a big catch. It's illegal for a customer to have liquor mailed to them from out of state, and it's illegal to cross into Oregon with more than 4 litres in one's possession.

I just wonder, however, if some liquor retailers outside of Oregon (or other "control states," for that matter) do some mail-order business within those states. In other words, do they sometimes ship small parcells of liquor into those "control states," turning a blind eye to the laws of that state, or feigning ignorance. And of course the shipping carrier (UPS, FedEx, or whathaveyou) must also be either ignorant or pretend to be. Does this happen?

01-23-2005, 12:33
In PA we have internet sales. The PLCB has their own internet warehouse in Harrisburg. The customer orders and pays online and the order is sent to the store of their choice overnight by UPS. In 31 working in the PLCB years I've never known of an outside retailer sending anything to anyone.

Special Reserve
04-24-2005, 08:32
I am cruising some old posting and stumbled upon this.

Michigan is now the worst combination of control and free. The state is the wholesaler controling availability, and sets a minimum price but now allows retailers to charge a premium if they want. Currently many retailers are changing more that the state price (which is available in the net) for mid and upper shelf bourbons. Also it is illegal to ship liquor to a Michigan address, therefore you cannot legally buy liquor over the internet.

04-24-2005, 08:44
...it is illegal to ship liquor to a Michigan address, therefore you cannot legally buy liquor over the internet...

Some potential good news is that Michigan was one of the defendants in the recent Supreme Court case which many observers feel is likely to reverse state rulings regarding the differentiation between allowing in-state and out-of-state wine shipments (Michigan allows in-state wineries to ship to Michiganders, but not out-of-state ones). The stated basis for disallowing wine shipments -- underage recipients -- is the same for liquor, which may also be affected by any restriction-loosing ruling.
Such a SCOTUS ruling would be a mixed bag for me. Here in Tennessee, where NO wine/liquor shipment is allowed by anybody already, we probably wouldn't be affected because no discrimination occurs between in-state and out-of-state. However, I used to win online wine auctions occasionally and have the bottles shipped to my sister in Michigan before that state's restrictive law was passed, so maybe in the future I'll be able to renew that practice.

04-25-2005, 06:34
Well, I just went to the web site and based on that I would say that there is a pretty good selection in PA! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/shocked.gif Some of the prices are much lower than I can get in Japan for the things I can get. Plenty of things I would take six of, too.
Ps, Do you ship to Japan? Just kidding, unless you do ship to Japan...

04-25-2005, 17:27
Ps, Do you ship to Japan? Just kidding, unless you do ship to Japan...

Ed, I know out of state people have ordered from the PA internet site. Try ordering something and see if you are successful.
Nothing can be shipped to someones house in PA, but I'm not sure about shipping outside of PA. I will look into this for you.