As long-time readers will know, I do a lot of thinking (and whining) about the price of whisky. Every decision I make at the store and every review I write is influenced by the dollar amount on the bottle’s price tag. I even skip “the spit” at a whisky event like WhiskyFest or Whiskies of the World if the pour is above a certain price point.
This is, I think, a little unusual. Pick up a whisky book or magazine or read some professional reviews online, and while you might see a mention of the suggested retail or average price of a dram, it rarely impacts the review or recommendation. Professional reviewers, as a creed or something, appear to review whisky solely on its merits. I guess there’s a good reason for that – one person’s stretch goal is another person’s pocket change, and prices do fluctuate (down, but mostly up) over time, or as they enter the secondary market. Still, give me a “98 point” pour and tell me it costs $1000 a bottle and I’m not going to recommend it. To anyone. Give me a “90 point” pour and tell me it’s $20 and you’ve got a “net promoter” customer for life.
More importantly, I feel that the ratio of quality to price is the most relevant (although subjective) metric that I can use to compare whiskies. If a whisky is “good” and has a relatively low price, I feel that gives it an advantage over a whisky that is “great” but has a price vastly inflated beyond its quality. You may feel differently.
So, when reader Tony sent me the following graphic, it resonated. Tony coined the term “Go Zone” to refer to his whisky-buying decision-making process. The curve represents the ratio of Tony’s subjective enjoyment of whiskies versus amount paid. As he notes, while some “gems” (outliers) might be found in his sub-$40 zone, most bottles in that range deliver below-average enjoyment for him. Similarly, the more he pays for a bottle over $80, the less likely he will feel happy with his purchase, even though whisky in that range tends to be objectively better (arguable, that).
His curve peaks around the $60 mark, implying that Tony is happiest drinking a $60 whisky that meets his quality standards. As he said to me,
I’ve spent about $200 2-3 times and $100+ another 10 or so. I’m typically underwhelmed when I spend that much (thankfully). $50-80 seems to be my sweet spot as my palate luckily can’t discern stuff much better. Example: I’ve had The Balvenie 12 and 17 Doublewood. I’d MUCH prefer 3 bottles of the 12 versus 1 of the 17 – even if it were a gift.
Obviously, everyone’s “Go Zone” curve is different, and doesn’t necessarily adhere to a symmetrical bell curve. Still, I think it’s a valuable exercise to think about your own curve, and let it inform both your purchase decisions and analysis of bottles you’ve bought. Recognizing when a bottom-shelfer rises above your curve and might warrant further examination can save you a lot of cash. Similarly, identifying a splurge purchase that is really worth its high cost (to you) can really help with your enjoyment and appreciation.
I suggest sometimes going outside of your curve to find bottom-shelf gems as well as precious splurges. For example, although I rarely purchase or review bottles above $100, I have an unopened bottle of The Balvenie PortWood 21-year on the top of my cabinet. Despite that being a huge splurge for me, that bottle represents the current pinnacle of the journey I’ve taken, and will be opened for a special occasion in the future. However, knowing that $200 is far above my “Go Zone” generally prevents me from wasting money on whisky that I’m just going to regret when I crack the seal.
So. What’s your “Go Zone”?