The Most Comprehensive Guide to the BCL Summer Spirits Release Ever Written

For the 127th year in a row, we give you the straight goods on what's good, bad and ugly at the annual event

The year was 1897 and Cambie Street was still a dusty horse track when we did our first Summer Spirit Release review. Back then, all the BCL sold was rotgut, but thanks to their monopoly status, it was the most expensive rotgut in the country. Things have come a long way since then and—all smart-assery aside—the BCL has shed much (at least some) of their problematic pricing and their buyers are pretty on point to the broad trends in spirits these days. And these seven choices show them at their most plugged in.



The Draw That’s 1000% Worth Entering

It’s been quite a few years since the BCL received any allotment of Pappy van Winkle and to be honest I’ve been a touch underwhelmed by the bourbon selections the past few years. Not no more. This year’s Antique Collection, which is available only via in store draw, is an absolute no brainer investment wise. William Larue Weller Uncut Unfiltered, Sazerac 18, Eagle Rare 17 are all priced at $250 a piece. You could resell (theoretically, or course) any of these with zero problem. Thankfully, you’re not a dirtball speculator, but an aficionado of the high-end that comes from the Buffalo Trace Distillery. For me, any of these three hit the sweet spot for an indulgence (and remember a $250 bottle of whiskey is the same as spending something like $85 on a bottle of wine). I’m entering the draw for all three—you should, too.

The We Take Back What We Say About Blanton’s

In releases past, we’ve been suspicious of certain Blantons. In 2019, we cautioned you to avoid the Plain Jane version as it’s not rare and it’s $35 more than it is elsewhere in Canada. But in 2020 we gave the Gold Label a thumbs up and we’re doing it again: it is rare and, at $140, is quite a bit cheaper than elsewhere if you can find it. And it’s the same price it was back in 2020—tell me one other perishable you can say that for.

The Ardbeg Always and Forever

This one’s a layup. Ardbeg does right by their rabid fans and never double-crosses them by saying something is limited, getting everyone all frothy and hyped and and then just releasing a boatload of the stuff. The one proviso is Wee Beastie—which I lost my mind over in 2020—and is now available everywhere for pretty much the same price. But that is the exception that proves the rule and this year’s offering—the beautiful to look at Spectacular employs used Port casks to added some sweetness to Islay’s legendary smoke. I wish it were $140 instead of $160, but no one ever went broke buying Ardbeg at release prices.


The Confident Whisky Lover’s Choice

This bottle of Laphroaig 10, looks pretty much like every other bottle of the great (but ubiquitous) whisky from Islay—so why is it $60 more? The answer comes from the incredibly subtle green banner on the label that says “Original Cask Strength”. This is a limited, yearly-ish thing they do and this is the 16th time they’ve done it. I personally think the seaweed, iodine-y, smoky profile of Laphroaig works wonderfully at this ABV, but another way to look at it (Scotsman alert) is that you’re really getting almost 33% more spirit, so the price is pretty comparable, while being collectible.

The Aesthete’s Choice

Architects like nice things, that’s a given. And most of them try not to get caught up in mundane things like “cost” or “value” or the “bottom line.” The Dalmore is here for them—the bottle, with its uber-classic stag head, was already one of the most striking in all of whiskydom and then to really lean into to be the aesthetic, they went and partnered with Melodie Yeung of Zaha Hadid Architects to help create a pretty small run (20,000 bottles) of Luminary No. 2, a 16-year old malt that’s aged in both port (from Graham’s, no less) and sherry casks for a lovely round and rich approach. At $500, it’s pricey for a 16-year old malt, but The Dalmore isn’t really about the price-matching game—they prefer the elevation of those who think a $1,500 shower head is keeping it real.

The Insanely Expensive, Incredibly Cheap Canadian Entry

Calgary’s Alberta Distillers is a national treasure—no other distillery in the country even comes close to their track record of price and quality over the past several decades. It’s made such a practice of offering such insanely good rye at such a low price that I do fear we’ve taken them a bit for granted. Take the release a few years back of Reifel Rye, an excellent product that’s still finding its feet… because it’s $40. If the exact juice in the bottle was released by some American “craft” re-bottler, people would line up to pay $100 for it. Truth. So what are people going to make of this (gulp) $135 bottle of the inaugural Alberta Distiller’s Rare Batch? Well, if they’re true whiskey aficionados, they’ll buy a case because they’ll realize that this 23-year old if actually a truly rare chance to harness a spirit bottled in 2000 that has the confident elegance and (prairie) pedigree of XO Cognac. Love, love, love this bottle.

The “Things Were Going So Well, BCL!”

I feel like if you spent some time amongst the brown spirits at the release, you’d be well prepared to hobknob with spirits lovers in any world capital and come across as knowledgeable and sophisticated. On the other hand, were you to spend some time in the tequila offering, you’d show up at a party telling people about this new premium brand “El Tesoro” and they’d make polite small chat and then laugh at you once you left to climb back on your turnip truck. Too much? Maybe, and it’s not like El Tesoro is bad tequila, but it’s tequila you can but at any retailer in the U.S. for $50 without even value shopping, and BCL is charging $130 for the Blanco and a ridiculous $156 for the Reposado. If you think that’s a fluke, I’ll have you know that they’re also peddling a tequila from Ole, the company that makes the 4th best brand of RTD in the BCLs. Fun, right? You know what’s less fun? It’s $90! Mi Dios, indeed.