Whisky Box Blues

I had an email exchange recently with a friend about the new age of whisky consumerism, the one that prizes ratings over flavor and packaging over consumption. Unless you're a retailer, I don't think it's possible to understand how troubling this trend is. To give you an example: if a bottle of wine is worth $10, we don't hear too many complaints about the quality of the label attached to it. However, when we sell a bottle of wine for $300 there are a number of expectations from the consumer that extend far beyond the juice inside of it. Is the label centered? Are there any scratches or stains? Is the corner of the label peeling off? Any little fault can make or break a sale with discerning customers because they're buying an object to be displayed or gifted rather than a substance to be consumed.

All of this is taken to a new level, however, when it comes to whisky. Because many whisky bottles are packaged in tins or boxes, the collectable-minded customer is very, very interested in possessing these extra additions. When we're shipping bottles in tight, form-fitting, Styrofoam containers, there's little room for a canister or bulky box, which can seriously complicate things. To many buyers in the new age of whisky consumerism, the box is just as important as the bottle. Like an action figure collector who leaves the plastic model in the plastic, many collectors of whisky are not interested in a bottle without its packaging.

Now we know this trend with whisky is nothing new, but I can't even begin to stress how much more complicated it's becoming. If you were to look at my email inbox right now there are at least forty emails from customers related to a problem with whisky packaging. Where's the box? My box is wrinkled. I didn't get my container. The packaging was damaged in transit. And the fallout from the Karuizawa deal is absolutely insane. I'm getting emails from all over the world, asking if we have extra cardboard boxes or extra labels due to shoddy packaging jobs from third-party shippers. Because we are limited in the number states we can legally ship to, a number of collectors purchased bottles from us and had their friends take care of the shipping surreptitiously. When the packages arrived with smeared labels, leakage stains, or damaged cardboard, these guys immediately looked up my email and reached out about securing an extra display box or adhesive label. Not an extra bottle, mind you -- because the whisky arrived in fine condition -- but extra packaging, stemming from a problem that had nothing to do with K&L whatsoever.

I'm happy to provide any customer with any extras that should arrive with a bottle of whisky, be it a metal tin, a cardboard display box, or a wooden case. The expectation, however, that these extras should be automatically included, or shipped at no cost (but at a cost to K&L, of course) is a bit aggravating. Then, when we do include the packaging (some of the cheapest, flimsiest materials around, mind you), many consumers are often not satisfied with the condition in which it arrives because it can't have a ding, dent, or scratch on it. I'm at the point where I'm asking vendors to simply stop packaging their whisky in any type of container whatsoever. It's a huge headache for us and it's only getting worse.

This is why we're no longer including packaging for most of our K&L Exclusive single malts. Like our new Signatory whiskies, for example, which normally come in metal tins. We told them simply this year: "We're no longer interested in the packaging." Only bottles for us from now on, if we can help it. No tins with this year's crop, just the straight glass.

That way there's nothing to get upset about.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll