There’s no easy way to say this, but hard alcohol is getting ever more expensive. Some of my favorites are now favorites of many, many, many other drinkers, which has had the result of driving retail prices to new stratospheric levels and forcing brands to limit their supply to just a few bottles per store in a handful of key select markets.
This premiumization started years ago and I really have myself to blame. Nearly ten years ago, I wrote a story for Money magazine called The Intelligent Investor’s Guide to Spirits. In the article, I revealed some of my favorite undervalued bottles. That certainly didn’t help keep their demand or prices down.
While many of my picks are no longer bargains, I do think there are still some spirits out there that are a great buy. Don’t worry I’ve stocked up. I would suggest you do the same, since prices are surely going to keep going up.
Rittenhouse is the only bottle that I’ve included from the original article. While the suggested retail price has gone up—by $9—it’s still a bargain considering how many inferior ryes sell for double or triple that sum. It’s a potent 100-proof and is beloved by bartenders for its low price and high quality.
If Old Overholt Bottled-in-Bond had been around in 2009, I would have included it in my original story. (And looking back, I really should have featured the standard 80-proof Old Overholt, which is also a great buy.) This whiskey was introduced this past winter and, like Rittenhouse, is 100-proof. These two brands sustained drinkers during rye’s dark years when it wasn’t easy to get the spirit.
Over the last decade, the gin category has exploded with dozens and dozens of new brands. Why the gin rush? Many upstart distillers needed something to sell while their whiskey aged. But making gin isn’t so simple and many of these spirits aren’t great. But some distillers, like the New York Distilling Company in Brooklyn, excel at making both types of alcohol. Its Perry’s Tot Navy Strength Gin sells for around $25, which is a bargain considering how complex it is and the fact that it’s a powerful 114-proof. Don’t be scared, the gin is incredibly smooth and easy to drink.
The price of single malt Scotch has skyrocketed over the last twenty years. In my original story, I picked Highland Park 18-Year-Old, which at the time was a reasonable $85. The same bottle now goes for $140. If you can afford it, buy it, since it’s delicious. However, if you want a deal I think the Glenfarclas 25-Year-Old is deeply undervalued at $175. Other single malts of that same age sell for hundreds more. While the distillery was started in 1836, I don’t think it’s as well-known in America as some of the other Glens, which means it’s less expensive. No doubt the brand will soon catch on, in the meantime drink up.
Some of the greatest liquor buys are bottlings of blended Scotch. The category has been overshadowed by single malt and as a result many blends are undervalued. A prime example is Monkey Shoulder, which is a smooth mix of different single malts without any of the traditional grain whiskey. It’s designed to be easy drinking and used in cocktails, and at $33 a bottle it’s understandable why its sales have grown dramatically.
Like whiskey, it takes great skill and years of barrel aging to make a fine rum. While drinkers are willing to pay up for a bourbon or rye, many rums are still relatively cheap. One to stock up on is the rich Barbancourt Five Star 8-Year-Old, which comes from Haiti and usually sells for $28 but often retails for much less. It’s tough to buy any spirit aged for that long for so little.
While the top shelf for American whiskey has grown ever more crowded, you can still find some real bargains on the bottom shelf. For example, Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon is just $18 and you’d be hard pressed to name a better whiskey for that amount. During the last few years, the stalwart has been overlooked in favor of more expensive bottlings, but it is a favorite of bourbon experts.
Spending $65 on a bottle might not seem like a great deal, but given how hot Japanese whisky has become the last few years and how sought after Nikka From the Barrel is around the world, I think the brand could have asked for much more. (It will no doubt sell for a higher price in some stores.) It just became available in the U.S. this month and is prized because it’s a special blend of Nikka’s grain and malt whiskies.