Bourbon on a Budget

Announcing my latest post topic, my wife makes spluttering, guffawing noises, similar to her cat ejecting a fur ball gagging sound she makes on smelling an Islay peated malt.

‘You are having a laugh.’ she says, but I just ignore this.

“A budget tells us what we can’t afford, but it doesn’t keep us from buying it.”

William Feather – American Author

My original whiskey wish list ran to over $3000.

I started on Scotch, expanded into Bourbon, got into Cask Strength. I became curious and my whiskey wish list became much longer and more expensive. I culled it to what I could afford. Whisky can be an expensive hobby.

It reminds me of the old saying about Formula One racing. How do you make a make a small fortune from whiskey, start with a large one – boom boom!

It’s Something about ranges of things. It is human to gather and to try them all.

O bliss of the collector, bliss of the man of leisure! Of no one has less been expected and no one has had a greater sense of well-being than… a collector. Ownership is the most intimate relationship one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who comes alive in them.

Walter Benjamin – German Philosopher.

Here, friends are my futile attempts to moderate my spending and learn to drink on a budget.

Tip low-cost bottles

Start at the low-cost end from supermarkets, the standard releases. It seems obvious on a Budget to buy low priced but high value. Fortunately, the Bourbon brands accommodate this well in their standard releases; Jim Beam White, Buffalo Trace, Four Roses yellow, Heaven Hill, Wild Turkey 81, Makers Mark. if you could drink, enjoy and stick with these bourbon on a budget is achievable and enjoyable.

Human nature immediately intervenes – “What am I missing?”

Then as your curiosity grows and I speak from personal experience, every reviewer seems to have unlimited budget to afford and drink the best, rarest, loveliest of whiskey. Pesky bloggers!

What are their tricks?

The fundamental problem is that Whiskey is a consumable. If you collected durables, say you bought a collection of rare books. You would have a shelf of rare books. A year later you would still have a shelf of books. Buy whiskey a year later you have a shelf of empty bottles.

Tip 2 – Don’t kid yourself

Don’t negotiate with yourself. Have you heard yourself say?

‘It was too good an offer to miss.’
‘I saved x amount’
‘too good an opportunity to miss.’
‘never available again’
‘just this once’

Worst of it is we have all been there. We know the second we do it.

You are getting caught in the marketer’s trap. Beware of negotiating with yourself. It invariably busts the budget.

Tip 3 – Grocery bottles

I define my grocery bottles I.e. Those bottles bought regularly and often drunk as a part of our grocery budget. These are the best of the lower cost whiskies. Replaced when the bottle is empty.

Tip 4 – Keep score

One discipline I developed was to honestly keep track of how much I spend. That way I know what the alternative might have been, a new lens, a guitar, a holiday.

This can hurt but provides the incentive to be cautious. Transparency is painful.

Tip 5 – Don’t sink capital into stock

The place to keep money is a bank, not a row of half empty bottles, every drop undrunk is capital tied up, like a bunch of bills stuffed In a sock under the bed. Even I can only drink one glass at a time.

Tip 6 – Buy Samples

One of my smarter economies homies is to buy samples of bottles I might buy. Samples widen my drinking experience and prevent me making expensive buying mistakes on expressions I find I don’t like. In the U.K. I use Drinks by the Dram, they have thousands of samples to try, tasting kits, advent calendars and more.

Tip 7 – Exchange Samples

By buying samples I have a stock of empty 30cl bottles. I exchange samples with other whiskey fans. This means I can buy a bottle, drink most of it but by exchanging samples for a small postage fee, I can experience several other bottles from friends.

Tip 8 – Form a club or group of friends with a shared interest

This was the best move I ever made, my friends and I enjoyed a great, sociable evening. We held a tasting of a 10,15 and 21y.o. Glenfarclas. We paid £20 each about what we might have paid for an evening in the bar. It was an exceptional evening. A friend from DIAGEO and my Brother-in-law Chairman of the Speyside Malt Whisky Trail lent their experience to the event. This gave us access to drinks we might otherwise not have spent our money on. We plan to hold these events often.

Tip 9 – Make friends with a liquor store

By making friends at your local liquor store, you will get the opportunity to taste samples, get invaluable advice and great deals and often meet others who share your passion.

Tip 10 – Set your upper limit

Most of my friends set an upper limit on how much they would spend on a single bottle. This makes sense. Although everyone has different means our upper limits are roughly the same. Even for the wealthiest it is still a cost versus value judgement.

Tip 11 – Look for special offers

The big companies all have large marketing departments and marketing departments feel obliged to launch promotions. If you monitor the big retailers there are frequent great deals. Given the relative low cost of production they can afford huge discounts to lure you to try their product. My whiskey social media network get out the word when exceptional deals (or mispricing) appear.

Tip 12 – Don’t get jealous or tempted just enjoy the reviews of others

Accept there are some bottles you cannot now or maybe ever afford or want to. Read and enjoy the reviews of others lucky enough to get that bottle. Take satisfaction from watching while sipping your favorite drink that your bank balance has lived to fight another day!

Tip 13 – Include price in your assessment of great bottles

in the section of my whiskey reviews you will see my scoring system. This is based on quality. I do have an additional step I take for my personal use to arrive at value. I deduct the price of a bottle from 100, and multiply my value score by the result /100, here is an example.

Bottle A gets a quality score of 6

It costs $55 so that gives 100-55 = 45
45/100 x 6 gives a value score of 2.7, total score: 8.7

Bottle B gets a quality score of 6 also
It costs $20 giving 100-20 = 80
80/100 x 6 = 4.8, total score 10.8.

Bottle B to me represents much better value to me.

Tip 14 – I don’t collect or hoard

There are lots of bottles I would love to own. If I bought them I could not bring myself to open them as they would lose their resale value. I can’t think of anything worse. I like to drink Whiskey preferably with family or friends. Collecting is an investment activity not the enjoyment or experience. Leave investment for investors but don’t confuse the two things.

Tip 15 – Drink less, savor, take longer

Buy better quality Whiskey but drink smaller measures and drink it less often. Take your time to enjoy every sip. I have a category of whiskey I call ‘Indulge’. Indulge is for special occasions, drunk as a single measure. I savor it over time. These whiskeys I keep for winter evenings by the fire with my most appreciative of friends.

Tip 16 – High proof

A friend of mine, the then President of the Glasgow Malt Whiskey Club, maintained that Whiskey was a diluting drink and to get value bought the highest proof well priced bottle he could lay his hands on and dilute to taste. I personally find that water more often than not releases more aroma and flavor. I drink whiskey neat by taste, with a drop to a teaspoon of water. On a budget diluting makes sense I often quote that professionals taste at around 40 proof (20. ABV).

High proof always gives you the option of what dilution to drink at.

Tip 17 – Buy a shot in a bar

For the Bourbon neebie, a good bar offers the chance to buy drink you might never be able to find yourself. A great bartender will be glad to give her or his advice and chat about what you like and might try next.

Great bars get allocations of whiskey you can’t find. Bourbon banter a Blog to follow tasted a 25y.o. Old Van Winkle for $125 for 1.25 oz.

The bar keeps the stock so that you can buy a shot. For the budget drinker, it costs less per measure than owning your own but gives a varied, valuable introduction.

This weekend I drank Old Pultney 21, Glengoyn 21, Clynelish 14, all for £30. It was a great tasting experience.

Tip 18 – Delayed Gratification

You will enjoy a bottle much more if you wait to buy it until you have saved or bought it to reward yourself for achieving something or can now afford it. The conscious decision to defer the enjoyment, makes it taste so much better.

Tip 19 – Buy MiniItures

i buy a lot of my review whiskey as samples from Drinks by the Dram. This lets me try a 3 cl sample to avoid costly buying mistakes or to let me review something which i might never buy a bottle of or to try difficult to source whiskey. It can still e an expensive approach, i buy in 5’s and of course have to pay postage and could buy a decent bottle for the same money. On a couple of occasions after buying samples I decided not to buy the bottles I had intended buying which saved me about £60 so the £30 for the sample set plus postage, was money well spent.

Miniatures do not seem so prevalent in the U.S. and are often different sizes. I saw a 100ml Angels Envy for £12.50 plus postage and lots of scotch miniatures of 50ml which is 5cl the normal U.K. miniature size.

Tip – 20 You will only drink them all if you are a millionaire.

To try every Bourbon is probably a forlorn hope unless you inherit wealth. A lovely thought that a life prudently spent might allow you to sip your way through 2000 Bourbons or so. Patience and dedication in time will get you there. In the past year without breaking the bank, I have tasted over 100 whiskeys. Not a bad average I look forward to the next 20 years which might get me through a further 1000 different whiskeys. Affording them all immediately would spoil my fun. If you are a millionaire you might make different choices but, feel free to buy me a Pappy.

Tip 21 Don’t Invest

Whiskey is for drinking forget investing. You can currently make money investing in whiskey but please just don’t. You raise the prices and restrict availability to true fans. I have invested successfully in wine over the years, but it reduced my enjoyment as it became like stocks and shares. I could not bring myself to open or drink the best of my stock as it would lose its value. It lived in bond 500 miles away so I could not even admire it.

I owned a few cases of the world’s finest wine. I never drank a drop yet for a while this was my passion. I discussed the price with friends when we should have been enjoying the taste together. I now have sold all but those I intend to drink on special family occasions.

I will never make the same mistake with whiskey. Drinking and investing are two very different things and best not combined.

Tip 22 – Learn to love those entry level expressions

As a Bourbon fan, you have the great opportunity to enjoy some of the best value high quality entry level drinks of any spirit type. Too many spirits have entry level expressions which are harsh and sold purely as cheap alcohol. I remember the first time I sipped an entry level Bourbon having expected it to be only fit for drinking with a mixer. I could not have been more wrong as I discovered brand upon brand rich or mass produced delivering smooth, complex quality drinks. These are truly great whiskeys , indeed world class drinks which can form the staples of your daily drinking stock, not just in the beginning but throughout our Bourbon journey. I can full see that in 10 years irrespective of my means, I will be drinking, Buffalo Trace, Makers Mark, Jim Beam white label, Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey 101 to name but a few that are my taste.

These are whiskeys that will always deliver. Love these and they will respect your wallet.

Tip 23 – Own just enough to match your Objectives.

Understand what it is that you most enjoy about Bourbon and focus your spend around that. I love socializing with friends. I love to experience different flavors. I buy new and interesting bottles infrequently, delaying enjoying them until I have friends round to drink them with. I buy samples to economically widen my knowledge and experience. I supplement these purchases by buying and loving entry level expressions.

Tip 24 – Use a measure for pouring

I use a measure to plus my whiskey. Not (just) because I am a mean Scot. I want to know the amount of water that I like to drink with. if you tend to pour two or three fingers randomly, you will find that you get fewer drinks per bottle than if you used a measure. I also enjoy the theatre of using the measure then carefully adding any water. It adds to the anticipation and enjoyment.

Tip 25 – Set a limit a night

I limit my drinking by having no more than 75ml a night on 5 days a week. This means I take my time and savour my dram. A bottle lasts longer. There are of course health benefits both in limiting my weekly intake and giving my liver a weekly break. I am no Doctor so I leave you to make your own decisions.

Tip 26 – Categorize and replace don’t keep adding to list – see collecting on a Budget

in my post about collecting Bourbon you will see I have categories of Bourbon and a limit on how many bottles are on my shelf in each category. My categories are; Drinking, Indulgence, Stock. These numbers and bottles are fixed until I find a better one to take the place of one on the list. This keeps me to my Budget and stops my stock gradually increasing in number over time.

Tip 27 – Focus on your chosen geography ignore all others

Whiskey is a truly Global industry with new Distilleries opening monthly. Curiosity can take your drinking to many different countries. I limit my purchases to two areas only, to Kentucky and to Scotland. That hardly limits how much I might buy but if I added Japan, Ireland and Canada, these 3 alone would dramatically increase my buying opportunities, so I don’t.

Tip 28 – Better less often

As your bourbon drinking experiences increases there are decisions to be made to keep to your Budget. A classic approach is to drink less but drink better bottles. A $50 bottle drunk in half the time it takes you to drink 2 x $25 bottles presents a choice, which of these would give you the greatest enjoyment? Try it and see for yourself.

Finally …..

I hope these Tips help, or at least cause you to think. Tell me what your best tips are. How do you keep to your budget? Those of us who need to will be grateful for your best tips. Thank you