Retailers Stock Up On High-End Bourbon, Tequila, And Scotch For The Holidays

Beverage alcohol stores juggle spirits inventory as supply chain difficulties create uncertainty this season.

The party doesn't wait for delivery delays in the liquor aisle.
The party doesn't wait for delivery delays in the liquor aisle. (Photo by iStock)

Timing is everything this December with upscale Bourbons, Tequilas, and Scotches poised to capitalize on the gift giving season. The stage is set for high-end spirits to soar at retail, and the spotlight shines on the inventory that arrives at the party on time. “All of the brands have major stocking issues, and it’s just a matter of when the ports can process the containers,” says Terrence Tompkins, senior purchasing manager for Downtown Spirits in Seattle. “Ultimately, whichever brands are able to get their products in stock will capitalize on the holiday season.”

Tompkins expects Scotch, Bourbon, and Tequila to lead Downtown’s high-end spirits sales in the run-up to the New Year. The store’s top-selling single malt Scotches include The Balvenie DoubleWood 12-year-old ($74 a 750-ml.), The Glenlivet 18-year-old ($130), and Ardbeg Scorch Limited-Edition ($167). Popular high-end Bourbons include Woodinville Port Finished ($53), High N’ Wicked “The Honorable” ($115), and Noah’s Mill ($87). In top-shelf Tequila, Casamigos Blanco ($66), Código Rosa ($72), and Herradura Ultra Añejo ($70) lead sales. 

At Sav-Mor Liquors’ four stores in the greater Boston area, the three top-selling spirits by value during last year’s holiday season were Tito’s vodka ($32 a 1.75-liter on sale; $40 regular priced), Hennessy V.S. Cognac ($43 a 750-ml.), and Bulleit Bourbon ($42 a 750-ml.). In addition to preparing these brands for high demand, Sav-Mor runs a lottery for allocated Bourbons. “Everyone who comes into the store gets an entry into a Bourbon lottery and the opportunity to buy a bottle we have in stock at a reasonable price,” says Michael Weiner, wine buyer at Sav-Mor Liquors.

The lottery drawing on Monday, December 20th features such offerings as Old Rip Van Winkle 10-year ($90 a 750-ml.), George T. Stagg barrel proof ($125), and Elmer T. Lee single barrel ($40). “Bourbon is huge,” Weiner says. “While it’s nice somebody is going to have an allocated Bourbon, I would rather have someone come to my store repeatedly and realize we are a place where they can feel comfortable asking questions.”

Super-premium silver Tequilas, including Casamigos ($53 a 750-ml.), Patrón ($63), Milagro ($32), and Espolòn ($30), sell well at Sav-Mor. “People want something with some flavor. They like the smokiness and knowing it’s all from one area,” Weiner observes.

At Downtown Spirits in Seattle, upscale Bourbon (shelves pictured), Scotch, and Tequila are in high demand during the holiday season.
At Downtown Spirits in Seattle, upscale Bourbon (shelves pictured), Scotch, and Tequila are in high demand during the holiday season.

Bourbon has the home-field advantage over imported spirits, but it also faces distribution challenges. “Imports like Scotch and Tequila have their own supply chain complications, but even local products have had major disruptions due to the distribution and shipping companies having difficulties moving any product,” Tompkins explains. “There’s a chance customers may switch from their preferred unavailable brands to an available unfamiliar brand, or customers may choose to wait until their preferred brands are back in stock.”

While uncertain about what stock to expect, Weiner anticipates premium-tier spirits gift sets to do well. “Our supply is bonkers,” he says. “Trying to figure out what our supply will be is difficult because we don’t know if something is coming in or not.” 

Weiner also expects strong demand for home delivery and online sales. “People expect to be able to send whatever they want to whomever they want and think liquor should be no different,” he says. “We keep tweaking our list of partners we work with for delivery.” 

Beyond the supply chain, retail customer service remains paramount. “No matter what happens with supply and price, the only thing you can talk directly to the consumer about is their experience right there at the store,” Weiner says. “Once they are in, you have to turn them into a customer you keep. Every customer matters.”