In January, I vented about the difficulty of finding and purchasing various types of spirits, thanks in no small part to the bewildering system of state liquor laws that govern the trade in alcoholic beverages. Now, just as you're trying to find that great bourbon you've been searching for in time for Father's Day, Eric Felten at the Wall Street Journal is letting loose, too.
After running a recipe that called for the somewhat hard-to-find maraschino liqueur, Felten writes of the experiences his readers encountered, epitomized by the liquor store owner who insisted that the complex Italian or Croatian liqueur was the same thing as the sweet, neon-red syrup that cocktail cherries are packed in. A simple mistake for a rookie, but for someone in the industry, a dumb—and all too familiar—move.
The good news is you can find that bottle of single-barrel bourbon, Dutch gin, or small-batch bitters online more often than not. Bad news, though: it's a royal pain to find it and buy it, and oftentimes it's illegal. Some states prohibit all shipments of liquor, while the others cherry-pick which states it's acceptable to order from or ship to. In my home state of Washington, the selection is diverse but limited. I was recently cut off by an Internet retailer in Chicago who apparently received a sharp letter from the state attorney's office sometime after my last order; fortunately, retailers in New York and New Jersey still satisfy my needs for spirits I can't find near home, albeit the deal comes with expensive shipping and occasionally a hefty markup.
Sticker shock was a sticking point for Felten, too, who noted that SendLiquor.com tacks cardiac-inducing premiums to the spirits it carries. From my own experience, DrinkUpNY.com throws in free shipping on orders over $100, but its limited selection is a drawback.
So, for those who've had good luck with online spirits retailers, put a note in the comments section and help a fella (and his thirsty friends) out: what online store have you found reliable, and how's their selection and pricing?
About the author: Paul Clarke blogs about cocktails at The Cocktail Chronicles and writes regularly on spirits and cocktails for Imbibe magazine. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a writer and magazine editor.