A Liquor Store Grows in Iselin

While in the mystical land of New Jersey, I went to a wonderful liquor store: Joe Canal’s.

There are strict rules in Pennsylvania governing purchasing alcohol in other states. Therefore, believe me when I say that this was merely a visit for entertainment. I did not purchase many bottles of wine at reasonable prices. The wine that I did not purchase was not of a staggering variety from around the world. I did not take advantage of the discount Joe Canal’s gives when not buying my mixed case of wine. Nor did I peruse the wide selection of fine beers at reasonable prices, which you could buy one bottle at a time instead of in a case. I certainly did not bring back several bottles of Luxardo Maraschino for my friend Nat.

[![Joe Canal 1](http://wptest.tleaves.com/wp- content/uploads/2008/07/20080720-12948-150x150.jpg)

Michael Brenner

](http://wptest.tleaves.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/20080720-12948.jpg “Joe Canal 1” )

I did chat briefly with one of the store managers, Michael Brenner. I am still trying to integrate our conversation into my understanding of the world. For example, when I mentioned some comparatively esoteric spirits, he knew what I was talking about, and knew where they were. He even was able to talk intelligently about what they tasted like, but this would imply that there are liquor store employees who are educated about the product they sell. Isn’t that crazy? It’s almost like I wandered into a Bizarro world: a store that is interested in the product they sell.

I spent, all told, about an hour at Joe Canal’s, picking up and lovingly caressing the bottles that I would have bought, if I didn’t live in Pennsylvania. The staff was quite understanding. They even let me take a few pictures.

Let me give you another quick example: in Pennsylvania, you’re basically lucky to find one ruby port in any given store. (You’ll find several “late bottled vintages” and more expensive Portos, but I subscribe to the theory that the “middle tier” of Portos is actually overpriced and mediocre. I’ve hinted at that before, but it’s really the subject of another article.) In a Pennsylvania State store, the only ruby port you’ll find is Cockburns, and at $12.99/bottle it’s overpriced. You can special order a few others, but there’s a 6 bottle minimum, and they’re also overpriced at $13/bottle.

[![Joecanal 2](http://wptest.tleaves.com/wp- content/uploads/2008/07/20080720-12961-150x150.jpg)


](http://wptest.tleaves.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/20080720-12961.jpg “Joecanal 2” )

In addition to a nice array of late-bottled vintages and vintage ports, Joe Canal’s had 4 different ruby ports on the shelves, and at least two white ports. All of them were $10 a bottle. I did not, of course, buy one of each of the ruby ports, planning an upcoming orgy of inexpensive but quality Porto and stinky blue cheese. Why would I do such a thing? Just because it would mean that I could try each of them in turn, and then plan to buy a case of the one I liked when I returned to New Jersey next month? Such thoughts are beneath me. They never crossed my mind. Even now, I feel slightly sick at the implication that anyone might drive across the border from Philly to shop at a liquor store with a better selection and lower prices than a PLCB state store. Pennsylvanians are above that sort of chicanery.

When I mentioned my recent fascination with Japanese whisky, Michael said “Well, we have the Yamazaki; it’s the only one you can get from wholesalers.” Walking through the aisles, we soon came to the display with the Yamazaki 12 and the Yamazaki 18. The Yamazaki 18 retails for $121 at the PLCB, and is only available by special order. At Joe Canal’s it was an impossibly- inexpensive $80, and available on the shelf. Of course, gentle reader, I don’t need to tell you that I didn’t buy it. I didn’t drink deep its peaty resonance, reveling in both the luxuriousness of the liquor, and in the fact that I had just saved $40. No. I could have done that. But that would have been wrong.

As I drove away from Joe Canal’s, my trunk completely empty and not filled to the brim with inexpensive wines that were tasty and a good value for money, I sighed a deep sigh. Perhaps some day I can come back again, to that magical land of tasty wine, and intelligent people who know how to talk about it: New Jersey.