Saturday, 15 December 2012

On ONs Great Westy Debacle of 12/12/12

Here are some semi-disjointed observations on the Westvleteren insanity of the past week and I will finish with some tips for those who missed out, or at least would like to know what they were missing:

  • Obviously, the LCBO underestimated demand and the hype machine, but I find this somewhat incomprehensible since I predicted months ago it wouldn't last a day in stores, reducing my own estimate to hours after Josh Rubin's first Toronto Star article.  Why this wasn't distributed by lottery, I do not know - yes, that would still be random, but equalized random.
  • The subsequent explosion of inquiries at the LCBO main contact line must have tipped them off, yet several things happened:
    1. They seemed to have no-or-little information, and grew increasingly annoyed at the calls, such that they changed their FAQ page to list this as the #2 concern (after store hours and locations for the last few weeks).
    2. That FAQ page changed and said call the stores (as of Monday).
    3. Upon beginning my own calls to stores Monday evening, the first two told me I was "without exaggeration" over their thousandth and seven-hundredth call that day and none had legitimate information, but told me to call back each day despite growing increasingly annoyed each day at my calls!
  • At this point the LCBO had another opportunity to coordinate release dates and times, but again they randomized it.
  • Though the vast majority of staff I dealt with were friendly and cordial, and helpful beyond the call of duty, some deserve mention for the pros and cons:
    • 2 stores (one Wednesday, one Thursday) lied to me at 8:30 in the morning claiming it wasn't available when they had (small) lines outside and plenty of chance to still procure it
    • Many were friendly yet lamented the download of call to individual stores themselves, though one person I spoke with (twice) was extremely angry and rude.  I get being upset with your employer over the mishandling of this release, but that doesn't necessitate extreme rudeness to customers (once rudely saying no and hanging up before hearing my follow-up question).
    • That said, most staff ran a tight ship, came to work early, were super-friendly, and did an admirable job of dealing with a difficult situation imposed on staff and consumers alike
    • One amazing manager, at a tiny LCBO in small-town Ontario (closest to my home), not only spent many hours on calls for me, provided me more information than others, and tried her hardest to make me a special order (that the head office and the importer both told me they could/would do).  When this didn't happen, she even offered to have her son stand in line for me to procure me a pack!  Having never met this woman, I will be bringing her a beer sometime!  I called her to tell her I'd gotten a pack and she was genuinely thrilled for me and my sincere thanks made her day.  That was truly heart-warming.
  • Allegedly, the discrepancy between the 1404 packs for public sale and the 2000 the LCBO purchased is for licensees.  However, as far as I know, these monks have insisted none be provided for markup and wanted signed agreements from places as they do with individual buyers.  There may have been an exception here, but with this demand I am pretty disappointed that nearly 1/3 of the entire LCBO purchase goes to bars who will be charging anywhere from $30-$60 a bottle for this and profiting immensely from the hype for quite some time.
  • However, this does open up options for people who never got a case and wish to try it, but can I recommend that those who caught into the hype, but don't know the beer style, try the following first:
    • Wait until the new year, when the LCBO will allegedly begin regularly stocking Trappistes Rochefort 10 (for probably less than $4/bottle).  Try it and see roughly what you'd be getting.  Otherwise, come into Quebec or the United States, or go to one of Toronto's better beer bars (Volo, Sin & Redemption, BeerBistro, Bellwoods, Burger Bar, The Only Cafe, etc) and buy a Rochefort 10 or a St. Bernardus Abt 12 first
    • If you like those, you'll probably like Westy 12, and if you don't you probably won't.
    • If you do, then go shell out the bucks to a bar for Westy but let's drive their prices down by buying it only from the cheaper folks - which so far looks like Bellwoods at a promised $30/bottle (maybe share one!)
In conclusion, I am glad the LCBO got this and that I got one, but reports of thousands more purchased for Nove Scotia and Alberta, both with a far lower population means I can't help but wonder how and why the LCBO let this situation unfold as it did.

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