Several of us probably spend more time on social media than we should. I can verify that I’m in that group. Mrs. Whiskeyfellow wouldn’t disagree. But, it is what it is. As you can imagine, I’m part of a lot of online whiskey groups. There is a chance that I own one and moderate a few others. After all, anything is possible.
One of the most common questions I see asked in whiskey groups is,
I just found ______ priced at $_____, is it worth it?
Predictably, questions of that nature lead to all sorts of answers. Some are helpful, others not so much. To be fair, I find that most fall into the latter. The snarky ones are obvious. The serious ones are harder to recognize how subjective they are.
We’re at the point in the whiskey boom where everyone not asking these types of questions are successful chemists. Conveniently, they’ve also obtained degrees in immunology and constitutional law. A handful has even successfully schooled TTB agents on how to do their jobs. They’ve read all the comments on every social media post out there and even a whiskey review or two, and are skilled at busting someone’s balls repeatedly until they cry for answering incorrectly. You know you’ve run across people who fit that profile. Heck, maybe that’s even you.
Marketers are marketing experts. It would seem the best of the bunch work for Sazerac. They’re so successful at it, that they’ve created a frenzy on nearly every whiskey they’ve released. It doesn’t matter if it is Pappy Van Winkle or their flagship Buffalo Trace brand. There’s a run on everything out of that distillery like they’re bottling the secret to eternal youth. Even their bottom shelf brands, such as Old Charter, now get the royal treatment (watch for Early Times, which they just acquired, to become the next big thing).
If you think I’m ragging on Sazerac unfairly, that’s not my goal. For the most part, I enjoy what they distill. But, I also realize at the end of the day, if I can’t find a bottle of Handy or Stagg at retail, I don’t suffer from FOMO. There’s no need to.
Other spirits brands are good at the game, too (but, not as skilled as Sazerac). Brown-Forman has created a huge market for its annual Old Forester Birthday Bourbon. Heaven Hill has successfully converted Old Fitzgerald into something sought-after. Let’s not forget Beam-Suntory with Booker’s, something that stores couldn’t move to save their lives at $50.00 just a couple of years ago until Beam’s marketing squad decided to jack up the price. And, that’s just the American stuff. Scotch can occasionally get caught up in the hype with very young whiskies commanding an easy three figures.
I’ve written a lot, and you may think that I’ve forgotten the question, I just found ______ priced at $_____, is it worth it? I’ve not. What I’ve done is give you all the background you need for why these questions come up.
The answer to the question is not found by people adding their two cents in the comments section, particularly when you get into single-barrel releases. As I’ve said many times, barrels are like snowflakes. No two are alike. To ask, I just found [a single barrel whiskey] at $[some inflated price], is it worth it? is going to earn you a ton of unqualified answers. Every brand of single barrel whiskey you can think of has less-than-stellar barrels. I pick many barrels a year, and I guarantee you the variety in single barrel whiskey is very real and even the greatest names offer samples that are cringe-worthy.
Follow a good reviewer whose palate you trust and take his or her recommendations to heart. We have plenty here at Bourbon & Banter. Or, find yourself a good whiskey bar. I realize we’re still in pandemic mode and getting into bars around the country isn’t so easy, but buying yourself a pour, even an expensive one, is a sure-fire way to answer your question as to any whiskey’s worth. If you take some random stranger’s word for it, you’ll likely end up trying to convince yourself you did okay after you realize that ____ wasn’t worth $_____ after all. Cheers!