Monday, November 10, 2014

The Price of Whiskey is Too Damn High!


Last week, I reviewed two whiskeys that were good but priced far higher than I would want to pay for the quality.  Unfortunately, that's getting to be so much the norm that it feels redundant to constatly say that the price is not worth the quality. We are being asked to pay much more for whiskey that is good but not exceptional.

Scotch has been too expensive for a good decade now, but American whiskey took some time to catch up. Inflation is understandable, but the more recent, more disturbing trend is companies pushing the envelope on prices for relatively young (or no age statement) whiskeys.

Angel's Envy and WhistlePig are two companies that have been aggressively raising prices with whiskeys in the $150 to $170 range.  WhistlePig's whiskeys at least have age statements, but Angel's Envy is strictly NAS. Willett is another company that is ramping up prices on younger whiskeys as evidenced by the new XCF (a seven year old for $150) and the ten year olds that are now going for over $100.  It's not just sourced whiskeys either. Wild Turkey went three figures on its unexceptional Diamond Anniversary bottling. And then there are the Hummingbird type whiskeys that are so ridiculously priced for what they are that it's laughable.

The truth is, of the American whiskeys I've tasted that were priced at over $100, very few were worth it. More often than not, when I break the $100 barrier, I regret it.  Sure there are some exceptions. Old Rip Van Winkle 23 was $350, but it was a fantastic, cask strength 23 year old bourbon from the closed Stitzel-Weller distillery. But those exceptions are very few.  There are maybe two or three that I can think of. (And of course, I'm talking about recent releases. Obviously, if you are looking for a Very Very Old Fitzgerald from the '60s or a pre-prohibition rye, you're going to pay more, and it may well be worth it.)


The Sku Challenge

The price of whiskey is too damn high, but we can do something about it.  What if we all just stopped.  What if we, as a collective body of whiskey geeks, pledged not to pay more than $100 for any new American whiskey at retail or on the secondary market. (Take that flippers!)  Too extreme? How about no more than $100 for any whiskey that's not at least 18 years old and at least 107 proof? 

Let's pound the prices down!  Who's in?


52 comments:

Jordan Devereaux said...

Pretty sure I'm there already.

Anonymous said...

Things keep getting better and better. Now K&L has dipped its toe into the water of jacking up the prices on rare whiskeys by holding them back and then putting them up for auction. http://www.klwines.com/Auction/Bidding/AuctionBidDetail.aspx?sku=1182289

No doubt we'll get a holier than thou spiel from the Davids--they would NEVER mark up--but let's accept this for what it is. To that end, while they claim to have a "raffle" for BTAC and Pappy, they also admit that they play favorites. Now it appears they don't even sell all they receive. I expect we'll see more and more if these auctions from K&L.

Reid Mitenbuler said...

I've been doing this for awhile and thoroughly enjoying the rediscovery of forgotten classics…like going through my old records.

And honestly, drinking down my bunker and streamlining everything is kind of therapeutic for the soul.

My Annoying Opinions said...

Just get with the program, Sku. There are plenty of people out there willing to pay these prices and they don't have all these elitist baggage. They don't care how much cheaper whisky was before, and they're the ones whisky companies are targeting. Stop whining and take your medicine.

Anonymous said...

Between Weller 12, OGD 114, Elijah Craig 12 year and Barrel Proof, and Four Roses Barrel picks, I have fantastic whiskey at a reasonable price to drink everyday.And only the last two I actually have to look for.

Bring on higher prices for once offs and "limited" editions. The faster they bust people's bank accounts the better.

Whiskey On Ice MN said...

One of the great things about whiskey is that it's all subjective. Your idea of what's 'good' or what's 'worth the price' is going to be different than mine. And we're BOTH right. Asking people to sign on to your perception of value diminishes the subjectivity of that which we're all so passionate about.

sku said...

Wiskey on Ice MN,

Ah, but that's what I set an objective criteria. I didn't say, we shouldn't pay over $100 for mediocre whiskey because that's subjective. If we limit high level purchases to whiskey that actually has some age and proof on it, we are demanding some value for our money. Whether any given person likes it or not is another question. But if we continue to buy young standard whiskey at huge prices, we are paying for what exactly?

My Annoying Opinions said...

See also:

http://myannoyingopinions.com/2014/05/29/age-and-price/

TomH said...

Sorry, as much as I would like, I can't jump on your bandwagon Sku for a couple of reasons. The first is the inclusion of age. I've tasted too many barrels to assume that age means quality (IMHO, a lot of the older stuff being bottled today should have be mixed with younger stuff because it tastes dead and overoaked, but because there are buyers that believe older is better it gets bottled and sold at stupid money prices. My second issue (and the reason why I believe your bandwagon cannot get on the road) is that IMHO there is little room to put the blame on the companies. They are not the ones that created this market we are currently experiencing. Rather they are merely following the market (admittedly some more agressively than others). What would happen if AE priced the cask strength at bleow $100....it would never see the shelf and would be immediate fodder for flippers. How does it make any business sense for companies with limited product to price it below the level of true demand. They are merely giving up their profit to another individual who will buy it and resell it. Earlier this year I was talking (probably more accurately whining) about the price of Port Ellen release with a major Diageo manager. He plainly stated that if his managers saw that they were leaving too much money on the table for the secondary market to eat up, there would be consequences. So while your idea of not playing the game sounds good, unless you can get those who are creating the high prices to join you, the cause is doomed.

With that said, I just want to state for the record that I agree with your basic premise (though not necessarily with all of your examples) that there is a lot of mediocre whiskey being sold at outrageous prices.

Brock said...

I'm not as opposed to a high price as I am the bs slung to justify a high price. There's a grand lack of education about higher-end whiskey products in the USA that allows many brands to capitalize with inferior product. The Van Winkle craze is a great example. MSRP is reasonable for those, but paying thousands on the secondary market for such bottles is indicative of hype and marketing allure, not quality. Is JW Blue Label really that good? I don't think so, and it doesn't ever seem to be out of stock anywhere I've been, but people still buy it. Those pushing awareness of these products aren't exactly whiskey nerds, obviously. Sad to say, it's much like vodka. All that being said, if it draws people into whiskey, great. What sucks is paying $125 for something like Diamond which should be great but is barely close to good. There's a lot of great stuff on the market, but the industry in America has a lot of room to grow, and that will only mean higher prices. And that's okay, as long as the whiskey is good.

Sam Komlenic said...

I just picked up a bottle of Old Charter 8 year old in downtown NYC recently for $17.99, Though 80 proof, it may be the best 80 proofer I've had.

We are surrounded by great value, especially in bourbon, even as those prices rise more slowly than the premium bottlings. Anonymous mentioned a few, and there are others.

I have yet to pay more than $90 for a bottle (last year's Parker's Promise of Hope), and that was because it supported a non-profit. The Bowman special releases at $70 are my highest-end ongoing purchases...most of the whiskey I buy is at $40 and below.

We have all become more captivated with what we can't have instead of what we can, when much of what we can have is perfectly acceptable if not excellent.

Kevin said...

I'm in!

Anonymous said...

I'm in.
I also totally agree with Anonymous November 10, 2014 at 10:53 AM

Keith W said...

Between endlessly jacked up prices for increasingly immature and poorly made American spirits (there are exceptions in the world of craft, yes, but by and large "raw, immature, and hilariously overpriced" is my definition of "craft") and/or expensive novelty bottlings from Scotland, I shrugged at the whole ridiculousness and relaxed with a nice dram of Irish whiskey. Both their single malts and their blends are at worst pretty good, and the price gouging that has infected the US and Scotch market seems to have judged Irish not cool enough.

There are still plenty of good bourbon bargains to be had, but I hesitate to mention them anymore. After all, once the Pappy silliness exploded (seriously, I still have the receipt -- in 2009 I paid $38.99 for a bottle of the 15) we all wrote about Old Rip ($10.99! I paid $10.99 not so long ago), and the same thing happened. Now Weller has been tagged infinitely as "the Pappy replacement," and even the price on that is jacked up and bottles are hard to find around this time of the year (because it's when all the "Pappy replacement" articles come out again).

Arok said...

I'm in.

My personal price ceiling has always been $125, but for the good of my wallet, I'm happy to lower that.

Justin said...

Just missed! Just last week I broke, for the first time, my $100 limit on a bottle. I picked up a bottle of Ardbeg super nova for $120. It was the first time I've ever seen it in my state.

But, henceforward, I take the Sku pledge and promise to return to my $100 ceiling on a bottle of whiskey.

Chuck Logsdon said...

I am already there. My limit is $100 per 750 ml. I just don't see a reason to exceed it because there is a lot of really good bourbon under $100.

I have exceeded $100 a few times, but they are the exceptions - I have bought ND OGD BIB 8 yr for $160 and some 1950s bourbon where my grandfather worked. The latter are collectibles, so it doesn't really count.

To get my dusties, I just buy hard to get new releases at retail then trade up to expensive dusties. Keeps me under the $100 / 750 ml.

David D said...

I guess my question would be: who here reading this blog isn't already doing this?

M. Rond said...

If our discomfort and unwillingness to pay increased prices for American whiskey is to actually influence brands to lower MSRP, it will likely happen organically. Much like the increasing pressure brands feel now over transparency in their labeling. No brand wants to be the next Templeton's and no brand should want their premium expression sitting around on the shelf for months because it's priced unfairly. We might be seeing this with products like WT Diamond, most think it's over-priced (I do!) and it appears it will be sitting on shelves for a bit.

sku said...

Great feedback from all. Keep 'em coming.

Oh and David D, I write this blog and I was doing it, so I assume there are others.

Funky Tape said...

Solid confirmation that the 'bubble' is still young and prices are going much higher.

In financial markets its the 'bear trap' where those who think it can't continue like this sell to those who don't care but are willing to pay more and more till the last buyer is in. This is no different.

Chase that bid baby, its running faster and farther than you can fathom. Pappy bottles could be filled with rubbing alcohol, still means nothing at this point. China has yet to put out fakes and my cab driver is still clueless.

David D said...

You were buying Angel's Envy Cask Strength and Whistle Pig Boss Hog?

sku said...

I bought a Boss Hog, not an Angel's Envy. If I hadn't been lucky enough to have friends who give me samples, I would have been very tempted to try the Willett XCF.

Anonymous said...

K&L also sold hundreds and hundreds of bottles of Karuizawa for an absolute fair market price. I just won a bottle of Stagg from their raffle and paid a fair price, and I wouldn't call myself a "favorite" of the Davids.

Seems like a lot of people are going bitch no matter what anyone does, fair or unfair.

Steffen Bräuner said...

Expensive and hard to get whisky also get too much attention from the online coomunity (blogs, social media, forums etc.). Nobody talks about the caks Strength series from Chivas Bros, but we all should

Personally I hate if I have to talk about releases like Diageos Annuals, or the recent Highland Park etc.

Steffen

Anonymous said...

The higher prices are frustrating, but I try to keep them in perspective. A night out to dinner with 3 or 4 craft beers, usually goes for around $40 to $50 per person. In comparison, I can get a $100 bottle of Lagavulin 16 distillers edition, or a 10 year bottle of Willett family estate. I find great value in buying a good bottle of whisky, since it will last much longer than a few hours out on a Saturday night. Thanks SKU for the great posts.

Anonymous said...

I don't follow Sku's Pledge currently and I personally think there is 1 reason it will not work. Someone is going to buy it. I want it to be me. Yes, I got a call from my local store he got 1 bottle of Pappy. It was 23 year old. He sold it to me at M SRP. I wanted it abd if I didnt pay, someone else would have.

Anonymous said...

apparently peopled can't or won't read...

anonymous - great for you on getting a pappy 23.

what sku said - look at the last line - is no more than $100 for a whiskey that isn't at least 18 y/o and 107 proof.

BlackMetal said...

K&L can easily cater to the Silicon Valley crowd who wipe the rear-ends with $100 bills. You know, facebook, google, apple, etc. Hell, I would too. It's the american way. Suckers.

As for the challenge, I'm years all ready in.

Anonymous said...

I've been buying booze since Old Rip Van Winkle 10 could be had "on sale" for during the Summer months for $16.99.
Did that make me any less interested in trying new ludicrously over-priced NAS booze? Nope, not a bit.
For me, "doing something about it," meant cancelling standing online store accounts (all of them), cancelling whiskey magazine subscriptions (all of them) and deleting whiskey blog/forum bookmarks and social media links from my phone/tablet/browser.
I've become highly vigilant about my whiskey media consumption and how much time I spend consuming it.
It has done wonders to curb my enthusiasm for the occult of whiskey bullshit. The side effect is spending much less $$$ and being liberated from the shitty preoccupation of trivial whiskey drama. I'm healing and my prognosis is good.
Sometimes it's not the thing itself, but the metastasis rampaging through the thing that's super f*cking bad for us.

danz said...

Something about these prices posts really gets people going. Yes, I think the prices are too damn high. Anon 8:28 am, you sound familiar....

PL said...

Anonymous, you've just written Step One for Hypesters Anonymous. Brilliant strategy!

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to get off topic, but I live in Missouri and I buy all my whisky from K&L. Great prices for non-techies like me, too. I get tired of seeing Double D get dragged through the mud just because he chooses to engage with the blogosphere. He's a hell of a lot more candid and trustworthy than my local guy in St. Louis.

Sam Komlenic said...

David Driscoll is a good man, a dedicated enthusiast, and an outstanding writer. He's looking out for all of us, in my opinion.

I appreciate his well-considered perspective and dedication to the cause.

Ofermod said...

Anon, as much as possible, support your local liquor store(s) in Missouri (minus must haves only K&L can offer). Luckily, i suppose, shipping to MO is allowed. K&L blog - one of the best. No doubt.

Todd said...

Anon in STL. I have no idea why you would purchase exclusively from K&L. I now live in SF, but used to live in St. Louis, which has some great liquor stores. I always found the Wine and Cheese Place in Clayton to have a great selection and good prices. Their rum selection in particular is far superior to K&L. The Wine Merchant (also in Clayton) is a little more expensive, but I found their service to be great. After chatting just briefly with their spirits guy, and showing I knew a little bit about scotch, he offered me tastings of a bunch of old and interesting scotches. That's not even legal here in California, and because K&L are so popular, they reserve special treatment for their big spenders only. (Driscoll's recent post about who they let enter their lotteries for rare whiskeys said as much.) Also, K&L is so popular that they sell out of anything rare in about a millisecond, which I found not to be the case at the local St. Louis stores.

David D said...

Actually, Driscoll's post about Pappy says exactly the opposite:

"we don't just give our K&L allocation of Pappy to the people who spend the most money with us."

As someone who has managed to get a bottle of Pappy from K&L in past years, I know this to be true. Even though I live thousands of miles away and only order once every other month, the Davids have always taken great care of me. Maybe if you shopped at K&L more often you'd appreciate their good service.

I'm sure there are other good stores in St Louis, but I don't need more than I'm already buying.

David D said...

I thought I'd just start logging in and answering for other people!

Anonymous said...

Thanks David, I can answer for myself.

But that's mostly it :)

-Anon St. Louis

Todd said...

I love that Driscoll (or someone pretending to be him pretending to be someone else) is apparently chiding me for failing to appreciate his good customer service!

The Pappy post he spoke of also stated that you can't ask to be included in K&L lottery, and that "You still have to meet a few important criteria (which we will not be divulging to you)."

I have no great love for BevMo, but at least they are transparent about their lottery process. Likewise with the local St. Louis stores I mentioned.

David D said...

Todd - That's really just to satirical rant to stop people who don't shop with us from calling us one time a year and asking for three bottles of Pappy 15. We already have more loyal customers than we have Pappy, as is. The people who have been shopping with us for years know the process. If you don't know the process and you want to learn more, that's great. We'll sign you up for the insider email alert and tell you how the raffle works. Most people just hang up, however.

I think most people posting here (including SKU) know that you can always email me with questions. It's tough sometimes for me to read posts from people who claim to know exactly what I do and why I'm doing it. I can't help but vent about that now and again.

And--Anon--sorry about that. I just can't help myself every now and again. I felt I just KNEW what you wanted to say deep inside of me.

I need to stay off comment fields for that reason. Too much for my big mouth to handle.

Funeral Mist said...

Lets burst the near $100 bubble for mediocre, run of the still, er mill hooch, including NAS. Do not encourage them. The more we buy the more they release. Do not be fooled or tempted by limited editions or clever stories. Enough already.

My Annoying Opinions said...

Wow.

Anonymous said...

“The K&L Spirits Journal is not a journalistic news source. It has never been, never claimed to be, nor will it ever be. This is mainly because there is no such thing as booze journalism as far as absolute truth is concerned. There is only booze romanticism or booze antagonism. The president can be held accountable for lying to the general public, but booze companies cannot be, nor should they be. Unlike publicly elected officials, it’s not their job to tell you the truth. It’s their job to sell you something. As consumers, it’s our job to decide whether or not to give them our money.” - Dave Driscoll.

No one "drags Driscoll through the mud"; it's not unfair to take him at his word that he can't be trusted (although it may be a paradox).

David D said...

I wish I was obsessive enough about my own writing to be able to remember everything I've ever said at a moment's notice. You should be my editor. It's apparently pretty important to you!

My Annoying Opinions said...

Take it easy, Champ. Why don't you sit this next one out, stop talking for a while. At least till you've figured out who you're logged in as.

David D said...

All joking aside, the anon poster is a K&L custy from Redwood City and moved to St. Louis. He picks up his orders in the store every month when he's back on business. He and I were reading the comments today after he told me he jumped on to defend K&L earlier in the field. While we were both reading the thread he said he wanted to respond again to the St Louis part, so I let him use my computer, which was--of course--logged in as me.

Hence, his words came out as mine. So now I look insane. Which I guess is partially true. I emailed SKU after it happened to let him know I wasn't trolling his blog under fake identities. Nothing I can do now though. You'll just have to take my word for it (if you can trust me, that is).

Anonymous said...

Make sure you "support the whole K&L spirits department," or no BTAC lottery for you! God forbid you don't want to drink Armagnac or Mescal.

Gorgoroth said...

Only once have I paid over $100 for an American whisky - Parker’s Heritage Collection, “Golden Anniversary” - $130 at Costco. Worthy? I wouldn't know, still unopened. See link. http://bit.ly/1qFakIV

Swim with the Fishies said...

Hey, maniacs. $100+ for american whisky -- if you were fish I'd throw you back.

Anonymous said...

It’s not Dave’s writing so much as simple honesty that’s important to me - and there IS a huge, and acknowledged, difference between the two. All joking aside, Driscoll has a credibility problem of his own making; he can’t be trusted because he says that, to him, selling things gives one an excuse to lie to consumers - and Dave’s in sales. But I am convinced, at least, that it’s really Dave Driscoll here – only someone who needs a conscience as much as an editor could want to shoot the messenger over delivering something that’s of Dave’s own composition without finding any fault with the actual content of the message itself.

Iakov Alenchik said...

I've never personally spent over 60 bucks for whiskey (I drink bourbon). The way I see (and taste) it, there are decent, interesting and fun bourbons to be enjoyed for less than 50 dollars. At Christmas and Easter I'll splurge, but never 100 bucks. The price point to quality ratio for the high priced hooch typically isn't worth it in my opinion. Those I know who drop top dollar on whiskey say they enjoy savoring it, but it seems to me that they enjoy savoring more that they spent a couple of C notes on it and want to brag about it. That's fine with me if they want to do that, but I can't afford to do that.