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Bourbon and Rye, Once Considered ‘Cheap’ Whiskeys, Have Seen Dramatic Price Increases. Here’s Why.

American whiskey is having its time in the financial sun.

Shelves of bourbon Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Just a few years ago, a bottle of bourbon or rye might have set you back $50, with very few sitting above $100. Those days are over.

The two main types of American whiskey are now being sold at a premium, thanks to a number of factors that have recently jacked up the price, according to a new report in The New York Times. And it’s not just the luxury labels—even everyday bourbons have seen their price tags double in the past several years.

“Today, $75 is the new $35,” Dixon Dedman, the creator of Kentucky Owl, told the Times.

While it’s difficult to put an exact time stamp on the bourbon craze, 2016 does seem to have been an inflection point. Before then, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the sale of American whiskey grew at a steady pace, consistent across all price categories. But in 2016, people started to buy more super-premium whiskey, with sales rising more than 129 percent over the next five years.

Those who drank bourbon were becoming more educated about the spirit, which meant they were willing to pay more for higher quality and exclusivity. In response, distilleries began selling limited-release bottles with rare qualities, like bourbon drawn from a single barrel or bottled at high proof. That’s how we’ve ended up in a world in which Sotheby’s can sell bottles of Michter’s bourbon for more than $20,000 each, or where The Macklowe can charge $1,500 for a bottle of American single malt.

It’s also why you’ll see fans camping overnight outside liquor stores, Supreme-style, hoping to snag a limited release from distilleries like Buffalo Trace and Four Roses. And why, earlier this year, two men were charged with insider trading related to when and where certain bottles of whiskey would hit the shelves.

The factors behind the increases—and the increases themselves—are anecdotally interesting, but that hasn’t stopped some longtime bourbon connoisseurs from getting turned off of the whole enterprise. They contend that wealthy collectors and speculators have driven up prices so much that most people can’t afford to be in the whiskey game anymore.

“Today it is so competitive, and that’s not what the spirit is all about,” Mason Miller, a bourbon collector in Arizona, told The New York Times.

Some of these collectors are so tired of the craze, they might even venture out into another spirit category: Bas Armagnac, which the Times said was frequently mentioned as the next trendy drink.

Word to the wise: Get in on it that world before it starts to mimic what’s happened to bourbon and rye.

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