Tate & Lyle
WCA Life Science

What makes good quality alcohol expensive?

If you are a business owner operating in the alcohol industry, you’ll no doubt be aware of the sometimes sizable price differences between the premium alcohol brands and the cheaper stuff. But what makes a certain alcohol brand ‘premium’, and what accounts for the correlation between a good quality alcohol and its generally higher price point?

Numerous and varying factors affect the price of different brands of alcohol. One example may be whether it is a local or imported brand. Another may be whether its packaging is noticeably cheap; premium brands tend to have better design and  packaging, and visually stand out from the rest.  

But perhaps the single biggest difference is quality. Most connoisseurs will agree that you can tell the difference between a ‘top shelf’ and  ‘bottom shelf’ liquor, purely by taste. This would seem to confirm that the single biggest factor in distinguishing between a premium and a cheap bottle of alcohol, and hence the comparative price difference,  is the quality of the alcoholic content. 

What’s in the bottle?

While price doesn’t always equal quality, the more premium alcoholic brands tend to use more natural ingredients than their cheaper counterparts. If you use higher quality grains, grapes and fruits to begin with, you end up with a higher quality alcohol, but as you would expect, this can drastically increase the price of production.

At the other end of the spectrum, less expensive liquors tend to make use of more synthetic ingredients. They may, for example, make use of industrial alcohol that is cheaper and quicker to produce. While this makes a difference to the taste, it also lessens the amount of time that it takes to make a bottle of liquor. These cheaper ingredients, coupled with a quicker turnaround time in terms of production, mean these brands can be sold at a cheaper price point and still attain sizeable margins. 

An  example to clarify the above: rum manufacturers can use either an industrial or agricultural route during production. The agricultural method uses freshly pressed sugarcane juice, which almost always leads to a better tasting rum than the industrial method of using molasses.

If you are aiming to produce a premium alcohol, it is clear that you need to invest the time and effort, as well as premium natural ingredients, into producing your alcohol. Good quality liquor really does have a distinguished and refined taste, and as any alcohol producer knows, enjoying high-quality alcohol is valued as an extraordinary experience by your customers. 

The production and ageing process

Producing a high-quality alcohol can take a great deal of time; there’s a reason that a special 12-year-old bottle of scotch costs more than your average bottle.  Good quality alcohol is the result of a methodical and meticulous production process. 

This extremely time consuming process not only produces a higher quality product, but also tends to produce less quantity. 

Additionally, the aging process is sometimes just as important as the initial creation or distillation of the alcohol. It takes time, for example, to allow a Bourbon whiskey to sit for years in a toasted oak barrel and age. This extra time contributes to the higher price of a well-aged premium alcohol.

Even vodka, which is generally considered fairly easy to produce, will benefit from an aging process. In fact, many believe that vodka is the easiest of the liquors to discern between a cheaply made drink and an expensive, quality one.

The energy and time invested into the production  and aging process are, along with the use of premium ingredients, key components in generating that sought-after and perfect flavour.

Because of this, certain brands of alcohol quite literally earn their ‘premium’ status; all of that time and energy earn those top shelf liquors their higher price tag.  

Other factors

There are certainly other factors that affect the price of the liquor on the shelf. As already mentioned, whether an alcohol brand is imported or locally produced is another key component in determining its price point.

But packaging is also a great indicator: more expensive liquors tend to have more effort put into the design and packaging of their product. For example, that special 12-year-old bottle of Scotch is likely to be encased in a well made box or tin, as opposed to a cheaper brand of whisky which is simply sold in a plain bottle.

Premium brands also tend to have bigger advertising budgets; it takes time to build a brand that becomes recognised as a top shelf liquor. Chances are good that if you’ve heard of the brand, it’s almost certainly superior to that ‘no-name’ option on a lower shelf.

Final thoughts

As a business in the alcohol industry, it’s clear that the time and effort put into production are directly proportional to both the quality of the product and the perception of having a premium brand.

As with so much in life, when it comes to tasting time, you generally tend to get what you pay for…

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