Choosing Your Liquor Store.

Choosing the Right Liquor Store.


Which liquor store is right for you? We’ll get to the more practical considerations, but here is the takeaway: a good liquor store will stock not only your favorite brands, but also a wide variety of your favorite kind of liquor. Of the two, I’d dare say the latter is more important. Only sticking to your trusted brand may eventually settle you into a stale rut, or leave you flailing with indecision when it’s not available in a particular store, at the bar, or in a restaurant. Becoming comfortable with a range of brands allows you to not only select an alternative with confidence, but develop a working list of brands suitable as gifts or recommendations for friends and family.

In the picture above, nearly twenty different bottles of gin are shown. This excludes the bottom and very top shelf varieties cut off by the camera. Try to find a liquor store with at least a dozen different bottles of your favorite liquor available. Unless you really lucked out, this often means the best store will not be your closest store. Don’t panic; even in my relatively small town, I can count at least three that meet this requirement, or are close. The best selection doesn’t always equate to the largest store. Depending on the store owners and their priorities, a small mom-and-pop shop might house an extraordinary collection of select liquors. The best method is to keep an eye out for unexplored stores, with the goal of roaming their aisles in free moments.

How do you know when you’ve found a good store? When you regularly find yourself making wishlists, reading the labels on intriguing bottles, or snapping pictures of shelves, you know you’ve found a winner. A good store preoccupies you with possibilities and future plans. Like a good bookstore, you can easily lose twenty or thirty minutes of time just wandering its aisles.

Once you’ve found some ideal candidates, here are some other considerations:

Rewards Programs. Most moderately-sized liquor stores have some type of reward accrual system that offer regular discounts or coupons after a certain number of points are reached. For example, my nearest liquor store offers $5 off any non-sale item after the goal points are reached. This can help when shopping on a budget or purchasing top shelf items.

Drive-Thru Options. If you have young children or a tight schedule, the freedom to pull up to a window and order your regular bottle is a wonderful luxury. It’s also good for your wallet, as it prevents spendy impulse purchases that weren’t in your liquor budget.

Price. If selection is no issue, be sure to price-shop around for your best buy. $3-$5 price differences shouldn’t break your budget, but if your go-to store is regularly charging $10 more than its competitors for the same bottle, it may be time to move on.

Events, Stocking, & Special Orders. Some stores have regular events, such as tastings, food pairings, and even classes. However, the best events and selection in town won’t matter if they’re always out of stock, or are slow to refill the shelves. A good store also has the option of special orders, but be warned – special order waiting lists can be lengthy, or at the store’s discretion. Of the three special orders I’ve attempted to place at my closest store, only one went through after three months. 

And Finally, a Good Selection of Pints. Want to try that new brand, but not willing to commit to an entire 750 ml? Keep in eye out for stores with dense pint selections behind the counter. Most stores also offer pints of select liqueurs as well that might otherwise break the bank, such as Grand Marnier or Chambord.