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Overpriced Bottles Of Bourbon And Their More Affordable Cousins

Calling out overpriced bourbons is tough. Many of the most expensive bottles are released at pretty fair price points and then those prices get jacked up — in some cases ridiculously — when they hit the secondary market. For instance, the “suggested retail” of a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23 Year is $299.99. That’s steep but do-able for a major splurge on a truly special expression. But you’ll be lucky to find that bottle for less than $2,500 these days. Basically, huge retailers and service industry groups buy all the Pappy up the second it hits the open market and then they sell it back to us normal folks at huge markups.

Sad and shitty but true. And it happens more than you might think.

Most of us don’t have thousands of dollars laying around to spend on a single bottle of bourbon, so we’re taking a look at five overpriced bottles of bourbon (thanks to the secondary market) and calling out similar bottles from the same distiller. The ten bottles below are paired off according to their general vibe and often their actual mash bills. And just to be clear, we’re not saying that these bottles are overrated (Pappy 23 is delicious after all). They’re simply overpriced, mostly due to the way unchecked capitalism is allowed to work in the bourbon industry.

Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23 Year Old

Average Price: $3,250.00
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY

Bottom Line:

Let’s get the Pappy out of the way right up top. Yes, this is delicious. Superior 20-year-old barrels of Pappy are identified in the rickhouse and then aged an additional three years to add even more greatness. But with a price tag this steep, this wheated-bourbon is pretty much completely out of reach to everyone without super deep pockets.

Alternative: Weller Special Reserve Bourbon

Average Price: $45
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY

The Whiskey:

This wheated bourbon is the actual predecessor to Pappy. In fact, W.L. Weller and Pappy were made at the same distillery in Kentucky after Prohibition ended. There’s a direct lineage between these two labels from the same distillery (to this day) and that shared heritage shines through in Weller’s refinement.

Tasting Notes:

Sweet caramel greets you. The sip slowly travels through notes of oakiness, fresh honeycomb, wildflowers, and a hint of butterscotch. That floral note marries the honey sweetness as the sip lingers on the palate long after you’ve finished the dram.

Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond 9 Year Old

Average Price: $300
Distillery: Heaven Hill Distillery, Bardstown, KY

Bottom Line:

This high-end bottle from Heaven Hill is certainly one of the best-looking bottles on the list. The wheated bourbon is well-made but comes at a hefty price tag that makes this bottle more of a delicious showpiece than anything else.

Alternative: Henry Mckenna Single Barrel Bourbon 10 Year Bottled-in-Bond

Average Price: $50
Distillery: Heaven Hill Distillery, Bardstown, KY

The Whiskey:

While this isn’t also a wheated bourbon, this very affordable offering from Heaven Hill shines brightly. The juice utilizes a touch of rye in the mash bill and is then aged for ten long years in a bonded rickhouse. The best barrels are chosen by hand and the juice is bottled directly.

Tasting Notes:

Orange zest, caramel, vanilla, and Christmas spice are counterpointed by a flush of fresh mint. The vanilla and caramel carry through as the spices kick up the sharpness alongside a burnt orange feel. It all slowly fades out on the charred oak finish with a minor hint smoke far in the background.

Michter’s 20 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Average Price: $2,000
Distillery: Michter’s Shively Distillery, Louisville, KY

Bottom Line:

This is straight-up a collector’s bottle and it’s not even the most expensive bottle of Michter’s you can buy. Still, if this bottle was priced closer to $250, we might say “go for it” — it’s truly a masterpiece of bourbon making.

Alternative: Michter’s US*1 Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon

Average Price: $70
Distillery: Michter’s Shively Distillery, Louisville, KY

The Whiskey:

One of the big changes you get in the 20-plus-year-old whiskeys is a real sense of oak. It’s just different. And this expression doesn’t have exactly that; but the use of sun-kissed, toasted barrels adds an extra dimension that reaches towards those aged depths.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a clear sense of oak alongside a rush of spice and a billow of smoke. Cinnamon and allspice forward pecan pie with a butter crust mingle with a little more smokiness and a clear sense of sappy woodpile. The sip lasts a while as it slowly rolls through all that wood, spice, and pecan pie nuttiness/sweetness.

Eagle Rare 17 Year

Average Price: $600
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY

Bottom Line:

This expression is released every year as part of Buffalo Trace’s “Antique Collection” along with stellar bottles of George T. Stagg, Sazerac Rye 18-Year-Old, William Larue Weller, and Thomas H. Handy. It’s truly a masterstroke of rickhouse aging.

Stagg Jr.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CChha1GnNnx/

Average Price: $75
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY

The Whiskey:

It’d be easy to just say, “grab the Eagle Rare 10” instead. And by all means, don’t let us stop you — it’s a great expression. But let’s change it up a little with a really well-rounded cousin to Eagle Rare: Stagg Jr. The bourbon is aged for nearly ten years before it’s bottled completely unfussed with, and it’s a great sipper to have around.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a brown sugar sweetness the drives towards red fruit and spice. With a drop or two of water (or an ice cube) a real sense of dark chocolate bitterness arrives alongside ripe cherries next to more sharp rye spice and wet brown sugar. The sip ebbs and flows through the spice and sweetness towards a wisp of smoke right on the end that sits with you like a fog.

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