There's a lot to love about Bourbon, but one of its great attractions is that it has always offered exceptional value for money – or at least it used to.
While Scotch and even some Japanese whiskies have hogged headlines for achieving jaw-dropping prices at auction (and often in general retail, too), Bourbon has traditionally been more modestly priced, offering consumers excellent quality at relatively bargain prices.
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That's changing, at least at the top end of the category. Two years ago, our list of most expensive Bourbons contained three bottlings with global average prices above the $10,000 mark; last year just two bottles topped five figures. This year, only two bottles come in below that mark, and even then one of them slips under the bar by a single dollar.
So what's happened? Well, a couple of things. First, the wave of popularity that Bourbon has been riding means more people than ever are aware of the quality that top-end Bourbon offers. Why spend $150,000 on Scotch when you can get an equally appealing Bourbon for a fraction of the price?
Then there is the fact that Bourbon producers have realized that they can release rare old whiskeys at the kind of prices that previously only old Scotch had commanded. The third entry on the list below is a nice illustration of that – a whiskey that has no real sales history behind it suddenly arrives on the shelf at almost $20,000? That's confidence.
Confidence doesn't always mean instant success, of course. Take the Eagle Rare bottling on the list below. It still carries a hefty price tag, but it was initially released at an average global retail price of $30,000 and it has been going steadily downwards ever since, as the market flexes its muscle and ultimately decides the value.
Nevertheless, it has been a rewarding time to be making and selling Bourbon, although it isn't all plain sailing ahead. While Bourbon was something of a Covid hero during last year, searches for the category have generally been falling in the past 12 months. Some of that fall-off will be due to the ease with which everyday Bourbons can be found – you don't need Wine-Searcher to find Jim Beam, for example, and sales figures suggest that Bourbon is in robust health. It's prospects are good, too, with an easing in transatlantic trade strife, Europe is once more an open market for American distillers.
Let's take a look at this year's list of the most expensive Bourbons.The World's Most Expensive Bourbons on Wine-Searcher:
|Wine Name||Ave Price|
|Old Rip Van Winkle 25 Year Old||$33,438|
|Colonel EH Taylor Old Fashioned Sour Mash||$24,719|
|The Last Drop Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon||$18,320|
|Eagle Rare Double Eagle Very Rare 20 Year Old||$15,915|
|Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Family Reserve 16 Year Old||$14,999|
|Colonel EH Taylor Warehouse C Tornado Survivor||$13,918|
|Michter's Celebration Sour Mash||$13,227|
|Michter's 25 Year Old Single Barrel||$10,459|
|Willett Family Estate Bottled Single-Barrel 24 Year Old||$9999|
|Willett Family Estate Bottled Single-Barrel 21 Year Old||$8607|
The big deal here is the sheer size of the price increases these whiskeys have enjoyed. Only the Eagle Rare saw a drop in its global average retail price, down from $18,300 last year; the others have had mind-boggling price hikes.
The top whiskey has seen a year-on-year rise in average price of 55.3 percent, shooting from a "mere" $21,500 a bottle to today's level, and that's not even the most spectacular increase. The EH Taylor Old Fashioned saw an average price increase of 246 percent, or more than tripling last year's average price. Similarly, the EH Taylor Warrehouse C's average price shot up by 210 percent, again more than tripling, although both those price rises can be attributed to reduced supply.
The Rip van Winkle Handmade Family Reserve's average price rose by 106 percent, more than doubling, while the Michter whiskeys saw their average prices rise by 96 percent for the Celebration and 86 percent for the Single Barrel expression.
With returns like those, perhaps it's time to stop thinking of Bourbon in terms of bargains and start looking at it as an investment instead.