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Bottom Shelf Whiskey Meaning Explained (2024 Updated)

Bottom Shelf Whiskey Meaning

Bottom shelf whiskey is a bar terminology used by many to refer to the value of booze. Most people think cheap liquors go to the bottom while premium liquors go to the top.

But really, what’s a bottom shelf whiskey, and what does it mean to be labeled as one?  

What’s A Bottom Shelf Whiskey Meaning?

Old Crow Bourbon Whiskey

Bottom shelf whiskey is a type of whiskey usually found at the bottom of the shelf behind the bartender. This whiskey is literally at the bottom for three reasons: (1) it is cheap, (2) it is popular, and (3) it could be high quality. 

Most cheap liquors tend to be popular, so they should be accessible to the bartender. 

They say all bottom-shelf whiskeys are low in quality.

We beg to disagree. Yes, a top-shelf whiskey has a premium quality, but that does not mean that a bottom-shelf whisky is low in quality.

Not all people buy liquor just because it is cheap. 

What It Means To Be Labeled As Bottom Shelf 

What It Means To Be Labeled As Bottom Shelf 

It’s Popular

Bottom shelf whiskeys are popular because they are relatively cheap. Since the booze is popular, bartenders place it on the bottom shelf for easy access. 

If you are hanging out at the bar, you will notice that top-shelf whiskeys are on top of the shelves (obviously) and are hard to reach because only a few buy them. 

So, yes, it is all about popularity and accessibility. 

It’s Cheap

Heaven Hill Bourbon Whiskey

Bottom shelf whiskey is cheap. Whiskey is whiskey; whatever its price, it will get you drunk. It only boils down to your purpose and your drinking preference.

Moreso, cheap booze is placed on the bottom shelf because it signifies the liquor’s price point – which is low or bottom. 

Its low price point has something to do with the following: (1) mass production, (2) cheaper ingredients, and (3) aging of liquor.   

Read: Worst Cheap Whiskey Brands

It’s High Quality 

Sure, there is a noticeable difference between a bottom and a top-shelf whiskey, but that does not mean that because it’s cheap, it would taste bad. Most people re-order bottom shelf whiskeys because of their good quality and taste. 

There are bottom shelf whiskeys that are smooth and enjoyable to drink. 

Some bottom shelf whiskeys are produced by big names such as Barton 1792, Evan Williams, and Jim Beam, which use quality ingredients. 

Read: Recommended Top-Shelf Bourbon Brands

How Much Does Bottom Shelf Whiskey Usually Cost? 

Benchmark 8

Bottom shelf whiskeys usually cost around $10 to $20. These whiskeys are cheap, but some people may find it subjective because everyone has a different budget. 

However, we have tasted whiskeys for around $20, and let us tell you: some cheap whiskeys taste better than other brands that cost three times or more. 

Why Is It Placed On The “Bottom” Of Shelves? 

Bottom shelf whiskeys are placed on the bottom shelves for accessibility and less seen spots. 

If you have been to a bar, you will notice the big shelf of liquor behind the bartender. Since there is a bar counter, you may not see whiskeys at the bottom easily, but it is there. 

Drunk people and those new to the bar will order what’s in front of them, so you can also consider the “bottom” shelf as a marketing strategy for bar owners. 

Read: Recommended Bottom Shelf Bourbon Brands

Do Bars Still Use The Bottom-Shelf vs Top-Shelf Theory? 

Yes, bars still use the bottom shelf vs top shelf theory for accessibility and marketing strategy. Bottom shelf whiskeys are popular, so there’s no point in putting them in hard-to-reach places. 

Since it is not easy to see, most drinkers order what’s in front of them, which could be a mid-shelf or top-shelf liquor. 

FAQs related to Bottom Shelf Whiskey Meaning 

Does bottom shelf whiskey give you more hangover?

Yes, bottom shelf whiskey could give you more hangover. Cheap alcohol has high traces of alcohol, more impurities, and congeners [1]. And since it is cheaper, you will tend to consume more. 

Are bottom shelf whiskeys easy to find?

Yes, bottom shelf whiskeys are easy to find because they are mostly mass-produced. You can easily score a bottle of bottom shelf whiskey at the supermarket or liquor shops, unlike top-shelf whiskeys that are hard to find. 

Final Thoughts

Bottom shelf whiskey is a connotation or terminology used to indicate whiskey’s price point. There’s a wide misconception that bottom shelf whiskeys are trash and of low quality. 

Bottom shelf whiskeys are popular, cheap, and of good quality. 

Whether a whiskey brand ends up on the bottom, middle, or top shelf, the “bottom shelf” is just a result of economic factors, and none is accounted for by any individual preference. 

If you don’t have the budget for expensive whiskeys or are not willing to spend a hundred bucks for whiskey, there are bottom shelf whiskeys that you could always try. 


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