Spirits Close-Up: Which expensive bottles live up to their price tag?

Ichiro’s Malt & Grain Whisky // Photo by Aaron Job

Ichiro’s Malt & Grain Whisky // Photo by Aaron Job

Liquor prices can seem arbitrary. The factors affecting the price of a spirit are seemingly unending and often well hidden. What we pay at the liquor store has to do with the spirit’s cost of production and distribution, sure, but also the brand’s marketing budget, celebrity endorsements, custom bottle design, and high-def B-roll footage of authentic agriculture. 

Yet with some brands, a higher price can be easily justified when the extra costs are going directly into the bottle. These are a few spirits that aren’t simply charging you for their billboards:

Local Flavor

Barr Hill Gin • approx. $40

The price for Barr Hill Gin can seem high when placed alongside other gins, but the ingredients make it worth the difference. Comprised of just two flavoring ingredients—juniper and raw honey—the profile is anything but simple, with texture and complexity driven by the addition of honey after distillation. The raw honey is purchased entirely from small, local producers, putting money directly back into the community from which it came. The company buys so much local honey it has actually improved the health of the local colonies. “Because they don’t have to invest the time to jar and sell their honey, the farmers and beekeepers have more time to keep their bees healthy,” says Sarah Macfarquhar, former Midwest Sales Manager for Barr Hill.

Sparing No Expense

Ichiro’s Malt & Grain Whisky • approx. $110

Ichiro Akuto has been called a visionary in the Japanese whisky community and the price tag of this whisky reflects his process. The whisky is his blend of five products from different whisk(e)y producing regions— Canada, the United States, Scotland, Ireland, and Japan—and the costs of purchasing and transporting these products are just the beginning. The fermentation and some of the aging uses the rare mizunara oak, which is prized for its unique flavor but is expensive and difficult to maintain. Most of his products are not available in the U.S., but this is one gem that is worth tasting what could be the global future of innovation in blends.

Waiting and Wanting

Banhez Tobala • approx. $120

The story of Tobala mezcal is one of low yield and high demand. This variety is about one-eighth the physical size of the Espadin—the most common mezcal agave—and takes 12–15 years to reach maturity. Tobala agaves are sweeter than most other varieties and traditionally produce a mezcal that is smooth, floral, and complex. This taste profile is wildly desirable among mezcal enthusiasts and the agaves can barely grow fast enough to keep up. Many brands are instituting sustainability efforts for this variety—a challenge as the high demand continues. 

Finishing Fancy

Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey • approx. $85

Angel’s Envy Rye is a 7–10-year-old, 95-percent rye mash whiskey, but the extra value of this spirit is in the finishing barrels, which have previously aged Pierre Ferrand Cognac and Plantation XO Rum. Those are two high-end products revered for their incredible flavor profiles, and their former barrels, still imbued with a great deal of flavor, carry a hefty price tag. Angel’s Envy recognizes the added benefit of this flavor and invests accordingly. The rye rests in the barrels for 18 months, allowing all the flavors from past and present to marry and create an exceptional whiskey.