Price outside Bourbon? Back to Scotch
You’re in a high-end liquor store, the kind with shelves full of impressive whiskey and brandy bottles, each adorned with chunky corks and gold labels with double-digit age statements.
At eye level, in a locked display case, is a large silver box whose sliding doors open to reveal a bottle with sloping shoulders nestled gently in a velvety lining. It is filled with a mahogany-colored liquid surrounding a glass bird with outstretched wings, suspended as if it had been discovered in a piece of amber. The price is a cool $ 14,999.
For years this truly top shelf has been dominated by luxury single malt Scotch whiskey. But the bottle displayed in front of you is not a Glen or a Johnnie; it’s a bourbon. To be precise, the 20-year-old Double Eagle Very Rare from Buffalo Trace.
When I first started drinking whiskey early in the last decade, the idea of a $ 1,500 bottle of bourbon (not to mention a $ 15,000 bottle) would have seemed downright laughable. Back then, even Pappy Van Winkle had a reputation for being a really good bourbon, probably worth around $ 100 for a retail bottle and $ 12 for a drink at the bar. George T. Stagg’s bottles have gathered dust months after their annual release. Blanton’s was often bought in the dark, with clueless shoppers gravitating around its chubby pomegranate shape and cute horse topper. More or less all the bourbon was sold in ignorance; no one could predict the cult status these whiskeys would soon attain. Back then, the light of Scotch whiskey was shining so bright that all other whiskeys were in its shadow.
But just 10 years ago, the change was underway. Scotch prices have been on the rise in recent years as distillers try to balance increased demand for well-aged single malt with dwindling stocks. Over the decade, prices rose even more, some by over 100%, and once-common phrases began to disappear.
Scotch makers were optimistic that demand would continue and were producing more whiskey each year. But single malt takes years and years of aging to reach maturity, and during that time there was plenty of bourbon available for little more than the cost of a dinner for two at Applebee’s.
As a local whiskey, bourbon has always sold more than Scotch whiskey in the United States, largely because it has always been much cheaper. It uses cheaper ingredients, spends less time aging, and has rarely been marketed as a luxury item the way scotch has.
Yet, in terms of quality, bourbon and scotch are often equal; bourbon was simply undervalued by comparison. Ten years ago, 12-year-old Elijah Craig cost $ 30 and was available everywhere. Special releases, like the $ 50 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, were rarer but still relatively easy to find when they first released. For a regular bourbon drinker at the time, this might just have been accessible follies. For a scotch drinker, that was good business.
And just as scotch drinkers, weary of scotch prices, began to turn to bourbon, newcomers entered the fold, experiencing the joys of bourbon for the first time.
The increase in demand has predictably created pressure on supply and bourbon is now following the same path as scotch. Ryan Maloney, owner of whiskey destination Julio’s Liquors in Westborough, Massachusetts, sees the trend in his own store, with longtime bourbon fans starting to get overpriced. “You’re going to another part of town or to a place that isn’t as built up, are you?” He said, comparing the trend in buying real estate. “And you go in there and everybody builds it so that no one can afford to be there again.” So even you, if you were to look for it again, couldn’t afford to live where you live now.
While bourbon’s undervaluation has been rightly corrected, the pendulum, in many cases, has swung too far the other way. And price inflation is out of control, with many illegal retailers and resellers pushing prices to extremes far beyond what the distillers themselves consider fair. Take the obvious example of the antique collection from Buffalo Trace. The distillery has a recommended retail price of $ 100 a bottle, but the desperate Bourbon Brothers are paying several times that price in the aftermarket. Retailers would be crazy to leave such a profit on fins, so they price it accordingly. In fact, many stores list other bottles in demand – not just whiskeys like Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch, but everyday drinkers like Henry McKenna and Wild Turkey Rare Breed – way above the SRP, assuming they will move. And they do.
This landscape is compounded by the pressures created by the artisanal distillation movement and the brand’s ownership gold rush. With millions of dollars invested in start-up costs, new distillers can’t afford to wait more than a few years for their bourbon to age, and they can’t afford the price online with Woodford Reserve or Jim. Beam White Label. . They need cash as quickly as possible, and that’s how you end up with a two-year-old bourbon that sells for $ 80.
Plus, everyone and their mom seem to be launching their own brand of bourbon these days, either bottling excess barrels from cottage producers or buying aged liquid from brokers. It’s been going on for years, but according to Lisa Roper Wicker, president and chief distiller of Brooklyn’s Widow Jane Distillery, the field has become much more crowded and the prices for barrels of aged bourbon have risen significantly.
These new brands are hitting shelves with prices that would have seemed outrageous just a few years ago: $ 200 for Sweetens Cove, $ 230 for Blue Run and $ 1,500 for a limited edition Rabbit Hole. Years in the barrel can justify such impressive prices, but age is no guarantee of quality, especially for bourbon.
Bourbon prices are now so extreme that scotch seems downright reasonable in comparison. I’m not talking about the stratospheric stuff – the $ 40,000 50-year-old Balvenie, the $ 2,500 30-year-old Bowmore or even the $ 330 Macallan 18 – but the flagship single malts that have stood the test of time. and can be obtained for less than what you pay for Booker’s Bourbon. All the spirit that Scottish distillers began to produce in the mid to late years is coming of age, more mature than ever in the history of scotch. As a result, there are plenty of high quality scotches that are 10-15 years old that seem like a good deal.
These whiskeys aren’t glamorous by Bourbon Brothers standards, but they are well made, well matured and delicious. They are definitely worth a spin in your glass. Bourbon drinkers who have never started with scotch will find new flavor worlds to explore, while old scotch fans will be able to rediscover the whiskeys they once loved with the benefit of a more seasoned palate.
Below are six of my favorite single malt scotches that retail for $ 60 or less. The next time you’re out shopping, hand over that overpriced single barrel bourbon and buy one instead.
Glenmorangie Original ($ 35)
This Highland single malt stands out for its consistent high quality and is full of flavor. It’s a decade of age and enough complexity to satisfy discerning palates without alienating a newcomer.
Loch Lomond 12 years ($ 40)
Built in the 1960s, this distillery has two types of stills: traditional “swan neck” and “straight neck” pots surmounted by columns with rectifying plates. Additionally, Loch Lomond works with three levels of peat in its malt and ferments about double the usual time with wine yeast, creating a whiskey dripping with tropical fruit, honey and a convincing malt base.
Glenfarclas 10 years ($ 48)
Glenfarclas is one of Scotland’s last family-owned distilleries, making whiskeys with character, roundness and deep flavor. Many of them, including this one, are completely aged in oloroso sherry casks. Increase your budget by $ 7 and you can snag the 12 year old.
12 year old Pulteney ($ 50)
Its slogan is “maritime malt” and the salty sea air swirling around this northern distillery has permeated the whiskey, blending perfectly with the flavors of nuts and spices. Pulteney is famous for its stocky, bulbous stills, including one with a sawn neck, proving that beautiful whiskey can come from even the poorest containers.
Benriach the original ten ($ 54)
Master Blender Rachel Barrie launched a new recipe for this Speyside distillery’s entry-level single malt in 2020, with an emphasis on texture as much as flavor. The result is a silky, creamy caress of a dram, flavored with stone fruit and toasted nuts. Like a pinch of peat in your scotch? Try The Smoky Ten for just $ 6 more.
Craigellachie 13 years old ($ 60)
The meaty and oily character of this whiskey comes from old-fashioned production techniques and equipment, including an oil-fired malt oven and worm condensers. An unusual age statement, just a cut above the more common 12-year-old, lends additional charm and complexity.