I'm a bartender — here are 7 brands you're spending way too much money on, and what you should be ordering instead

Emma Witman
  • Brand loyalty goes a long way, and that’s especially true at a bar.
  • Bartenders like me know there are some brands of liquor that are not worth their high price tags, but customers keep ordering them anyway.
  • Here are some of the brands I think customers are spending too much money on, and some alternatives you could order instead.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Is it shrewd, cynical, or simply smart that some brands charge more simply because they can?

As a bartender, I’m at times dismayed by how brand loyalty can guide the choices of my customers. Often, there’s a disconnect between the quality of an alcoholic beverage and its price.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with favouring a brand. We all feel endeared toward some.

But if you’re taking a hard look at quality for price, there are some booze brands you order that leave us scratching our heads: Why do so many people shell out so much money to drink them?


Read more:
I’m a bartender, and these are the drinks that we secretly judge you for ordering

Disclaimer: These are my opinions – not the opinion of all bartenders – but nevertheless, I can safely say there’s some consensus, at least among my immediate peers.

Here are the brands you’re spending way too much money for at the bar, and what you should be ordering instead.


Grey Goose

Getty Images for New York Magazine

Customers’ obsession with Grey Goose has always stumped me.

My best guess is that peoples’ partiality to Grey Goose comes primarily from name recognition, and a desire to have “the best,” based on the assumption that the price will correlate to quality.

But for all the times I’ve blind-tasted Grey Goose versus the cheaper house spirit where I work, I can never distinguish a difference – and sometimes prefer the house spirit.

The last time I ran this experiment, I vastly preferred Reyka vodka. I had no preference when it came to Grey Goose versus Luksusowa.

This is a particularly pertinent test for vodka, as opposed to other spirits, for whom distinguishing traits between brands are intentional – meant to appeal to different palates.

But a good vodka’s aim is to taste like little at all. In my book, Grey Goose fails to accomplish that above the mid-tier.


Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire

Shutterstock/Roxane 134

Following Grey Goose, I’m calling out Tanqueray and Bombay gins, since a similar thread follows: Brand loyalty and name recognition mean bars can charge big bucks for these bottles, despite their more affordable prices at the liquor store.

If the price behind the bar of these two London dry gins were comparable to Hendricks gin, a Scottish gin known for its cucumber and rose notes, I’d opt for that instead.


Casamigos, the tequila once owned by George Clooney

Courtesy Casamigos

Ah. The ol’ celebrity-endorsement price bump. George Clooney founded Casamigos tequila in 2013, and it quickly became one of the fastest-growing tequila brands in the world.

Although the company was sold for $US1 billion in 2017, the association to Clooney remains, and bars continue to charge top dollar for the spirit, even if the taste doesn’t quite merit it.

But there are of course exceptions to every rule. I love both the charcoal flavours and the price point of Wild Turkey Longbranch bourbon, made from a collaboration with Matthew McConaughey.

And in Casamigos’ defence, I find its mezcal offering exceptional for the price. And the bottle is gorgeous as well.


Crystal Head Vodka, which was cofounded by SNL player Dan Aykroyd

Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images

The Crystal Head Vodka origin story might be the most surprising of the celebrity-associated brands I’ve encountered yet. The brand was launched by Dan Aykroyd alongside artist John Alexander in 2007.

But unless you’re a Ghostbusters or Blues Brothers superfan, or dearly want a skull-shaped liquid receptacle in your possession, save your money on this wildly overpriced spirit.


Blanton’s bourbon may be more about the show than the taste

Craig F. Walker/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Bourbon drinkers are highly particular, so I imagine some will disagree with me on this one.

But while the liquor’s scarcity is part of the reason for its high price point, I’m starting to think that hardcore fans of Blanton’s Single Barrel bourbon are also paying top-shelf price for – in my book – a mid-shelf taste, in large part for aesthetic reasons.

Namely, the chic globe bottle and collectible B-L-A-N-T-O-N-S lettered horse-race caps.


And just about any ‘flavored’ spirit belongs on the list

Shutterstock/Roxane 134

One thing a bartender strolling through a package store would almost never shell out for is flavored spirits. Think orange or peach vodkas or honey bourbons.

You’re essentially paying more for less percentage spirit, and for very simply conceived, easily achievable flavour profiles. That’s unlike, say, other low-ABV liqueurs like Cynar or Fernet-Branca, whose complex recipes comprise a secret mix of dozens of herbs and botanicals – those we will gladly shell out for.

If you’re looking to spice up the flavours of the home bar bottles, opt for infused spirits instead, like Kettle One’s Botanical line.

You get the additional punch of flavour, while maintaining the same percentage of alcohol by volume.

Again, there are exceptions. I can’t seem to make my own RumChata no matter what different horchata and rum combination I try. And I hate to miss out on indulging my favourite two-ingredient summer tiki drink,the SnoMageddon.

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