Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Breaking the $100 Mark


My last post's complaint about the rising price of whiskey and my proposal to avoid American whiskeys over $100 led to some good discussion in the blog comments, on Twitter and on Reddit (which has a thriving bourbon community). Many agreed and said they already adhered to a similar rule (My Annoying Opinions has laid out a whole scale of what he thinks should be the maximum price for a given age of whiskey).  Others thought it was too late or there were too few people willing to do anything about rising prices, and of course, some folks just think I'm stupid, cuz, you know, it's the internet. 

All of this made me think back to the first bottle I shelled out more than $100 for, surely a landmark in the life of a whiskey nerd.  It was about ten years ago. I had been tasting lots of whiskey, mostly Scotch, and had started reading books and internet forums to learn more.  I headed out to a liquor store known for having a huge selection of independent bottlings.  I probably spent an hour there daunted by the selection, but I indeed found one of the bottles I'd been reading so much about.  It was $130!  I was nervous.  Was any bottle of whiskey worth this much?  I sheepishly walked to the register, fearing judgment, but the shop owner just rang it up.  When I got home, I scratched off the price tag out of my own embarrassment at doing something so frivolous.

That was my first Port Ellen.  It was good.  There would be more, but they wouldn't cost $130.

I'm guessing lots of my readers have broken the $100 mark (and if you haven't, hats off to you!).  Do you remember the first time you spent more than $100 on a bottle?  What bottle was it?  Was it worth it?


43 comments:

kaiserhog said...

SKU: Keep up the pressure. One should not pay $100.00 or more for good whiskey.

Sofian said...

Oh god, it was the Rittenhouse 25. I had to ask the manager to take it out of the glass case. I've never held something so carefully before in my life.

Anonymous said...

Have not gone over $100 yet. Paid just over $90 for WLW. That's as close as i've come. I have been looking for a bottle of Super Nova as I have a friend coming in town soon that loves scotch. Other than that, I will not go over the $100 mark for bourbon, but will do for scotch.

Matt L said...

A.H Hirsch 16 for $100 even in 2008. First tasted in a bar in Pittsburgh, I thought it was the best bourbon I'd ever tasted. My favorite ever has since changed, and I've spent over $300 for many bottles since, but that Hirsch was the first. I actually still have several ounces of it vatted down into small boston rounds. Savoring it to say the least. :)

Sam Komlenic said...

I got the blue wax A.H. Hirsch when it first came to Pennsylvania about 16 years ago. It cost $50, which was an outrageous amount for an American whiskey at the time. I bought three and gave away two to good friends.

My most expensive bottle ever was Parker's Promise of Hope at $90, and I justified that because it was a benefit bottling.

My focus these days is on finding the least expensive excellent whiskeys I can, and that quest is proving that Bottled in Bond whiskeys are the best bourbons for the money anywhere.

Anonymous said...

Amazingly, I’ve yet to break the $100 mark for any bottle of spirit.

I had to check and re-check my records to make sure but thus far I’ve yet to purchase anything over $100.

I stick to more bourbon than scotch.

Keep up the Great Work!
Amity

My Annoying Opinions said...

Duncan Taylor's Caperdonich 1968-2007, cask 2619 was mine ($150). I still remember the adrenalin rush I felt in placing the order and the fear when I opened the bottle and poured the first drink. What if it were bad? How would I justify having spent so much money? Luckily, I loved it (and a couple of years later found another bottle for the same price).


These days, of course, you could pay more for a bottle of the Ardbeg Supernova....

Mark said...

For me, it was a birthday present to myself a little over a year ago - Old Pulteney 21, for $110. I feel a little better since it had the 21 yr age statement, 46%, etc.

I recently broke the $200 mark for the first time on some Benrinnes 23.

Andrew Elms said...

Really have issues going over the $100 mark. Of course, that hasn't stopped me too much. It did stop me from picking up more PHC promise of Hope, and that even seems like a mistake. I had stayed away from that price point for years. Then my wife broke it for me when returning from vacation. It happened that Yamazaki 18 matched the amount of cash she had left. Fortunately for me, shedding want to go back to the currency exchange.

I have such a hard time paying over $50 when I look at the shelves and I see Elmer T. Lee smiling at me through that nice amber cloud. $35! I could probably limit myself to that and be happy for the rest of my life.

No just need to turn down the shop owner when he offers me the next allocation item.

Cheers,
Andy

Andrew said...

Coming to drinking age and being enthusiastic about whisky has been hard, hearing about all the insane low prices people were paying just a few years ago when I was in high school. Despite the fact that you're all talking about something younger than a decade, you might as well be telling me you remember when gas was 10c per litre. But I have broken the $100 barrier, painfully, the Four Roses 2013 LESmB for $120 here in Alberta, Canada.

webaggression said...

My first +$100 was Pappy 15 and I'd do it again.

On buying overpriced whiskey, I passed on an opportunity for this year’s Thomas H. Handy (as much as I wanted to add it to my collection) the seller had a huge mark up. Also had some opportunities at Pappy and both were also way marked up. I understand supply and demand but there are way too many good, reasonably priced whiskies out there. Sad thing is, you blink and someone had already purchased all three of my opportunities. Oh well, I’ll be digging into the bunker this year.

MattO said...

Mine was a PVW 23. It was also the first 750 I paid over $50 for. It popped up online at The Party Source in late 2011, so I was able to get it for MSRP. I had a much more limited basis for comparison then, but I loved it. I drank it with my brother and dad, used it for several memorable toasts, and also made sure to pair it with things like a mid-season episode of Psych. When I finally laid it to rest, it was with great satisfaction, though part of me is sad not to have held back a couple of ounces for my more experienced self.

Marduk said...

1979 Macallan Gran Reserva 18 y/o for MSRP of $150 back in 2005 - and still unopened. Some day, me or my estate will cash in for $10,000+, probably to the Asians, who love their luxury status goods like no other.

Yesteryear, All BTAC was $45 and easy to find. Highland Park 18 and Yamazaki 18 were $80 too.

The Golden Age of Whisky is long gone suckers. Wish you were there. http://bit.ly/1qDY8bi

Marduk said...

http://whiskyadvocate.com/whisky/2013/04/29/is-this-the-golden-age-of-whisky/

David D said...

I think the first bottle over $100 I bought was Brora 30, but I can't remember for sure. I only drank a third of it, then I divided it up into samples and gave it to the rest of the K&L staff. It was either the Brora or an old bottle of Bordeaux wine.

Everything being talked about here has already happened and continued to happen in the wine world--especially with California wine. Right now the WORST wines (the sweetest, oakiest, most extracted) are the $100 bottles and people are drinking them like crazy.

Imagine this: imagine that Angel's Envy Cask Strength, Michter's 20, and Whistle Pig Boss Hog became the standard, replacing things like BTAC, Pappy, and other Four Roses LE whiskies in the minds of consumers, because they were simple, straightforward, flashy, and easy to understand. That's what's happened to CA wine. The people paying $100 have no idea what they're paying for. All they want is something "smooth", and they think that's what makes a wine expensive.

That started happening six years ago and it sure as hell ain't slowing down. It happened because consumers didn't want tannic, earthy wines that you had to wait a decade for before drinking; even though that's exactly what you were paying for: potential for maturation. That's a massive part of what makes a wine expensive (just like actual maturation with whisky); or it used to be. The new consumers didn't want to wait, however. They wanted wine to drink NOW, and they still wanted it to be expensive so they could feel a sense of luxury. The industry responded and now there are many new Napa millionaires.

In turn, the $100 NAS whiskey bottles are a response to what consumers want (not us here, but the majority of the market). Literally every day at least five people walk into K&L and ask for $100 bottles of Bourbon, unwilling to spend less even if I try to recommend something else. Five years ago we didn't have any because Bourbon didn't cost that much. Now we do. Just like with CA wine, some are not worth the money, but that's irrelevant. The standards for what $100 should give you have totally changed, and no amount of explanation or rationalization matters.

Most people get mad at me when I give them the CA wine spiel, so I've stopped doing it. Now I say, "I think you'll love that Caymus Special Select, ma'am" and bite my tongue.

sku said...

David D., as usual, you bring a really interesting perspective. I too get emails asking for a $100 bourbon. I still tell people there's no reason to spend that much for great bourbon, but I guess it's a nice round number.

David D said...

SKU--I think it's a matter of expectations. I know I've walked into shops before, looking for a gift for someone with a budget of $100. Bourbon makes a great gift in this new age of enthusiasm, so people use $100 as the budget standard and go from there, I think. $100 is the new $50. Just like $1,000,000 is the new $500,000 for a house in my neighborhood (which is why I'll be a renter for life).

It's not just whiskey though. It's happening in all facets of life. I saw a $1000 skateboard the other day. Remember in the 1980s when skateboards were for street kids and they cost $20? Ten editions of Tony Hawk video games later, we have $1000 skateboards.

But we still have more than 30 great Bourbons on our shelf for less than $50. Blanton's, Buffalo, Eagle, Four Roses, Russell's, Elijah, Evan, etc. The new limited releases are always going to be $100 now because they're new. They're being made precisely for that purpose. When have you ever walked into a clothing store where the brand new Fall collection was on sale, or for a bargain price? They know people want new things and will pay more for the latest edition (iPhones, Xbox, etc).

It's not like these companies would be releasing these whiskies otherwise. They have great whiskey already, but people want new shit.

"Hey, whisky company, what's new?"

"Nothing, just the normal line."

"Can you make something new? I want something new."

"OK--here you go."

Anonymous said...

1978 Dallas Dhu--$214 from distributor (I am a bar manager)...worth every penny.
Only other one was my birth year Glenlivet bottling from Gordon & McPhail for my 40th...but that doesn't really count.
Never gone over for Bourbon, am highly temped to for some of the Japanese bottlings.

donald sink said...

David D., both here and in Spirits Journal, really makes my day go easier.

Last spring, at a whiskey tasting event at Table & Vine, my wife won a raffle for an "opportunity to buy" some rare whiskeys, one of which was PVW 20 year old for $170, which I grabbed. Haven't opened it yet -- maybe this holiday season.

Second highest was a Nikka Miyagikyo Single Malt, listed at $115, but on sale for $90. I based that decision on David O.'s review on the K&L product page. It was opened immediately -- pretty darn good.

Definitely need to get back to more sensible $40 or less buying.

-Don

Josh said...

I do my best to keep from doing it, but sometimes I like to treat myself and will splurge on my birthday or around the holidays. The first one I did it with was Bushmills 21 which I think was around $110 when I bought it 6 or 7 years ago. Right now I think it averages out to about 2-3 a year so it hasn't become a crazy issue... yet.

Anonymous said...

I've paid more than $100 for a bottle three times: PVW 20 and High West 21 (750 ml) at $130 each, and Amrut Portonova at $110. I'd buy the HW and Amrut again in a heartbeat, but I'd hesitate before shelling out for the Pappy again (the 15 is really where it's at).

Anonymous said...

For me, it was the 1999 Karuizawa from K&L at $144. I'm a bourbon guy and know little about Japanese whiskey. Yet I figured I'd educate myself someday and this would be a rare chance to get a bottle for a semi-reasonable sum. I anguished over this for hours and finally pulled the trigger.

And now, at auction, K&L just sold two of these bottles for $3300. I'm not going to flip it, but I have a lot of education to do before I even dream of opening it.

Reece said...

My first $100 bottle was the Tornado Survivor. I bought it in DC and paid $130 at a store that is known for wildly overcharging people. A few weeks later, I saw it at another store for $65--the MSRP. I then made the mistake of sharing it at a party where the guests finished it without my consent--tried to cut them off. I would do that one again. I bought that in the spring of last year.

My Annoying Opinions said...

My "Age and Price Ceilings" piece (thanks for saving me from shamelessly posting it again, Sku) is in the context of single malt Scotch. Bourbon seems to be catching up to Scotch price-wise but I'm afraid the example of Scotch suggests this is not simply some kind of "natural" market response to newly articulated consumer demand.

In the Scotch world there has always been enough prestige whisky available at high prices--in fact that's pretty much the only reason Blue Label exists. But we're seeing the exact same trend of rising prices for NAS whiskies buoyed by bullshit stories, and rising prices in general.

My Annoying Opinions said...

(Also: you can't let crazy auction prices be any sort of guide for "normal" prices--auction fever has no cure. And keep in mind that some idiot has apparently also paid $1800 for the 9 bottle Port Charlotte set at K&L's auction--proof that mathematics is not taught properly in American schools.)

Arok said...

I came close to hitting a hundred so many times before I did, that I actually don't remember what it was that finally got me to break that barrier. Sad.

I do remember $80 though. It was the 2009 Four Roses Mariage

Anonymous said...

Ha, now any time I see a somewhat articulate "anonymous" commenter that is grammatically correct and references K&L, I just automatically assume it's David D. (Which means I could be David D., right?) The comment section has been compromised!

tms_508 said...

Thanks for another interesting survey/discussion Sku, et al. A few years back, I bought a bottle of BMH black label, (presumed 16 yr. old) for $125 with the same trepidation that Sku described for a first $100+ purchase. The first half of the bottle was consumed on the rocks, and while I could taste a degree of greater complexity, it didn't impress me as worth the premium over the regular BMH small batch (comparator at the time, $32). The remainder of the stuff, I sip every now and then, I still don't enjoy more than the (relatively) readily available EHT small batch (still $36-45). Retrospectively, given all the past hype around the BMH product, I am at peace with my first $100+ purchase because of what I learned from it: The price of a bottle (as many have stated before) is based on rarity and the perception of it(marketing/branding creativity), not necessarily the taste or other quality intrinsic to the contents of the bottle. It's helped me shrug off the urge to spend ever larger sums (more than a few times) on the same size bottle for a fairly similar type of product just because its the new "it" or "rare" whiskey. These days, I try to avoid the 100+ threshold, in particular when combined with vague product labels/provenance.

Anonymous said...

My first bottle over $100 was a bottle of William Larue Weller. I had never seen it in a store, and sampled it at a bar in Kentucky while doing the Bourbon Trail with my dad for a father-son long weekend. It was the most amazing thing I had ever tried. Before tasting it, I thought Bookers was my ceiling and couldn't imagine how anything could be TWICE the price and worth it. After my taste, I was determined to find one (this was summer of 2011). I found a retailer who was willing to ship to my state, and bought it on-line for just over $100 before shipping. I had read that the MSRP was less than this, but also that it was released once per year in limited quantities. All this made it more difficult to pull the trigger, but I did.

The next bottle over $100 I bought was a disappointment (a PVW 20yr for $120, which underwhelmed me). Being a geek, I made a spreadsheet of all "blind buys" I've made over $50, and found that some 60-70% of them were disappointments at some level or another. I have tried to institute a "try before I buy" for anything over $100 since (WT Diamond is an excellent example of where this strategy saved me some coin!)

Anonymous said...

I try to avoid paying $100...but I've done it. The first time was for an '07 Saz 18 that was $175....and that was in '11, I bet that's a $600+ bottle now. As Saz 18 is my #1 all timer (well, technically #2 to VWFRR, but I haven't seen that in person in 3 years,) it was totally worth it. :)

-Humchan2k

Chuck Logsdon said...

My first bottle of $100 bourbon was bought in spring 2003. I didn't pass that mark again until this past spring when I bought FR SiB LE 2014 at the distillery gift shop.

Name: Old Rip Van Winkle (there is no mention of "Pappy" on the label)
Distillery: Not mentioned
Bottled by: Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, Frankfort, KY
Proof: 133.4 proof - Cask Strength, Unfiltered
Age: 20 years old, distilled on 12/7/82, bottled on 5/23/03
Lot: "sam's"
Bottle: 12th of 60, the ultimate single barrel (i.e., only one barrel existed!)
Cost: $99.99 + S/H, Sam's Wines & Spirits, Chicago, IL
Other: Selected by and bottled exclusively for Sam's Wines & Spirits

Mark said...

I've never paid more than $100 for a Bourbon. I've come close with Scotch, but still haven't crossed that mark. But then, I'm still something of a newbie in this world and am still mostly hitting up "regular" offerings. In the beer world, where I come from, the line was $20 for a bottle (which is crazy, since there are some damn fine Bourbons to be had at that price!) These days, it's not that uncommon to see a beer at the $30 mark (usually barrel aged in some way)...

Curt said...

As a relatively new Bourbon/Rye whiskey fanatic, my limit is the cash in my wallet. And that is rarely more than $60-$75 at any given time. I enjoy drinking flavorful, full bodied whiskeys, not fantasizing about it. So I am perfectly happy with the many selections that can be purchased up to that limit. I'm grateful for experts and blogs that still review the lower end of the scale.

Anonymous said...

I had read one of those books that ranks whiskies (I think it was a Michael Jackson book) and Laphroaig 30 was rated very high. It was pretty much all gone, but I found a place out of state that still had some. It cost me $200.

Funky Tape said...

Paid $104 OTD for a Glenmo Ealanta last year and drank the hell out of it. Worth every penny.

The way you get what you want in today's market is by acquiring what everyone else wants and trading it for bottles they don't. I went knuckle deep into FR 125th at $79.99 on the shelf because I knew it was a MUST have. Then I waited and traded it for stuff like Handy or AECS which is better whiskey just not as blessed by those that love to tell everyone else its not. Simple.

Sam Komlenic said...

Funky, yours is only one potential successful scenario. Mine is that I find what whiskeys that appeal to me and are always on the shelf and within my budget. There are plenty of everyday whiskeys I'm not only happy with, but thrilled by.

It was only a couple of years ago that Thomas Handy was the unwanted stepchild of the Antique Collection. You could find it here in PA well after the rest of the pack were gone. Enter Jim Murray and everyone wants a piece, while the entire time there are whiskeys on the second and third shelf that I find totally satisfying.

That's not to say that I don't have a few rarities stashed for special occasions, Handy included...

Endo said...

I've bought a few bottles over a hundred bucks, I'm ashamed to admit... most of them from David D!

So although I'm part of the problem Sku diagnosed, most of my big buys have been the result of genuine curiosity, as I've only become a big bourbon fan in the past four years or so. Now that I've splurged and compared (and started a tasting club with friends so we could splurge and compare some more), I'm committed to buying sub-$50 bottles from here on out.

Blind tastings with my club have revealed that-- at least as far as my palate is concerned-- Elmer T Lee and Four Roses Single Barrel are as good or better than most bottles costing 3 times as much... and in the case of dreck like Ol' Barterhouse, there's no "as good or" needed... they fucking slaughter it!

Anyway, to answer the original question about my first over-$100 bottle, I was lucky enough to score some PVW 20 for retail price a couple years back, when a friend wandered into a store in Upland, CA and found the shelves stocked with 15, 20 and 23. At the time, I thought spending $120 on a bottle of alcohol was absolutely insane, but now I wish I'd picked up a 15 as well.

That same store in Upland has PVW in stock right now...

...for $1000.

And I've seen shots of the stuff going for $100 in L.A. Nevermind a bottle, a two ounce pour!

Craziness aside, that first bottle of PVW 20 was a) delicious and b) has given me many fond memories, mostly shared with great friends in great places after great meals.

Moreover, when a hundred bucks means something to you, when it's a sacrifice, the psychological boost it provides to your senses can be a powerful thing. But when it becomes routine, so does the experience of the drink itself... and then you gotta ask yourself, what's the point?

sku said...

Moreover, when a hundred bucks means something to you, when it's a sacrifice, the psychological boost it provides to your senses can be a powerful thing. But when it becomes routine, so does the experience of the drink itself... and then you gotta ask yourself, what's the point?

Very well put Endo. Thanks for your thoughts!

Andrew G. said...

Well, I flew to Nebraska to buy 5-6 old dusty bottles, including Old Fitz BiB, Old Forester BiB, an undrinkable bottle of 40's Ancient Age, Kentucky Tavern BiB... plus a Beam decanter.

In all, I probably spent at least $100 per bottle, especially if you consider the AA that was awful and the Forester that was borderline. I brought that to Gazebo West two years ago, in the fancy decanter.

But it was a heck of an excuse for a stupid trip.

sku said...

But Andrew, you got a trip to Nebraska out of it. What else could you want?

Thom said...

I've done it a few times - the first was Pappy 20, the next was a Glengoyne 21 at the distillery, and a few more time since but not often. But I won't pay $100+ for a 10 year old bourbon when last year it was $40-$60.

I think American whisky industry will experience a self-induced glut - maybe not this year but soon. This is especially true as they reduce/remove age statements on regular line bourbons while reducing quality in order to push out special releases and one-offs at dramtically higher prices.

Personally I'm starting to question my focus on whisky because I'm not wealthy. If I need to spend big money to enjoy bourbon and Scotch - maybe it's time to find a new hobby.

Mr. GQuiz said...

$107 for a bottle of the 2014 Four Roses Limited Edition single barrel. Haven't opened it yet. Crazy how prices have leapt. I have the 2013 4R LE SB. paid 70 for it. Have a 2011 Pappy 15 unopened. At the rate prices are jumping, I may be able to pay for my daughter's college.

alligatorchar said...

My first was a Rittenhouse Rye 23. I was merely buying an expensive bottle for a special occasion betting it was terrific. It was but it took me a while realize just how terrific it was.

By dumb luck I found a cache of 30 PVW 20s and bought the whole lot for $109 each. That was a really good day.