How Much Should You Spend on Whiskey?

Here at Whiskey Culture, we get asked quite the plethora of questions about whiskey. However, by far the most common of them is to do with prices and how much money should you spend on whiskey. So, how much money should you spend on the amber spirit?

The answer isn’t black and white or really even a within a fixed number range. Okay, okay, I’d say if you’re looking for a concrete window, somewhere above $0.00 to an amount slightly below your monthly living expenditures. But in all seriousness, the number varies from person to person. Let’s take a look at a few different scenarios and you can decide where you fall.

The neophyte. You’re brand new stepping into the world of whiskey eager to grab the coolest bottle or the first thing that you’ve had that you tasted and actually really liked. You don’t have much knowledge in the area of whiskey pricing, but you know it’s essentially just a drink so I shouldn’t spend too much on something that I’m going to eventually turn into a bodily fluid. This isn’t a bad mindset to have starting out. Yes, in very basic terms it’s just another type of liquor and you don’t need to go out and blow a car payment on a bottle of alcohol. In this stage your focus should be all about widening your palate. Go out and try different pours at your local watering holes and see what you like and don’t like.

This can be a very volatile stage depending on your impulse control. You want the newest and coolest bottles, (this wont change as you progress in your whiskey journey but it’ll calm down a bit) and you probably don’t know the MSRP off the top of your head and could fall victim to gouging. If you could follow one piece of advice during this stage, it’d be try before you buy. If you happen to know an aficionado and show interest in the spirit, I guarantee they’ll be happy to share some samples from their stash. Finally, if this isn’t a possibility, grab some pours at a bar in the area with a decent selection and start broadening your palate. Spending a couple dozen dollars a month on trying some shots of bar fare whiskey shouldn’t break the bank and is invaluable to developing your preferences for the road ahead.

The journeyman. You’ve had a couple dozen whiskeys in your time. You have a pretty decent knowledge of the big brand names and you’ve tasted most of them. You’re looking to find something you like and something you can hunt down regularly. You’re not exactly sure the prices you should be paying for certain bottles or pours but you remember the cost the last time you bought them. This should be a continuation of your sampling phase. You’re still building a palate and narrowing down your preferences.

This could be one of your more expensive phases as you’re broadening your horizons from the typical bar selections. You might see a different expression from a familiar brand but not find a pour of it at a local bar so you buy the bottle to check it out. See where this can start adding up? This phase is where you should sit down and start researching some flavor profiles of the whiskeys you’ve tried and liked. Apply that knowledge to your future purchases and never be afraid to ask questions. Questions save time, money and disappointment.

The proficient. At this point you know what you like. You know the big brands and you’ve tried them all and know their flavor profiles. You know what you enjoy and have a keen understanding of the price that comes with your preference. For this stage I would recommend hunting down the brands you like and seeing if you can grab some single barrels or barrel picks of them. This could be another dangerously slippery slope on the financial side.

Single barrels typically aren’t cheap. Often going for at least 10 – 20 dollars more than the batched expression. Liquor stores will often like to crack open a bottle of their store picks and share it with their customers to get them to buy a bottle. Be on the lookout for those scenarios. They’re typically free and if you like the sample you know you’re buying something you’ll enjoy.

The expert. At this point, nothing that I’m laying out here for you should be news. You know what your palate is, you know what whiskeys you like and you know how much it costs. Your amount of money spent on whiskey will most likely be less than one or more of the previous tiers due to your experience weeding out the pours you like and don’t like. Unless you’ve developed caviar tastes and and can’t find a bottle to scratch that itch for a lower price point, you should be relatively stable on your whiskey expenditures with a splurge here or there.

The “trying new pours” portion of your expenses will typically have dwindled down at this point as you’ve been in the game so long and know a buddy or two who can always seem to get a pour of something new you were looking at trying. This doesn’t mean you’re done trying new things of course. You know at this stage that there’s always something new to try on the horizon but you have the experience to predict whether or not it would be something you’d want to own.

The gifter. This is a bonus category all on its own. This person typically has zero experience in selecting a whiskey for someone let alone knowing the appropriate amount of money to spend on it. You’re at the liquor store shopping for a friend, family member or loved one who is a whiskey aficionado and want to get them something nice. To this person I would give the same advice to anyone who is looking to buy something for someone who is experienced in a hobby. Ask. Them. Exactly. What. They. Want.

It really is that simple. I wouldn’t go out and buy Monet paint, canvas or brushes because I have no experience in the field and wouldn’t know where to start. You could end up paying top shelf price for a very middle of the road spirit because of a cool looking bottle or what looked like a sale but was really a small discount from an inflated price.

All in all, how much you should spend on whiskey will vary from person to person, budget to budget and where you on your whiskey expedition. Have fun trying new things, making memories and sharing good times with some bourbon buddies. That’s what this spirit is all about. Cheers!

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