Whisky Advocate

What is a good value anymore?

September 19th, 2008

Ultra-premium whiskies aren’t the only ones whose prices have shot up lately. Even the prices of entry level whiskies have increased significantly.  In fact, it’s gotten to the point where I’m having a tough time finding good values.

I remember when you could get a decent bottle of single malt (Dalmore 12 yr., Aberlour 10 yr.) for about $20. Okay, that was a while back. But just a few years ago, you could get some great single malts for $30 or less.  It’s hard to do that for $40 anymore.

So let me ask you, what do you think is a good value whisky right now? Suggest a whisky, its price, and where you can get it.

I’ll start with a few of my own. I just checked Binny’s website and you can still get a bottle of Dalmore 12 yr. old for $30. And in the world of bourbon, you can still find Ancient Ancient Age (AAA) 10 year old in Kentucky for about $15. These, to me, are still good values.

Your turn.

44 Responses to “What is a good value anymore?”

  1. JC Skinner says:

    There is NO good value to be had in Ireland currently, unless one drives across the border to the British-administrated part of the nation and shops for own-brand supermarket bottlings.
    All the OBs I’ve seen almost anywhere in Ireland North or South are lacking anything like value.
    I am forced to buy online from Europe and the US, which is ironic in the extreme since I’m generally just re-importing Irish made produce at a cheaper price than I can obtain it where it was made.

  2. Timmy says:

    You can pick up a bottle of Talisker 18 for $75 at Federal Wine and Spirits in Boston…

  3. DramInFram says:

    I’ve taken a liking to the quality of product and value of the Spirit of Glendullan. I might also add, a nicely shaped bottle – for around $40 also at Federal Wine in Boston.

  4. David says:

    Without specifying brand/retailer/price etc., I have found that cask strength bourbon and scotches are consistently a good value – the pricing premium one pays for higher ABV is generally less than it should be i.e. a 120 proof bourbon of similar vintage is generally not priced at one-and-a-half times the 80 proof bourbon.
    although it is shifting a bit now – it is generally the Scotch IB who sell the cask strength scotch – and that is where (generically) the value lies.

  5. David says:

    I could not resist the impulse to include some specifics: (1) As a general proposition I believe smoky, peaty Islays drink better very well when young – making the Signatory cask strength young Caol Ila and Laphroaig for $50, handpicked by Brett at Binny’s, a great buy, (2) Look at unsung distilleries – particularly Mortlach and Longmorn and (3) look for oddly aged sotches – (although not my cup of tea) the 16 year old Tomintoul can be easily found at $40.

  6. Honesto Nunez says:

    One place you might want to check is BJ Wharehouse club. I just picked up 3 bottles of Macallan 12 yo for about $39 a bottle. Their selection is limited but they have the basics at great prices. My suggestion is if you like a certain single malt, blend or bourbon and the price is right, buy a few bottles because the prices are just going to get higher.

  7. Rick Duff says:

    I’m hesitant to say. I shared my thoughts on Old Forester being a great every day bourbon at a fantastic price with Brown Forman once… they then raised the price of Old Forester. For Bourbon my favorite is Elijah Craig 12 year old, under $20. Favorite Value Scotch I like Glen Garioch, Strath Isla, and Aberlour. The Glen Garioch is about the cheapest single malt in Ohio.. 10 years old, around $25.

  8. Tony Menechella says:

    I think that all of Buffalo Trace’s annual Antique Collection are outstanding values. There are still good values to be found in Bourbon, though some of the high end ones seem to be rising. For Irish and Scotch whisky drinkers, RedBreast 12 and Connemara are still values for the quality of whisky. Unless the Independent Bottlers have followed suit with their pricing, there are usually bargains to be found with them.

  9. Scott says:

    These are all from Northside Wine and Spirits in Ithaca NY.
    Highland Park 12 year for $36.49 and Buffalo Trace $24.49 are my two favorite deals in spirits right now. Though the Highland Park was $30.49 last year. When in the mood for some sherry I enjoy the Aberlour 12yr Double Cask for $41.99, a nice price since Balvenie has quickly shot up to almost $50 for their double wood. As for higher end the best value is Talisker 18yr at $66.99.

  10. Clay Risen says:

    Old Overholt (about $15 around my part of the country) and Johnny Drum 4yo (about $20) are not the best rye and bourbon, respectively, but they are miles above their price-competitors and, for my money, the best deals available in their categories. Particularly since both are versatile and easy to drink, which makes them a lot of fun at parties where curious non-whiskey drinkers are looking for a taste.

  11. Bryce B says:

    It saddens me as much as it does you John!
    For me, the recent price jump for the OB Ardbeg 10, in terms of entry-level whiskies, has been the most appalling. Just a few years ago, this was hovering around the low $30 range, and today I saw Binnys advertising it for $68.99!!!!!!!!
    A fantastic dram indeed, but at that price one could purchase several different 12, 15, and even 18 year olds.
    Recently I have been buying more cask strength bottlings to make my dollar pour further.
    B

  12. An old favorite: Dalmore ‘Cigar Malt’ Single Malt Scotch
    $33.99 at http://www.beltramos.com

    Ardbeg 10 used to be a bargain. I think I got my first bottle at $41. Now it’s $54.99. Ouch!

    No fair raising the price on finished product today when the increased price of barley won’t affect their finished products for 10+ years! :-)

  13. Dear John,
    I have seen this coming & been telling people to stock up. The next time they go to buy a bottle of their favorite scotch, they should buy a case instead. I really love cask strength & frequently recommend the Macallan CS, Laphroaig 10 CS & Balvenie 15 CS. The Talisker 18 is also value-priced. I recently found the Benromach 7 year old 1999 single cask #613 bottled for Binny’s at 58.6% for $45, it’s lightly peated & fabulous, drinking more like a 14 year old. The steals are gone, but it is still possible to get a good single malt for around $50, but not for long.

    Cheers,

    Bill

  14. [...] Scotch Whisky Prices? John Hansell of Malt Advocate asks what good single malts are available for a great price? He weighs in along with commenters to create an interesting [...]

  15. Ethan Prater says:

    In bourbon, Very Old Barton 100 proof BIB is $11.99 from Binny’s. Sensational value.

    On the other hand, value king Elijah Craig 12 has crept up from $12.99 just 5-6 years ago to twice that today ($24.99 at Binny’s). Almost as offensive as the rises in price for Ardbeg 10 and younger Bruichladdich OBs. Value just obliterated.

    Talisker 18 at $75 is a great value, as are the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection whiskies at their ~$55 prices, but I think the question was more about the low end.

    Rittenhouse Rye 100 proof BIB still great value on the low end, even though it has crept up to around $20.

  16. John Hansell says:

    Some of the common threads here that I’ve noticed:

    1) The best value whiskies aren’t necessarily the least expensive anymore, now that the entry level whisky prices have shot up. Talisker 18 yr. has shown up here a lot (which I agree with 100%, BTW).

    2) You can still stretch your dollar (or Euro or Pound) by buying cask strengh. The Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and some if the indie scotch bottlings are examples. — John

  17. Jim Gillen says:

    Redbreast for $39.49 at Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa, CA. Prices in Ireland last year were about 50 Euro, nice to get a bargain!

  18. Lew Bryson says:

    Hey, John: on assignment at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, and I hit Toddy’s Liquors last night with Chuck Cowdery for just this reason: finding bargains. I have to recommend bottled-in-bond bottlings, which are often ‘relic’ brands with the BiB quality intact. I’ll second that VOB BiB recommendation Ethan made, and add the Heaven Hill 6 YO BiB that Sam Komlenic enjoyed so much back in June ($11.99). That’s the same price as a bottle of J.T.S. Brown BiB that Chuck handed to me with the comment “That’s the best $12 bottle of bourbon you’re going to find.” I also picked up some Old Fitz BiB and, um, a half-pint of Mellow Corn just for fun.

    The values are here, but it takes some digging, and some luck, and, well, I agree with Rick: I really wonder if we ought to be telling the distillers that these bottlings are bargains!

  19. John Hansell says:

    Lew, thanks for the KY Bourbon Festival bargain update. BIB is a good point.

    I think the bourbon companies are very loyal to their locals and it’s nice that they still offer good whiskeys for a great price down there in KY. Hopefully they won’t stop making these small bargain brands, but my guess they’ll just make small quantities of it.

  20. Lew Bryson says:

    Indeed, that would be good. And I realized that not ALL the BiB bargains are local-only stuff: the Old Grand-Dad BiB is still a pretty good deal, a favorite bourbon of mine, AND pretty much nationally available…although the packaging is downright garish. Something to keep an eye out for.

    Back to work…

  21. John Hansell says:

    So, we seem to have three categories of whiskies that are bargains at the moment:

    1) Cask strength Scotch whiskies (mainly from Indie bottlers)

    2) Bottled in Bond (50% ABV) bourbons and rye whiskeys, especially those local to KY

    3) Mid-range Scotch whiskies, like Talisker 18yr.

    Most of the others seem to be hit and miss: special deals by certain retaliers on specific whiskies and the like.

    Anything we’re missing?

  22. Brian says:

    I went to my liquor store last night with a need to replenish my whiskey stocks and with this post in my mind. After about 30 minutes the liquor manager (Tyler from Zipp’s) and I came up with four:

    – Old Overholt ($11.27)
    – Old Fitz 1849 ($13.69)
    – Tullamore Dew ($20.99)
    – Famous Grouse 1L ($23.49)

    The biggest lesson we learned from the exercise that practically all of the single malts are either fairly priced or overpriced. The only way you can get a deal on a single malt these days is to find a store who bought a case of something years ago and has no idea the prices went up. This was true of an Old Pulteney 12yr I found a few weeks ago for $25.

    It doesn’t look like Irish has gone up that much, though that could be a price war between Pernod and Diageo. But even the less popular Irish whiskies had very stable prices. Same with Canadian… Forty Creek Barrel Select is STILL under $20.

    My theory? The big guys are realizing that Scotch and Bourbon drinkers will continue to buy their products even if they ratchet up the prices every six months. Other sectors are either eating the rising production costs or subsidizing their products with funds garnered from the premium spirits in their portfolio.

  23. John Hansell says:

    Old Fitz 1849 for less than $14. That’s a winner!

    You’re right about the whole “bought a case of something years ago with no idea the prices went up.” That happens from time to time, and it’s usually not at the well-known, popular retail shops, but rather the lesser-known ones.

  24. Louis says:

    Warehouse Liquors in NYC (Astor Place and Broadway) has the Talisker 10 for $40, the 18 for $60, and the 175th Anniversary for $70. The Ardbeg Uigeadail can be found for $80 at many stores. This is a great deal at cask strength, and the only way to drink older Ardbeg without making mortgage payments. The Longrow 10 can sometime be found at reasonable prices, it seems that there is plenty of supply, and it isn’t that expensive in Europe.

    There is no question that burbon is the way to go for economical dramming. My favorites are Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare 10, and Jim Beam Black Label, all in the low twenties. And I used $100 from my stimulas check for a bottle each of Blantons and Vintage 17yr old, $45 and $52 respectively at Warehouse. I was at a catered affair last year, and they had a bottle of Blantons that blew away the selection of 12 year old malts that were present, even on the rocks.

    If you like non-peated 18 year olds, but not at $150, try blends. Johnnie Walker Gold is very good at $56, a with a much firmer body than you would expect for 40% ABV. And if you can find the Famous Grouse 18yo, it has a good dose of Macallan in it (although it takes a few weeks of break-in to emerge).

    Slainte.

    Louis

  25. Michael Shoshani says:

    Last I checked (about two weeks ago), the Binny’s location in Skokie was still selling BIB Rittenhouse for around $13. That has got to be the best value for any whiskey anywhere, especially if you like big hearty rye. (Soft floral rye, as represented in Baby Saz, can be had for twice that amount.)

    For around $60 one can get Macallan Cask Strength; I once paid less than that for a beautiful Blackadder single cask cask strength bottling of 13YO Highland Park. Factor in that you really are not paying for added water and can add your own to taste (or drink it neat), and you’ll see why cask strength Scotch (and barrel proof Bourbon) have been quiet sleepers.

    And in the field of Irish whiskey, one can still get a decent bottle of Powers, which has a high pot still-to-grain ratio, for about $18, if that.

  26. John Hansell says:

    Yes, the Rttenhouse BIB was honoried with Malt Advocate’s Best Buy award a couple years back. Good bang for your buck.

  27. John Hansell says:

    And yes, I love the pot still character of Powers. They put out a 12 year old (never sold in the U.S.) that, when released in Duty Free around the turn of the century, was only a few dollars more than the standard Powers. I bought two bottles. Very good.

  28. John Hansell says:

    I think the deal of a lifetime for me was when Diageo imported one round of Rare Malts to the U.S. and then decided that it was something they didn’t want to do afterall, so they unloaded them in Pennsylvania (whose stores are owned by the government) for $39.99. This included Mortlach, Clynelish and Hillside (Glen Esk). I remember writing it up in WhiskyNotes (Malt Advocate’s weekly email subscription service). There were retailers coming to PA from out of state, picking up cases of the stuff, and them marking it up and selling it in their stores. I bought one of each, allowing plenty for everone else.

  29. sam k says:

    Lew Bryson said:

    “I really wonder if we ought to be telling the distillers that these bottlings are bargains!”

    My feeling is that the distillers should take note more that there is a rumbling of dissatisfaction with these rapid, exponentially rising prices, and that they should be striving to hang on to the devoted everyday drinkers they currently enjoy. In an economy gone haywire, and looking worse, literally by the day, the whiskey bubble could pop much sooner than anyone thinks, which would leave the industry once again gasping for breath in bad times.

    Be happy for what you have, not looking for much higher profits than you might be able to get in the short term. I’m thinking that the distillers that have suspended production, or those that are maintaining the status quo, are looking like the visionaries here. I’m actually starting to worry about the Roseisles and Wild Turkeys, those that are expanding headlong while the global economy is starting to look like an accident that isn’t just waiting to happen, but that has already begun to occur.

    Hunker down and appreciate the fact that you’re selling the immense bulk of your product to a devoted middle class that only hopes be able to buy your more affordable whiskeys now that it’s started to hit the fan. It ain’t gonna get any better real soon, and could even get worse before there’s any noticeable improvement.

    $500 Heaven Hill? You’ve GOT to be kidding!

  30. John Hansell says:

    I’ve gotten some emails sent directly to me and not posted up here. It turns out there’s another bargain out there: retaliers who accidentally put the wrong price on a bottle. The people emailing me don’t want to post the whisky name and retailer location up here on my blog out of concern for the retailer and the calls that would follow.

  31. Rich says:

    i’m also from the Twin Cities, MN, like Brian above. three good locations are: Top Valu Liquor, Chicago Lake Liquors, and Zipp’s. some prices from over the weekend: Oban 14 ($42), Lagavulin 16 ($48), Laphroaig Quarter Cask ($48), Talisker 18 ($54), Glenfarclas 21 ($80). i also scour the ‘net for deals. i just got a Talisker 20 for $120, a Talisker 25 (3 ea.) for $130, and a Glenmorangie 25 Quarter Century for my birthday last week ($260). it helps to know what bottles are going for generally, so you know when you’ve found a really good deal.

  32. John Hansell says:

    Wow, looks like the Twin Cities is a great place for bargain whisky. I remember traveling there 15 year ago on business and getting some great deals on Independent bottlers like G&M.

  33. mark says:

    Warehouse Liquors in NYC (Astor Place and Broadway), as noted previously, has competitive prices for NYC. New Hampshire Liquor Commission has highly competitive prices for the Northeast. Trips to northern New England are not complete without stopping into a larger store and checking out the value picks.

    $40 is roughly the entry point for imported whiskey these days at discount retailers. Dalmore 12 leads the value pack at $30 followed by Glenfiddich 15 Solera for $35. I’m surprised no one has mentioned Highland Park 12. Excellent whisky at a relatively modest price.

    Quality per dollar, American whiskey is a stronger value than imported whiskey. Fine bourbons sells for about half the price of inexpensive single malts. $19-$25 buys Old Weller 7 107 proof, Wild Turkey Russel’s Reserve, Elijah Craig 12 or Buffalo Trace.

    I feel whiskey prices are out of control and have stopped purchasing them. Cask strength whiskies from Islay’s south coast may be my preferred beverage but I’m not dropping a hundred on an Ardbeg or a couple hundred bucks on a Port Ellen. Call me a cheapskate or simply not stupid. I’m stocked up to outlast prohibition and will wait for the bubble to burst.

    Regards,
    /mp

  34. Rich says:

    it sounds like a number of people have either stocked up on their favorite single malts, or are in the process of stocking up when they find a good deal. while i have a humidor for my cigars, my private reserve of single malts (worth a good chunk of $$$) just sits in a cabinet in my basement. given the circumstances, perhaps a good topic for one of John’s future blogs is: how should one store bottles of whisky for longer periods of time, if one is so inclined? i’ve heard people talk about using parafilm, etc.; is there anything we need to consider when setting aside stock for the future?

  35. John Hansell says:

    Rich, excellent suggestion.

    I am one of those people you mentioned above. With the current prices, I am buying very little whisky anymore. I was lucky. I turned on to whisky in a big way around 1990 and made substantial purchases in the early to mid 1990s and continued buying (albiet less so) up until a few years ago.

    As a result, I am sitting on some stocks of whisky which I am slowly, but steadily drinking. (I also have a humidor for my cigars and a cellar for my wines.)

    Your suggestion of how to store whisky is a good one. I will start a thread on that topic before the end of the day.

  36. Steve W says:

    John,

    My all time favorite bargain is still George Dickel #12 for roughly $20 a bottle. Dickel Barrel Select is great, but at half the price #12 provides my best bang for the buck. For people who’ve only experienced JD Tennessee whiskey I heartily recommend comparing the alternative.

    I completely agree with multiple mentions of the Rittenhouse BiB at roughly $20 as well. The Russell’s Reserve Rye and Sazerac 6yo look like bargains until you try the Rittenhouse.

    At Toco Giant in Atlanta a favorite, Highland Park 12yo, is still available for $35 on special. The 18yo is the cream of the crop, but any HP for $35 is hard to beat.

    I also consider $45 for Redbreast to be a bargain. One of my favorite whiskeys ever, and the best Irish I’ve ever tasted, for a price equivalent to a top shelf bourbon, is also hard to beat.

    Finally, I believe Kittling Ridge’s 40 Creek (not typical) Canadian at roughly $20 provides a unique taste at the best price for any Canadian. John Hall puts out an excellent whisky worth more than asked, which is the definition of a bargain.

    Steve

  37. B.J. Reed says:

    Twin Cities is the place! – You can still get pretty good deals at the Discount places (e.g. Cosco and Sams) but selection is limited – Dalmore Cigar Malt is still under $30 but these prices will not last long – The Dundee Dell here in Omaha still has good prices on some of the discontinued whiskies such as Bowmore Darkest and Dawn – Binnys in Chicago has good prices on distillery bottlings that they have had bottled such as Mortlach and Linkwood – Of course the manager for both the Dundee Dell and Binnys are tasting there way across Scotland as we speak so you may want to wait till they get back on this side of the pond :)

  38. ryan says:

    Living in LA there are some stores with great selection nearby, but I have noticed that Binny’s and other Chicago stores consistently have some distilleries at lower price than in LA, and LA stores consistently sell other distilleries for less.

    I follow Binny’s because they advertise so regularly in Malt Advocate, but I haven’t followed prices in too many other stores regularly. Has anyone else noticed local stores selling certain distilleries at a consistent discount from local or listed prices?

  39. John Hansell says:

    Ryan, I can’t say for certain why some brands are better bargains in certain locations, but I have a few ideas.

    It’s possible that certain wholesalers or retailers bought in bulk and got a better price. Or perhaps the brand owner wants to penetrate a market and will offer a discount to the retailer to see that this happens. Or maybe there’s a lot of competition for certain brands in certain markets. All these could be reasons why. (And I’m sure there are other reasons too!)

  40. Tim McCann says:

    Like many of the comments here, in Rhode Island I have seen the ‘low end’ prices go up dramatically, but some of the mid-level malts staying put, thus making them more of a value. There are still a few deals to be found however.

    Balvenie 10 & 12 can be had for $29 and $33 respectively at Haxton’s Liquors, as well as Elijag Craig 12 for $17. Town Wine & Spirits has Eagle Rare 10 yo for $20 and Highland Park 12 for $37. Joyal’s liquors sells Glen Scotia 17 for $66 and I cannot even find that anywhere else anymore; and curiously, they sell the Balvenie 17 yo Sherry Wood for $65 when the other locations sell it for $80 and $90 respectively. And like previous comments Talisker 18 can be had for $65.

    I am mystified how in a market as small as RI how there can be such a big difference in prices from place to place. I saw your comments John on possible reasons for some pricing discrepenacies, but ow can one place sell a ‘low end’ bottle for $29 when most everyone else (a scant few miles away in any direction) sells the same bottle for anywhere from $37 -$45? (referring again to the Balvenie 10). How many different distributors of Balvenie would work in such a small area? Just curious.

  41. John Hansell says:

    Tim, I might have an answer for you regarding the Balvenie 10. It’s being dropped from the Balvenie portfolio. Some retailers might just want to put it on clearance to get rid of their last remaining bottles. But if those retailers were smart, they would hold on to those bottles and in about five years or so they would become collector’s items and probably be worth double what they are charging now because this whisky has a following.

  42. sam k says:

    Well, getting back to my rye roots, the PLCB has officially made Wild Turkey straight rye a regular item, after a couple of years as a hit-and-miss Chairman’s Selection: $19.99 a bottle! Rittenhouse BIB rye is also available as a special liquor order by the case at $11.89 a bottle…$142.68 for 12!!! I’m ordering a case tomorrow!!!

  43. John Hansell says:

    $11.89 a bottle? That’s a steal!

  44. [...] started a couple of good conversations about whiskey prices and high-value whiskies on his blog here and [...]

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