Well, that's a promising sign. As a general rule I think it's better the Stat's just collect the taxes and keep their noses out of the liquor business.
With notable exceptions, prices have been higher due to the distributors jacking up the prices (as the tax rates have changed very little from when the state was running everything).
I'd agree that selection is better except for higher end whiskies.
Total has raised the bar, as has BevMo. Private stores will catch up.
On this note, the presence of BevMo! and Total is a positive if you're trying to get your hands on the limited edition stuff. Their corporate policies seem to prohibit lists and pre-sales so you don't have to be a "top customer" to get a shot at getting them and there's not the same type of price-gouging that smaller stores often engage in. I bought two GTS and one ER17 at BevMo! in Tacoma a few months ago.
Total in Tukwila has a bunch of JPS18 and EC20. They also had W12 if anyone is looking for it.
Lots of interesting conversation here about selection, prices and availability. I have spent a lot of time trying to understand what I should be doing, as a “normal” consumer, to at least have a chance at the limited bourbons out there, especially since the massive changes last June. The state system had to go, but one good side effect is that it was predictable. Now it’s a free for all.
As others have pointed out, the distributors in Washington State are the main cause of our problems; they restrict sales to preferred customers (bars and restaurants), lie about stock and maintain separate price lists for on-premise and off-premise buyers to discourage retail sales for some products.
Yet it’s hard to blame distributors for taking advantage of currently legal business practices that, while detrimental to whisky buyers, weren’t accounted for in the new liquor laws. The Liquor Control Board policies need to be tweaked a bit to rectify the anti-competitive nature of the current environment.
What I don’t understand is why producers still use exclusive distributors in the state. It made sense when there was only one buyer (the state), but not any longer. If I was a producer that wanted the best representation to consumers, I would use multiple distributors to encourage competition on value added services and squeeze their margins as much as possible to provide the lowest cost (and subsequently more volume) to buyers and ultimately consumers.
My primary annoyance is that the specialty stores (in the state system) used to be the best resource for knowledge and availability of the more collectible spirits. Now is appears that the specialty stores are at the bottom of the food chain and the big retailers (Total, BevMo) get most of the off-premise allocation, yet they are terrible at catering to the enthusiasts who walk past the pallets of $8.99 vodka jugs in search for quality products.
I know that EC20 and JPS18 have spotty availability, but the Total Wine Bellevue store just tells me the stock comes and goes and doesn’t care who buys it. No way to notify interested customers, no intention of helping beyond trying to always upsell their “Spirits Direct” selections which are likely a much higher margin sale. And BevMo’s selection is just poor for high end products.