The Box Game

If you want to know how 40% of my week is spent, I can tell you: it's usually spent dealing with the many perils of whiskey packaging. Yes, whisky packaging—as in those flimsy little cardboard boxes and tins that sometimes come with a bottle of booze. They're responsible for a huge chunk of my work load during the average shift. Why? Because of the many invariables that revolve around their very existence. The uncontrollable (or sometimes very controllable) forces of fate that decide which customer gets which box, and if or if not that box even makes it to the customer at all. In this new age of whiskey collecting, the original packaging is very important, and can often determine resale value. Therefore, it's very important to certain consumers that both the bottle of whiskey and the packaging it came in be delivered in perfect condition. I'm not at all making light of that, or of the various value systems that separate our motivations. I get it, and most of all, I want all of our customers to get the packaging in the condition they want it. I'm not here to opine as to whether one should or should not care about the box (I have in the past, but I've since changed my tune). I'm just here to share a few fun facts with you. 

Here are some things you should know about whiskey boxes and the perils of booze distribution:

- The price of the box is NOT included in the price of the whiskey—at least on invoice to K&L. I know that some customers think if they buy a bottle of whisky, the price of the gift box was included and is therefore theirs by right. However, this is not fully accurate. Just about every single day I get a booze delivery, there are at least a few whisky bottles delivered without packaging. Regardless of their condition, the price on invoice is exactly the same—with the box or without it. If the distribution company delivers me 24 bottles of Lagavulin, the price is the same no matter the condition of the bottles. Now, I have the right to refuse delivery if I don't like what I see, but some whiskies are allocated and rare; meaning if I refuse delivery, I'm refusing the only bottles available. If my allocation of Yamazaki 18 is one bottle a month and my one bottle comes without a box, I can either take it or leave it—same price, either way.

- But David, why would some bottles come without boxes? For a number of reasons. Maybe a bottle broke at the distribution warehouse and leaked whiskey all over the eleven other cardboard boxes in the case. Maybe the case was jostled during transport and all the gift boxes were damaged and unpresentable, so the distributor decided just to toss them before delivery (that happens all the time). Maybe they forgot to add lids at the distillery (I've opened up at least twenty cases of Glenfiddich that had tubes, but no lids). Maybe another retailer complained about not getting a gift box in his delivery, and forced the distributor to take a box from my delivery to compensate. Yes, that happens! It happens at K&L, too, when a customer writes to request packaging after the fact. Where else am I going to get a single whisky box from? Which then only means that some customer down the line will be without the gift box, and the process will repeat itself. It's like musical chairs. There are about five hundred ways that a cheap, flimsy piece of cardboard or tin can be mishandled between the distillery and you, the consumer. Oh, and when those bottles show up smashed, dented, torn, crushed, dismantled, or rattling around in some random unmarked case, the price on the invoice is still the same. 

-Here's the real tricky one: did you know that some whiskies come packaged half-and-half? Meaning half of the case has a gift box and the other half doesn't? I'll bet you didn't know that! For example, when I slice open a case of Compass Box Oak Cross, three of the bottles have gift boxes and three of them don't. Same goes for the Carpano Antica vermouth in those beautiful tins everyone loves to collect so much. Three have tins, three don't. Guess what—the price is the same for all six bottles, regardless of whether they have a tin or not. So when people ask me: didn't this come with a box? I have to say: that depends on which of the six bottles you're talking about. 

Now imagine all of those situations that happen in between the distillery and K&L, and then add our own clumsiness into that equation. You think I haven't broken a bottle of whiskey before, and then watched that whiskey soak into five other cardboard gift boxes, rendering what's left into a mushy pulp? If you see six bottles of Talisker on the shelf without boxes, that's likely what happened. We do our best at K&L to bring you each bottle of whiskey in supreme condition, but there's no way we can ever guarantee the integrity of every whiskey box. Especially when we're not in control of the entire process. 

Just some food for thought.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll