The Untold Truth Of Costco Liquor

Costco is well known for its wide range of goods and competitive pricing and Costco liquor is no exception. In fact, the chain of discount stores shines when it comes to its diverse selection of spirits, wine, and beer. Not only does the retailer stock some of the world's leading brands of booze, but it also has its own Kirkland Signature alcohol label named after the location of its headquarters. As such it's not uncommon to find Costco's popular home-branded tipples right alongside premium brands such as Dom Pérignon and The Macallan.

With so much on offer — not to mention the great deals — Costco's liquor sales have doubled in the last decade, with the retailer reporting alcohol sales of $5 billion in 2020. One of the world's top purveyors of spirits, wines, and beer, Costco has also been known to stock limited edition bottles of the caliber that would thrill even the most ardent collectors. So what's the deal with booze shopping at Costco and more importantly, how do you go about getting the most bang for your buck on alcohol? Read on to find out.

In some states, you don't need a membership to buy liquor at Costco

While a Costco membership can definitely save you cash if you're buying products in bulk or regularly stock up on groceries for the entire family, it may not be worth the money for occasional shoppers. Particularly, if you're only looking for a place to score the odd bottle of wine or spirits. The great news is that you may not actually need a Costco membership to fill your bags with discounted booze. However, this depends on the state you live in, or rather the state you shop in.

Different states have different laws regarding whether an establishment that sells alcohol has to make it available to the general public. Currently, this is the case for 14 states but since regulations change all the time, it's best to call your local Costco to get the lowdown on the current situation.

Those living in one of the states where membership is a prerequisite to buying Costco liquor need not despair because there is a way around this dilemma. And it is all thanks to the Costco cash card — an equivalent of the traditional gift card. The caveat is that a Costco cash card can only be purchased by Costco members so you may need to get a friend involved in the deal or buy one on Amazon or eBay.

Costco's liquor product price tags may tell you more than just what something costs

Costco's strange pricing isn't random. And knowing the chain's secret price codes can help you take advantage of their best liquor deals. Just like in many other stores, many Costco price tags end in $0.99 but there are definite exceptions. And while most have no special meaning, there is one price tag that definitely does — the one ending in $0.97. According to Len Rapoport from ToughNickel, a $0.97 price tag is a sure indication that a bottle has been marked down from its original price.

But that's not all. Another thing to look out for on the price tag of your favorite liquor is an asterisk. To sum a long story short, an asterisk on the right top-hand side of a price sticker signals that a product will not be restocked. Whether this is due to the fact that the bottle has been discontinued or Costco no longer wishes to carry it, an asterisk is often synonymous with massive discounts.

Costco has a lower price mark-up on liquor than most other stores

Costco is well-known for passing savings onto its customers. Unlike most other retailers that mark up their goods by between 25 and a staggering 50%, Costco liquor mark-ups are significantly lower. In fact, the chain store has capped them at 15% for its home Kirkland brand and 14% for all other brands (the average mark-up at the store stands at 11%). Inc. gives an example of Costco's pricing, explaining that if the retailer buys ink cartridges for $50, customers will typically pay around $55.50 for those ink cartridges on store shelves. 

So how does Costco make money, you may ask? The chain of discount stores makes its profits by buying products in bulk. We have also learned that it stocks less inventory than other retailers. The bulk of Costco's profit, however, comes from its memberships. For example, in 2018, around 75% of Costco's yields came from its membership fees. Costco offers two types of memberships. A $60 Gold Star Membership that opens access to any Costco store worldwide and a $120 Executive Membership that gives members 2% cashback on certain goods.

Costco's Kirkland French vodka is made from the same water as Grey Goose

The rumor that Kirkland's French vodka is made by the manufacturers of Grey Goose has been doing the rounds for a while now. This, however, doesn't necessarily make it true. The fact is that the two brands are not made by the same distillery. Nevertheless, there is some basis for this pervasive rumor because both Kirkland French vodka and Grey Goose are made with water obtained from the same source — more specifically, the Gensac Springs in France's Cognac region.

While Grey Goose representatives have confirmed that the brand sources its water from "an exclusive well" in Gensac-la-Pallue, this is probably where the similarities between the two products end. Grey Goose representative told MUNCHIES in an email that "since its creation in 1997, Grey Goose has been produced with the finest French ingredients, using a proprietary recipe and process that was designed by our Cellar Master, Francois Thibault." (via Vice). To some, however, the pedigree doesn't make much difference. Spirits-tasting expert Fred Minnick told Business Insider, "Vodka is purely marketing — there is nothing special about it. It is meant to be thrown in with something else and take on the character of whatever it is mixed with."

Costco offers wine and beer Advent calendars

Nothing quite encapsulates the countdown to Christmas as an Advent calendar. And they come in all shapes and sizes, from traditional chocolate versions to more unusual options such as Lego Advent numbers. Imbued with the festive spirit, Costco is doing its bit to keep the Christmas spirit alive with their hugely popular Wine Advent-ure Calendars and Brewer's Advent Calendars. Both make a great addition to eggnog and Christmas-themed liqueurs.

Costco's Wine Advent-ure Calendars come with 24 375-milliliter bottles of wine from across the globe including Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, and Hungary. "Each year we taste hundreds of wines in order to reach the final assortment. It's our goal to make the pack a fun and interactive discovery of wines from around the world," wine buyer for Costco's Midwest Kirk Johnson told Costco Connection.

Meanwhile, Brewer's Advent Calendars come with 24 cans of German craft beer, ranging from hefeweizen to Bavaria's Märzen. Beer buyer for Costco's San Diego region Tony Rizzo told Costco Connection, "I love that each year there are about six new beers in this pack based on feedback we receive from our members."

Costco stocks some of the most expensive liquor in the world

Since Costco is usually associated with cheap hot dogs, enormous bottles of mayonnaise, and bulk toilet paper, it may come as a surprise that the retailer's Washington, D.C. outlet is offering a $30,000 (or $29,999 to be more exact) bottle of Scotch (via Reddit). Originally priced at $34,999, the 750-milliliter bottle of Balvenie 50 Year Single Malt Scotch could be considered a bargain. The rare gem has been produced under the watchful eye of Malt Master David C. Stewart MBE, who began working for Balvenie in 1962 and is Scotland's longest-serving Malt Master.

This isn't the first time Costco's liquor section has stocked a rare collector's item. In 2011, the chain's Arizona outlet offered a $17,000 bottle of Macallan Lalique 60 Year Old Single Malt Scotch. With only 400 bottles ever made, of which 72 went for sale in the U.S., the rare find was released as a part of Macallan distillery's Lalique Six Pillars Collection. Housed in a striking crystal decanter designed by the French crystal house, the Scotch marked the fourth decanter in the collection.

Costco's Kirkland French vodka did better than Grey Goose in blind taste tests

While some Costco customers are adamant that the only thing that sets Kirkland French vodka and Grey Goose apart is the label, the two products are not made at the same distillery. Considering that Grey Goose is a premium vodka three times the price of Kirkland French vodka, however, it may come as a surprise that the Costco liquor has apparently scored better in a number of blind taste tests.

Under the Label compared rankings from various industry competitions that put the two vodkas head-to-head and found Grey Goose lacking. According to the company's research, Kirkland came out a clear winner with an aggregate score of 88 compared to Grey Goose's 82 (via Vice). Similarly, a blind taste test of six vodka brands by The Kitchn placed Kirkland French Vodka first and rated Grey Goose sixth. When the two vodka brands were compared, Grey Goose was described as more "silky and weighty" than Kirkland's French Vodka.

Depending on where you live, you may not be able to return your Costco liquor purchase

The word on the street is that Costco's customers are often extremely hopeful about the store's return policy. From stories about customers trying to return dead plants to tales of a woman trying to get a refund for a 13-year-old fish, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to keep this myth alive. While in reality, the chain's return policy may not be quite this liberal, the discount chain does accept most returns. However, Costco liquor can be an exception to this rule.

Regardless of whether your bottle is sealed or not, Costco's liquor return policy is regulated by state law. As such, if you are not satisfied with your boozy purchase, it is best to call your local Costco to find out exactly what their stance is on alcohol returns. In the states where liquor returns are allowed, Costco offers refunds up to 90 days after purchase if the product is unfit for consumption, spoiled or expired, or you have bought it by mistake (via DoNotPay).