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A bottle of Cragganmore 12-year-old scotch sells for $105 at the Yongsan Garrison mini-mall shoppette. The same bottle in the States would sell on special order for about $60.
A bottle of Cragganmore 12-year-old scotch sells for $105 at the Yongsan Garrison mini-mall shoppette. The same bottle in the States would sell on special order for about $60. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — If you’re a drinker with high standards, expect to a pay a lot more for special-order spirits through the Army and Air Force Exchange Service.

Some Scotch whisky sold at AAFES stores is priced far higher than the retail prices found at some online and stateside stores.

For example, a 1-liter bottle of 12-year-old Cragganmore Single Speyside Malt scotch costs $105 at the Yongsan Garrison mini-mall. A search on Froogle, Google’s shopping search engine, and online retail price lists at state-run liquor stores show the same scotch in a 750 ml bottles costing from about $38 to $45. Adding a third more to the price to allow for the same increase in volume from a 750 ml to a 1-liter bottle, the scotch would cost about $50 to $60.

That’s roughly half the price AAFES is charging at the Yongsan store.

Most retail stores in the United States do not carry Cragganmore in 1-liter bottles, which is considered a “bar bottle” because the larger size is sold mostly to taverns.

The manager of a state-run liquor store in Washington and proprietor of a private store in California both say the retail price for a 1-liter bottle of Cragganmore would run about $59 plus sales tax if they special-ordered it.

Products like Cragganmore cost more here because AAFES buys such special-request items at volumes lower than the vendor shipping minimum, said Debbra King, AAFES’ wine, sprits and beverage buyer.

“The prices for these whiskys are in accordance with our pricing guidelines,” King said. “The reason for the higher sell is because they were special-ordered for this particular store based on customer request.”

Special handling costs also figure into the price, King said. But AAFES officials refused to release how much they pay per bottle of the special-order alcohol.

“Cost prices can vary depending on the sourcing used and volume purchased,” Judd Anstey, a spokesman from AAFES’ headquarters in Dallas, said in an e-mail reply to a Stars and Stripes query.

A 1-liter bottle of Laphroaig 10-year-old scotch sells for $63.90 on Yongsan. Laphroaig can be found on the Internet for as low as $30 for a 750 ml bottle. Assuming the added cost for the larger volume, a 1-liter bottle would cost $40, about a third less than the AAFES price.

Liquor sold by AAFES is not subject to sales tax or state excise taxes. Neither is alcohol bought online, although online shoppers typically pay from $10 to $20 a bottle for shipment within the United States.

However, people at overseas military bases cannot take advantage of the online bargains because alcohol cannot be sent through the U.S. or military postal systems, or via international mail.

Servicemembers who want to buy alcohol have the option of doing so while at home on leave, buying at base shops, or spending what may be fruitless time searching for their favorite beverages in their host country.

Even among South Korea’s AAFES shoppettes, prices can fluctuate.

Anstey said in the e-mail that “a variation in pricing may occur if an exchange/store in an overseas location determines that an ‘identical item’ is selling in the local area at a lower price, that exchange/store may lower their sell price to be competitive.”

Sgt. 1st Class Robert Brault, who occasionally buys a bottle of mid- to high-end scotch, says he pays about $10 more per bottle than he would in the United States.

“It’s pretty weird, but where else are you going to go?” Brault asked.

Brault said AAFES’ $100 price for Johnnie Walker Blue Label, a blend of 30-year-old scotches, is considerably cheaper than in most U.S. stores. But, he added, he pays more for the 15-year-old Green Label than he did in the States.

AAFES prices on lower-end liquors, on average, tend to be priced about the same or lower than stateside prices, according to Froogle searches.

South Korea shoppettes also generally receive favorable opinions from servicemembers on beer prices. Several beers, particularly domestic beers, cost less than average retail prices stateside.

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