You’ve been skirting around the idea of getting a little more serious about whiskey and bourbon. You’ve tried it in cocktails, shared drams with friends, maybe been to tastings and specialist bars and now you realise your home bar is lacking in the bourbon and whiskey stakes and want to rectify that. So where do you start? Where do you go to buy your amber nectar?
Well, let’s start with some personal factors:
1 – Where are you on your whiskey journey? Are you only just beginning to drink whiskey and are still determining if its for you? Or have you already taken the first step into the rabbit hole and accepted that every spare cent will now be devoted to worshipping the Bountiful Bourbon gods and Wonderful Whiskey wizards?
2 – Budget – of course this is personal. But remember what you are looking for is value for money, and that too is personal.
3 – Consumption – just to be clear, life is short. Pop the cork and drink the liquid. Or not, it’s your choice. But if you are not someone who drinks every day, or even every week, how many bottles of spirts are really needed*?
*Let’s be honest, once you are in the grip of enjoying whiskey and bourbon, some level of sensibility remains, but not as much as we all think we have. Combinations of FOMO (see whiskey community), great marketing (see whiskey community and social media), excellent brand ambassadors (see great marketing) and of course great drams, will all combine to ensure you will always have enough if not more than enough whiskey to see you through the longest winter.
When people begin their appreciation of bourbon and whiskey it can generally be within a social situation and therefore a purchase of a dram in a bar or a share of a bottle with friends and a guided tasting will mean no commitment to buying a full bottle; and buying your first full bottle can be daunting. Have you had it before? Will you like it? What will you do with it if you don’t like it. And yes, whiskey and bourbon aren’t always the cheapest of the main spirits groups.
Where to buy whiskey and bourbon
1 – Supermarket – It’s likely that many people will buy their first bottle from a supermarket. Over the last few years, the range of spirits in supermarkets has improved considerably so you can pick up a reasonably priced well-known brand which will give you value for money. Bourbons such as Makers Mark, Buffalo Trace and Bulleit all coming in at around the $20 - $25 area and higher end products such as Angels Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon at @$45.00 (Walmart online, checked 11/08/2023). As much as bourbons are great neat or over ice, they are fantastic for cocktails, or even warming up a coffee or hot chocolate in winter.
2 – State controlled stores – in some areas of the US, alcohol can only be purchased via a state-controlled vendor. For the consumer, this may mean limitations on when you can buy alcohol (some stores may not be open on legislated days, such as holidays) and where you can buy alcohol. The NABCA (National Alcohol Beverage Control Association) website provides further details on the history of state-controlled alcohol and numerous reports detailing health, welfare, and economic effects of alcohol on society. (| National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (nabca.org))
3 – Online – the world of online whiskey and bourbon is huge. Depending on where you live and local import/export regulations, you are now faced with the opposite dilemma to buying in a supermarket. From a limited range to what may feel like a limitless range that will test your nerve and budget forever.
To (mis)quote the fantastic puppet musical, Avenue Q “The internet is for…. whiskey”.
4 – Distillery – let’s face it, for those reading who may not be so new to the world of bourbons and whiskies, there is nothing quite like visiting a distillery. You have a tour, maybe meet the distiller, and you have a tasting. Then you “exit through the gift shop”. Distilleries may have exclusive bottles not available anywhere else and of course, the top of dram fans list, a bottle-your-own opportunity. This is where you can hand pull a bottle of whisky from a barrel direct. You may pay a premium price for this, so be sure you really like that liquid!
5 – Auction/Auction sites – the secondary market in the whiskey and bourbon industry is thriving. If you have missed a release or are looking for a particular bottle or just wanting to add a little more excitement to your purchasing this could be for you. You may find a bargain, you may not. However, do remember to practice restraint if you have a limited budget. It’s very easy to get carried away chasing unicorns. Make sure you are fully informed of the extra charges associated with an auction buy and carry out your due diligence on that auction company. Are they reputable? Do they have good reviews? Check with other whiskey folk for their take on it.
Lastly, but no means least, you may also wish to buy not just a bottle, but a cask of whiskey. Barrel Global can help you with this.
Barrel Global is on a mission to make whiskey barrel ownership accessible to collectors worldwide. As the first ever global marketplace for whiskey barrels, you can connect with distilleries and collectors around the world to build your own portfolio. For a whiskey experience unlike any other, request access today.