Costco's private-label brand, Kirkland Signature, has practically earned superstar status, with everything from olive oil to laundry soap earning high marks from expert reviews. And the same is true for Kirkland booze.
If you live in one of the states that allows Costco to sell its Kirkland Signature booze, consider yourself lucky, because spirits experts say the store-brand spirits are dead ringers for the top-shelf stuff — and they're usually 20 to 40 percent cheaper.
More on Kirkland Products
There's a lot of mystery surrounding Kirkland spirits. First of all, how can the store sell so much good booze for so little money? Answer: For the most part, it all boils down to buying power. Second, why is the selection always so varied? That's a harder question to answer. The scotch options vary depending on what's available from Scottish distilleries. And some options, like the Kirkland XO Cognac, are only available during the holidays. Confusing things further, the company doesn't keep an online list. Regulations regarding online advertising of hard liquor vary from state to state, so Costco avoids the issue but not listing any of its spirits online.
But the biggest question is who makes this stuff? Costco doesn't reveal which companies are contracted to make its private-label spirits, but the consensus among experts is that it's big brands you already know and love.
Here's a list of the best bottles to buy, whether you're just adding to your bar cart or stocking up for a party. Generally speaking, these aren't super high-end, complex sippers, but they will make excellent cocktails and highballs.
- New York
1. Kirkland French Vodka, $20 to $25 for 1.75 liters
Brand name equivalent: Grey Goose, $34 for 750 milliliters at Reserve Bar
The hands-down favorite of all Kirkland spirits, the French vodka earns high scores from experts and average drinkers alike. Rumor has it that it's really just a big bottle of Grey Goose. And while both are made from Gensac Springs water in Cognac, France, and both are made in the same distillery, they're actually different products, which you'll quickly realize when tasting them both side by side. In fact, Kirkland usually scores higher.
Kirkland also makes an American vodka that's distilled six times. It's smooth and practically flavorless, and a fantastic deal at $14 for 1.75 liters, but reviewers agree the French version, with its rich, silky-smooth texture, is far better.
2. Kirkland Añejo Tequila, $20 to $30 for one liter
Brand name equivalent: Herradura Tequila Añejo, $44 at Mash & Grape
Añejo tequilas are made with 100 percent agave and must be aged in wood barrels for at least a year, giving them a mellow, rich flavor with notes of vanilla and honey. As a result of all that TLC, they're usually pretty pricey. But not Kirkland's.
Legit tequilas have a NOM number on the label, which designates the distillery where it's made. According to this one it's made at Fabrica de Tequilas Finos, S.A., in Tequila, Mexico — the same distillery that produces Cielo. Product-wise, though, this seems more comparable with Herradura. Both are double distilled, 100% agave from the same growing region, aged in American oak, and 40% alcohol by volume. According to Costco, theirs is aged an average of three years. Reviewers give it good marks, saying it's a great value and perfect for mixing, although a little too subtle and lacking in the complexity you'd want in a sipper.
3. Kirkland London Dry Gin, $18 for 1.75 liters
Equivalent Brand Name: Beefeater London, $30 for one liter at 67 Wine
Expert tasters say this juniper-forward gin is the perfect match for summertime G&Ts, negronis, and gin-based cocktails. Unlike many of the boutique gin producers that go all-in for a whole slew of botanicals, this one adheres strongly to the classic London Dry style, with just the right amount of citrus zest to balance the juniper.
4. Kirkland Premium Small Batch Bourbon, $30 for one liter
Equivalent Brand Name: Gentleman Jack, $35 for 750 milliliters at Wine Chateau
Kirkland used to offer Kentucky bourbon but switched to Tennessee in the last couple of years. This narrows down the distilleries a lot. All evidence points to either Jack Daniel's or George Dickel, since they're the biggest in the state. Reviewers say Kirkland's 7-year-aged bourbon tastes a lot like Gentleman Jack, with flavors of toffee and banana.
5. Kirkland Spiced Rum, $15 for 1.75 liters
Comparable Brand name: Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, $14 for 375 milliliters at 67 Wine
There's no better deal for your rum and cokes, poolside tiki drinks, and autumn punches than Kirkland's Spiced Rum, which offers deep notes of vanilla. The spirit's country of origin is St Croix, but it's produced by California's LeVecke Co., which bottles dozens of other brands and private-label hooch. At 92 proof, it's quite a bit stronger than comparable brands like Captain Morgan (70 proof), which means it's an even better value and will stand up better in mixed drinks.
6. Kirkland Scotch Whiskies, price and selection varies
Costco has teamed up with Alexander Murray, a California-based company that sources and bottles a wide range of whiskies from Scotland, to offer a rotating selection of very well-regarded and very well-priced scotch.
Think of it this way — there's a lot of scotch whisky being made from producers big (The Macallan) and smallish (Bruichladdich), but not all if it fits the flavor profile each producer is going for. What do they do with the stuff that's really good but not the right fit? They sell it to someone like fellow Scottsman Steve Lipp, owner of Alexander Murray, who bottles it under his own and Kirkland's labels.
The options have ranged from Speyside single malt ($33); 18-year single malt ($36), 12-year blended ($38); and a 16-year-old highland ($48.99). Take note of those prices — they're at least $20 cheaper than name-brand bottles.
Are there any other bottles of Kirkland booze that you like to shop for that aren't on this list? Add them in the comments below!