A few years ago, Wine & Liquor Depot in Van Nuys was the destination for whiskey in the LA area. The shop boasted what was probably the largest selection of independent bottlings of single malt Scotch in the nation. There were hundreds of Cadenheads, Murray McDavids, Douglas Laings and others. The indie bottles were densely stuffed together on two long rows of shelves. It was like Scotch heaven. They also had a great selection of American whiskey, not to mention a lot of brandies, tequila and mezcal.
The store seems like it's been in a slow decline for a while, but it was really driven home to me on my last visit. The rows of indies have been picked over and not restocked, and there are precious few left. Cheap blends and gin now occupy space which formerly held much of the massive indie collection.
There is still a good collection of distillery bottlings and a small collection of rarities. You can get a Loch Dhu, if you dare, a few old Springbanks or George T. Staggs from years past, and the Black Bowmore still sits on its pedestal, out of reach in both height and price.
But the Depot was always about the indies. That's what made it special and what made it a destination for Scotch lovers from across the region and even the country. Now, it's just another pretty good liquor store.
I'm not sure why this happened. It could be the retirement of the former owner; certainly the recession may have played a role or the increased competition as whiskey became bigger and bigger.
There was a time when I looked forward all month to a Depot trip and could easily spend an hour going through their huge stock. That the shop was buried in an unlikely corner of Van Nuys and that it didn't seem to advertise or make any attempt to promote itself whatsoever (or even offer passable customer service) was all part of the charm.
I still go occasionally, but more often than not, I leave empty handed (which never used to happen). Luckily for us LA whiskey geeks, K&L started stepping up its game just as the Depot was entering its decline, so there is no lack of good whiskey to be had, but I must admit, I miss the trips up to Van Nuys, the low key vibe and the still unrivaled selection of years past. But all things must change, I suppose, even one's favorite liquor store.