First LCBO pop-up is a whisky wonderland

Master distiller Joshua Beach pours sip-sized samples of Wayne Gretzky’s whiskies – the latest of which is finished in ice wine casks – to some very curious and thirsty tipplers at an unexpected spot that looks like an upscale King West bar.

Normally Beach gives tutored tastings of his popular blends at either the hockey legend’s Niagara winery and distillery or at LCBO stores. Instead No. 99 Red Cask Canadian Whisky and Gretzky’s new Ice Cask were front and centre at the end of October at the liquor retailer’s first ever pop-up store – a trendy departure from the relatively staid government-run stores.

“We were literally just walking by on our way to The Keg and we saw the LCBO sign, but it didn’t seem like a typical LCBO so we decided to take a look,” said Tim Romero, a 30-year-old who lives in Liberty Village.

“It’s set up like a really cool start-up,” noted the RBC employee, who ordered a flight of American whiskies for $10 with his buddy and then joined in on the freebie tasting of The Great One’s smooth spirits.

Romero and his friend are exactly the millennial market the LCBO says it is targeting in its latest effort to modernize and reach a broader clientele, which now includes online ordering and delivery and sales of beer and wine in grocery stores — and will soon extend to the creation of separate cannabis storefronts once pot is legalized next July.

The pop-up is strategically located at King St. and Portland St., a heavy traffic area for the coveted 19- to 34-year-old urban consumers, who are being offered a “more intimate experience than a regular LCBO store,” says Kerri Dawson, the chain’s vice-president of marketing.

The 2,000-square-foot space (previously a Haagen Dazs pop-up shop) showcases more than 150 brands from around the world that are available for tasting and purchasing on-site. (J.P. MOCZULSKI FOR THE TORONTO STAR)

Ken Wong, professor of marketing and business strategy at the Smith School of Business at Queens University, says he doesn’t see much downside to the strategy.

“I think this is actually quite clever. It is not without some risks, but these are more political than economic,” he says.



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