You Get What You Pay For... Or, Do You?
“You get what you pay for” is one of the oldest sayings in society. My grandmother used to say it to me when she would shop for fresh fruit. I have heard it applied to any number of things; from furniture, to financial planners, to toilet paper (which is totally true, by the way). The one area where I’ve noticed that the saying doesn’t apply is with whiskey. For some reason, there seems to be no direct correlation between the price of whiskey and it’s quality. In fact, some of the highest rated and most popular whiskeys on the market are very affordable, Old Grand-Dad Bottled-in-Bond can be had for under $30 in most markets, as can Bottled-in-Bond offerings from Evan Williams, Barton and many others. “Bottled-in-Bond” is considered to be the standard for the highest quality bourbon in the US. According to the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897, there are four major requirements for a spirit to be labeled as Bottled in Bond:
It must be the product of one distillation season (January-June or July-December).
It must have been distilled by one distiller at one single distillery.
It must have been aged in a federally bonded warehouse for at least four years.
It must be bottled at a minimum of 100 proof.
This discrepancy between price and quality isn’t limited to bourbon. Many Scotch drinkers prefer the flavor of 15-year iterations over 18 or even 20+ year versions. The same can be said of Japanese Whisky as well. There are many factors that influence the price of a whiskey, including production volume, mash bill, wholesale costs, and marketing budget just to name a few. Pricing whiskey isn’t an exact science, and higher prices shouldn’t be viewed as a direct pathway to higher quality.
So how is a "Bourbon Curious" drinker supposed to know what’s quality and what isn’t?
Well, the true answer is that the only way to know is to try all different price points (that you can afford) and see what you like. There is no wrong answer. If you love the flavor profile of a bottle of OGD BiB, then lucky you, it’s readily available for under $30. One of last year’s most celebrated bourbons, Henry McKenna 10-Year, was readily available for under $40, although in some markets the price has become more inflated as demand has increased. There’s also nothing wrong with sitting back and savoring a dram of George T. Stagg every once-in-a-while, either. At the end of the day, drink what you like, how you like. Just don’t come over to my house and pour Coke in my Calumet Farm…
This article was originally published in Bourbon Zeppelin Newsletter on October 15, 2018.