• Mark Still

How I shop for whiskey

The full title was going to be 'How I shop for whiskey and other lies used to justify my actions' but that hit a bit too close to home.

I like to say that I don’t collect whiskey but when I say that out loud, even some close friends and family roll their eyes. I stand by the statement. I only have bottles that I haven’t opened yet. I will open them. Why so many bottles if I’m not collecting? Well, I’m just being economically practical. Really.

We’re in a rising market for whiskey and have been for the last decade. It only makes sense to buy the bottles I know I like before the price goes up and that means buying them today rather than tomorrow.

How is it that I seem to always have an open Old Weller Antique and no hesitation pouring from it any day of the week? Simple. I have a pile of them I paid $28 for years ago. I know that at some point, I’ll have to decide for myself if I’d pay $80 or $100 for that same bottle but that’s a decision for another day. I did pay $60 for a few last year but, again, rising market. By the time I crack those open, they could be going for $150 each. Or not. Whatever, I like the whiskey anyway.

If this approach makes sense to you, here are some tips for being a practical whiskey buyer in today’s market.

Know what you like. This means tasting different whiskey and noting which bottles you like and which you don’t. It’s only a good value if you like the whiskey.

Decide what those bottles are worth to you. I like Henry McKenna 10 year Bottled In Bond. I like it a lot at $35, I like it ok at $45, but I’m not so excited past $50. I know what it’s worth to me.

Watch the market for these bottles. You know what they are worth to you independent of MSRP or how a store prices them and that’s all that matters. If they are routinely on sale, they either aren’t worth what the distillery thinks or they are worth more so they make good bait for store sale events. Either way, you like it and a good price is a good price.

Who’s ridiculous now? Yeah, it’s still me but at least I’m ridiculously drinking bourbon some people are hunting as if it’s about to crap a golden egg.

A few years ago, when a local store put that Henry McKenna on sale for $25, I didn’t hesitate to take a few home with me.* I already knew I liked it. I already knew what it was worth to me. Less thinking, more drinking. Don’t miss an opportunity.

Sure, it seemed ridiculous at the time that I had more of those bottles on my shelf than most stores but then it won some prestigious spirits competition, twice, and now $50 seems like a steal and some people will pay $100. Who’s ridiculous now? Yeah, it’s still me but at least I’m ridiculously drinking bourbon some people are hunting as if it’s about to crap a golden egg.

I don’t really care what other people think OWA or McKenna is worth. I don’t really even care what stores are charging for them now or what the secondary market makes of it either. I’ve done my homework and I know there are 20 other bottles I like just as much that are still flying under the radar. Where’s my buggy?

*Yes, just a few. Don’t be a tool. Leave some on the shelf for the other geeks. Also, it helps to know your whiskey. McKenna 10 is a single barrel offering and single barrels vary. Most of these are at least good but there are no guarantees so I don’t want 5 bottles from one barrel. Don’t get all your bourbon from a single barrel … or some such axiom.

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