I’ve been thinking a lot recently about value in whiskey and what that means to me. I really enjoy trying new things, but can’t help thinking about whether or not I’m getting my money’s worth when I buy something new. There are certain tried and true whiskies that I consistently enjoy that I sometimes think I’d be better off skipping that fancy new bottle and instead buying two or three bottles that I know that I love.
There are certain flavor profiles that stick out to me that I really enjoy and certain bottles hit those marks while others fall short. I tend to find myself judging each new bottle based off preexisting standards that I have subconsciously set for myself. I guess you could say that I have a baseline for what I expect particular varieties of whiskey to taste like and if they don’t meet or build upon that baseline, I don’t enjoy them as much. I’ve found this to be true even with bottles that I really enjoyed in the past. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to try a wide range of whiskies, bottles that used to make the cut just don’t do it for me anymore.
So when I’m thinking about value, I guess I need to define what I mean by that. Value to me is when I can buy a bottle that tastes exceptionally good while also being a reasonable price. A couple of examples of that would be something like Eagle Rare or Weller Special Reserve. Both of these bottles are consistently good for their price points and are relatively easy to find in my area. Eagle Rare goes for roughly $30 and I can typically find Weller Special Reserve for sub-$20. These are both quality pours that perform above their price point. However, for me to consider them to be a value, they must remain at that price point. Once we begin to move the slider northwards of $30, we see the value begin to drop because while they are both good bourbons, they’re not necessarily anything special and there are better bourbons to be had beyond that $30 mark.
With that said, bourbon and rye as a whole have very good bottles for $50 or less. Most bourbon or rye I’ve had beyond that price point are only marginally better than their less expensive counterparts. In today’s market, I feel that the rarity and hype surrounding certain bottles are the only reasons they are commanding such high prices. When you look at the secondary market prices, you begin to wonder why these releases are valued so highly. George T. Stagg at $90-99 MSRP makes sense simply because of its age and availability, but at its secondary market price of $400 or more, its simply not worth that. I have three different batches of Stagg Jr. and the 2018 George T. Stagg. While Stagg Sr. is definitely better than Stagg Jr., it’s not enough for me to warrant paying the hyper-inflated secondary market prices. I was fortunate enough to get my bottle for $149, which I considered to be a fair markup compared to online prices, but I’m not sure that I would pay that again. Stagg Jr. is a fantastic bourbon in its own right and is very close to Stagg Sr. in flavor profile at half the retail price ($53-ish) or 1/8th the secondary price. Think about that. You could buy almost eight bottles of Stagg Jr. for one bottle of George T. Stagg at secondary market value.
Maybe I’m just a penny-pincher, but when I know I can go grab a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel or a bottle of Eagle Rare and be consistently impressed for under $40, it makes dropping any more than that very difficult. Then there are the truly well priced values such as Wild Turkey 101 ($22) or Evan Williams Bottled in Bond ($16!) that are both fantastic for the price and make you wonder why they aren’t priced higher. There used to be other value bourbons like Elmer T. Lee at $39, but sadly it has succumbed to the secondary market and you’ll be hard pressed to find it for less than $100 and that’s if you can even find it at all. I’m afraid this might be the future for all value bourbons if the popularity continues to grow. We’ve seen it this past year with Henry McKenna 10 year ($30) after being named San Francisco’s “World’s Best Bourbon” of 2018. Where it used to be on almost every shelf, there was a definite dip in availability as well as a slight price increase.
Will this trend continue? Is your favorite value bourbon or rye going to double in price or disappear from store shelves entirely? Only time will tell, but I think at some point the hype will peak and prices and availability will slowly begin to return to normal. The bourbon industry has been ramping up production over the last few years and it will be interesting to see if the demand is still there by the time these newly aged barrels come to maturation or if we’ll have an abundance of aged bourbon at fantastic prices. Maybe we’ll even see the return of some aged stated bottles that went away within the past few years.
What are your thoughts on value in whiskey? Do you have some favorite value bottles that you consistently enjoy? Leave a comment below.