The best and worst Kirkland liquors to buy at Costco

If you're on a budget — or simply a smart shopper — you know that buying generic products, like cereal and soda, get you pretty much the same food for less cash. Some people even become more loyal to house brands in the end. Anyone who grew up near an H-E-B definitely understands. 

In addition to foodstuffs, more and more retailers are getting into the private-label liquor game. However none have caught the attention of consumers quite like the options at Costco. Their in-store label Kirkland Signature has already been declared as the "best store brand there ever was" by Bon Appétit, but it's not just their organic produce and pantry staples that have people signing up for Costco memberships. Kirkland Signature liquors have become a "cult favorite" that bartenders love. Not only are they a great price, but many of them also rival their name-brand counterparts as far as quality goes. 

Of course, not everything can be a winner — sometimes the store really misses the mark and it's better to just go with the name-brand. These picks for the best and worst Kirkland liquors can help you figure out which spirits to pick up the next time you're at Costco and which ones to avoid. The following prices were accurate as of February 2019, but they're always subject to changes over time and by location.

Best: Kirkland Signature American Vodka

The Kirkland Signature American Vodka is the Costco alternative for those who prefer domestic vodkas such as Tito's. At under $20 for 1.75 L, it's one of the most wallet-friendly options on the list. It's sold in a frosted bottle — unlike the glossy clear glass of their popular French vodka — and is reportedly distilled six times for ultra-smoothness. 

Having a great price isn't the only thing that makes Kirkland's American Vodka a good choice. Reviewers praise the liquor for its mild and sweet aroma as well as its smooth and slightly citrus flavor. And it comes with a "Highly Recommended" Tastings rating. However, like most cheaper vodkas, this is likely not the best choice if you're wanting to take shots all Russian banya style. As noted by the expert reviewers over at Good Cheap Booze, Kirkland's American Vodka is a bit too harsh and thin in the mouth for shots. It's best served with something in it, be it ice, a mixer, or even a splash of juice. 

A great way to use this American vodka is in a Moscow Mule which, despite its name, is a classic American cocktail that debuted in the 20th century. Fill a tall glass (or, preferably, a copper mug) with ice and top with 2 ounces of vodka, 4 ounces of ginger beer, and a squeeze of lime juice. Stir gently and garnish with extra limes before serving. 

Best: Kirkland Signature Blended Scotch Whisky

You're probably asking yourself "how does a company based out of Washington state make a scotch worth drinking?" Well, like cereals in a bag and most other generic products, it's not Costco that's actually producing the product. While Costco keeps their lips tight and shut when it comes to who exactly produces many of their liquors, the word on the street (and on the bottle) is that the manufacturer of this one is Alexander Murray & Co. The Kirkland Original Blended Scotch Whisky has a nice, caramel color and scent notes of vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, and — of course — peat. Flavor-wise, you'll notice hints of brown sugar, plums, orange, and malt. It's not overly-complicated; rather, it's a very basic scotch distinguished by its clean drinkability. Overall, Tastings ranks Kirkland Original as an "Exceptional" blended scotch whisky. 

Now, is this blended scotch whisky the bottle you should turn to if you're looking to treat yourself to a high-quality dram on a special occasion? Probably not. But that certainly doesn't mean that Kirkland Original Blended Scotch Whisky doesn't have its uses. It's a great scotch to have on hand if you like a nightly scotch and soda before you hit the hay. It's also a good option if you want something that's nice and dry, perfect for your favorite scotch cocktails or mixed into a boozy winter punch. At less than $25 for 1.75 L, you can easily afford to be heavy-handed with this blended scotch whisky. 

Best: Kirkland Signature Blended Canadian Whisky

Crown Royal fans, rejoice! The Kirkland Signature Canadian Blended Whisky is considered a great dupe at a better price compared to the name-brand in the purple bag. The Canadian Whisky was one of the three Costco spirits chosen to be tested in a Buzzfeed blind taste test. Panelists noted that when compared visually, the two side-by-side look "exactly the same" as far as color and clarity go. Flavor-wise, you can expect that harsh burn at the front followed by the sweet, smokey, and (duh) maple-y finishing notes that people enjoy from their Canadian whiskies. The amateur taste-testers were split 50/50 when deciding which whisky was the real-deal and which was the Costco version, which is a pretty good indicator that when it comes to choosing between the two, you have an either/or situation on hand. There are even some whispers on the internet that the two are made by the same distillery. 

Kirkland Signature Blended Canadian Whisky is another Costco spirit that's earned an "Exceptional" rating from Tastings, scoring an impressive 91 points through their blind taste test. Best of all? Kirkland's Canadian Whisky costs less than $20 for the 1.75 L bottle; compare that to the $40-$45 you'll spend for the same amount of the name-brand stuff! As far as values go, half-off isn't something to which one should turn up their nose — it's a pretty solid bargain if you're a fan of Canadian whisky in your highballs. 

Best: Kirkland Signature XO Cognac

What in the heckin' heck does the "XO" in XO cognac even stand for? Well, as it turns out it means "extra old," which kind of makes sense considering that Kirkland Signature XO Cognac is one of the pricier Costco liquors to make it to the list at a healthy average price of $50 for 750 mL, though that price may vary by location. However, compare that price tag to the minimum $130 for 750 mL you'll pay for another bottle of XO. To be considered "XO," the youngest cognac in the blend must be aged at least 10 years with the average age of all the individual liquors running 20 years or older. The result is a sweet and slightly spicy liquor that pairs well with cigars and is best served straight or, at most, with a couple of ice cubes. 

It's flavor is "very light, very floral" with just a hint of spice on the end and enough notes to tell you that you're drinking a rich, complex cognac for the money. Kirkland Signature XO Cognac received a "Highly Recommended" rating from Tastings with an 89 point rating that is just shy of "Exceptional" status. If you want to make this bargain bottle feel fancier when you sip it, store it in a nice liquor decanter and no one will know the difference. Grab it when you see it though — this one is often only available during the holidays.

Best: Kirkland Signature Irish Cream Liqueur

A lot of the "best" Costco liquors are considered so because they are indistinguishable from their name-brand counterparts (we're looking at you, Bailey's) while costing significantly less. What helps the Kirkland Signature Irish Cream Liqueur stand out from the pack is not only for its wallet-friendliness (it should only set you back around $15 for 1.75 L), but experts also find that flavor-wise it is better than the name-brand counterpart as it is "smoother, less harsh, and more balanced." 

At first whiff of Kirkland's Irish Cream, you'll pick up aromas of cocoa, cream, and — of course — Irish whiskey. As far as flavor goes, it's incredibly smooth and very sweet. You'll likely taste notes reminiscent of candy: chocolate, caramel, and hazelnut in particular. Given its inherent sweetness, most people enjoy Irish cream either chilled and served straight or over ice, but it's also delicious poured into a cup coffee or in the middle of a a homemade Mudslide.

Best: Kirkland Signature French Vodka

Ah yes– the one that got the buzz over Costco liquors in the first place; this list wouldn't be complete without Kirkland Signature French Vodka. It was one of the three liquors included in the Buzzfeed blind taste test, and the panelists had some interesting things to say about how it tastes…

  • It goes down easy "like Kesha."
  • It's like "drinking Alex Mack if Alex Mack was a liquid."
  • Compared to Grey Goose, it tastes "fancier."
  • Drinking Kirkland Signature French Vodka "feels like I should be on a rooftop veranda." 
  • The vodka is "so clean it's almost dangerous," therefore "buy with caution."

Despite the rumors, Costco is not simply rebottling Grey Goose and calling it their own. As reported by Vice, Kirkland Signature French Vodka is "made from the same water source" as Grey Goose (though they use a different well), which has received lower ratings in many blind taste tests AND costs more than twice as much. Kirkland's French Vodka has a distinctive viscosity, "silky, with a medium-weight heft akin to white wine," according to Kitchn. Its flavor is clean and bright with a subtle sweetness that makes it a great vodka for drinking straight or on the rocks. All of that and it's only going to cost you around $25 for the 1.75 L bottle– no wonder it has so much buzz!

Worst: Kirkland Signature 7-Year Small Batch Bourbon

Kirkland Signature 7-Year Small Batch Bourbon simply misses the mark where other liquors sold at Costco hit it. It is rumored to be sourced from the Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort, KY, but, there's also some proof that it may be manufactured by Jim Beam, and others claim it's recently started being manufactured by George Dickel. Either way, reviewers agree that it tastes more like Jim Beam — that is, it's OK. Just OK. 

At 51.5 percent alcohol by volume, it's very "hot," meaning it has that harsh, alcohol burn that generally turns people off from a liquor. And while it's strong, it's not complex at all. This 7 Year Small Batch Bourbon lacks the various sweet and spicy notes that make a spirit interesting. After all, that's what people like about bourbon — that while it's strong up front, it generally mellows out on the palate to showcase other flavors, making it enjoyable to drink. 

Bourbon is America's native spirit and is taken very, very seriously in certain circles. While Costco can provide an cost-friendly option and there will certainly be people out there willing to buy it, in all honesty there are better bourbons out there that are maybe a buck or two more if they cost more, at all! According to A Bar Above, Kirkland Signature Small Batch Bourbon is similar in price to brands like Maker's Mark and Bulleit Rye — and those options taste better. Other bourbons that combine quality with affordability include bartender-suggested Old Grand-Dad, Old Forester, Buffalo Trace, and Eagle Rare.

Worst: Kirkland Signature Blended Scotch Whisky Aged 24 Years

When it comes to liquor, the older the better… right? Well, not when it comes to this particular list. While the Kirkland Signature Blended Scotch may be one of the best liquor buys at Costco, its 24-year-old cousin doesn't make the cut. At about $70 for 750 mL, the quality for the price just doesn't hold up like Costco's better options. 

Overall, the aroma lacks depth and complexity. The first whiff of Kirkland Signature 24-Year Scotch Whisky is harsh with a "slight chemical, industrial, and metallic smell" that shouldn't be so obvious with an aged whisky, according to The Whisky Shelf. This scotch whisky also has a thinner mouthfeel and is quite astringent upon first taste. The flavor is also "oak-heavy (in an old, tired oak kind of way)," according to another reviewer, which a lot of people like! However having one note like that overpower the more subtle flavors isn't really indicative of the quality one expects from a $70 bottle of alcohol. And people who know scotch are typically okay with paying in the triple-digits for what they drink, anyways. In the end, getting the giant bottle of Kirkland Signature Blended Scotch Whisky is the much smarter buy for the Average Joe. 

Worst: Kirkland Signature Spiced Rum

The third type of booze included in Buzzfeed's blind taste test was the Kirkland Signature Spiced Rum versus Captain Morgan Spiced Rum. And while panelists commented that the Costco version is darker, sweeter, and tastes "like a drunk gingerbread man," they generally preferred The Captain which they claim tastes like "honey" and "eggnog without the egg." Of course, one panelist said it best with, "being an elitist about alcohol is stupid. Everybody's trying to get to the same finish line. We're all trying to get f***ed up." Touché.

With that being said, Kirkland Signature Spiced Rum isn't the best buy on the Costco liquor shelves because at around $20 for 1.75 L, you're not really saving that much money for a product that is, well, meh. If you've tried the Kirkland Spiced Rum and love the flavor, by all means — buy away. However, if you're looking for a steal with quality that will blow you away á la their French Vodka, you're not going to find it here. 

Worst: Kirkland Signature Silver Tequila

Costco carries three store-brand tequilas: Añejo, Silver, and Reposado. The Añejo gets points for being an aged tequila for less than $30 and the Reposado gets rave reviews from those who can get their hands on it, but the Silver (also touted as "blanco") falls short compared to its siblings. First of all, its flavor and aroma profiles contain very strong alcohol notes that overpower those of the agave and citrus that make a tequila sip-able. This is the kind of tequila that results in "shot face" when you take it straight. Sure, sometimes that's all you need… but it's the type of low quality that gives tequila a bad reputation in some circles. 

Lady tequila can be a harsh mistress. But when she is good to you, she is really, really good. If you want to explore all she has to offer – it may aid digestion, lower cholesterol, and provide you with a hangover-free morning — try the Añejo straight or over ice. If you want to make simple cocktails with your tequila, go with the Reposado. And if you want a cheap silver tequila to make a big batch of sugar-laden margaritas, the Kirkland Signature Silver will do the trick, but it's not going to blow you away doing it. 

Worst: Kirkland Signature London Dry Gin

At around $25 for 1.75 L, the price is right for Kirkland Signature London Dry Gin. But like the other "worsts" on this list, it simply doesn't stand out enough among its competition. After all, depending on where you buy it, you can get the same amount of New Amsterdam for a pretty similar price. So while Kirkland Signature gets points for its "satiny, crisp, dry light body" and "effortless, medium-length finish," it's not going to blow you away as far as value goes. 

Furthermore, the Kirkland Signature London Dry Gin is a poor choice for certain cocktails. If you like to throw back a few gin and tonics with lime every now and then, you're looking for something to mix into your Pimm's cup, or you want to experiment with making negronis, it's fine. However, a decent martini needs the right gin… and this ain't it. You want something with more complexity and additional floral and citrus notes to balance out the juniper. Tanqueray, Boodles, and Hendrick's are all great choices and at $20 to $35 a bottle, they aren't going to set you back much more than the Costco stuff.