Spirits 101: What To Look For in Rare Liquors When Buying

A liquor collection is essential in a home that regularly entertains guests who enjoy a cocktail. Plus, it’s a nice indulgence on those solitary evenings when you’ve earned yourself a relaxing drink. A rare liquor collection takes your liquor choices to another level—not to mention, it’s an instant conversation starter when company comes over. Let’s explore what to look for in rare liquors when buying.

What’s Your Purpose for Collecting?

Collectors begin their searches for different reasons and sometimes change their paths along the way. Are you collecting simply to have the collection? Will you display the bottles without ever opening them?

Or are you a thorough researcher and experienced investor, collecting for possible future financial gain? Those new to rare liquor collecting may be surprised that some liquors have been auctioned at over $1,000,000. Not a bad investment for the seller.

The most common collector is the one who wants to taste them all. These collectors look for rare liquors so that they can invite friends over and enjoy a glass while discussing every note. It’s a fun hobby, and if you start it yourself, your friends may start lining up around the block to attend your tastings.

What Makes a Liquor Rare?

When collecting rare liquor, it begs the question, how exactly does a spirit achieve the title “rare”? The first thing you’ll notice when a liquor is rare is that it’s difficult to find. Rareness equals scarcity. The following factors make a liquor scarce:

  • Limited Number of Bottles: A distillery knows when they have a rare gem and may choose to distill a fixed number of bottles. Doing so means that when they reach that number, that’s it. Collectors search high and low, trying to get as many of those numbered bottles as they can.
  • Limited Edition: These are similar to a fixed number, but limited editions usually revolve around a time period rather than a certain number of bottles. Limited edition liquors might honor a name, come out for the holidays, or, in the case of a whiskey, be a limited-edition single cask. Whatever the case, limited editions are rare and fun to hunt down.
  • Old Age: The older a bottle of liquor is, the more likely it is to become a collectible—and for some, that’s the thrill of the hunt. Searching for a bottle that’s over 50 years old and finally finding it is pretty exciting.

Understanding Liquor Lingo

To understand what to look for in rare liquors when buying, you need to know the language. Knowing specific terms can help when you’re reading a label or description, looking at a bottle, or tasting a spirit. It also prevents a collector from paying too much for a bottle that isn’t as rare as they might have thought otherwise or, even better, knowing a great deal when they see one.

Beyond understanding what you’re paying for, some terminology is simply a part of liquor collecting. Part of the joy of collecting is the conversations you have with friends, bartenders, and other afficionados. Let’s look at distilling terminology and then serving terms.

Distilling Terms

Distilling terms describe the process of creating the spirits we love. The following jargon is helpful when collecting:


A term you’ll hear over and over, distilling is the process of separating the elements in a liquid. Distillers do this by allowing condensation and evaporation. For example, ethanol separates as it evaporates at 173 degrees Fahrenheit.


In layman’s terms, “proof” tells us how strong the spirit is. Remember when you were young and so impressed by the proof? It might still impress you, but now the taste is more important. The proof is calculated using the alcohol content by volume (ABV) and multiplying it by 2. A bottle with an ABV of 50 percent has a proof of 100 (50 x 2).


Also called cask aging, this part of the distilling process takes place in wooden barrels or casks, often oak, to mellow the spirit. Without aging, spirits are too harsh to drink. Barrels are sometimes charred for flavor or previously filled with another spirit or even wine.


Just as it sounds, infusion is the process of infusing a spirit with additional flavors during the distilling process. Fruits or spices are added directly to the liquor and steep until the liquor achieves the desired flavor.

Serving Terms

As you collect rare liquors, you’ll hear people use serving terms to recommend how you might best enjoy a particular spirit. With the following terms under your belt, you’ll feel like a pro:


When a bartender recommends you enjoy a rare liquor neat, this means at room temperature with no ice. You can add a couple of drops of water to open up the notes and soften the burn of the alcohol. Neat is considered the best way to first taste a new spirit to bring out all that beverage’s notes to the fullest.

Straight Up

This term is similar to neat, but don’t confuse the two. Spirits served straight up are without ice but chilled before pouring.

On the Rocks

A spirit served over ice.


Imagine your fingers wrapped around a snifter or lowball glass, and that’s where the measuring term “finger” stems from. Back in the day, you’d ask for a finger or two fingers—or, on a particularly rough day, three fingers. We don’t use the term often anymore, but a good bartender knows what it means, and they’ll appreciate your knowledge.

Where To Buy Rare Liquor

Now that you have the knowledge, it’s time to find your rare liquor sources. Some feel the internet has made the search too easy. We say, “What’s wrong with easy?” Seriously, though, online searches still require quite a bit of hunting since rare liquors are just that—rare. You’ll also run into other new and experienced collectors as you search, making the process pretty fun.

Your local liquor store may be willing to keep you posted if they think they’ll get something in that you’re looking for. Or, as you take roads trips, stop in at small liquor stores to see what they have.

Collecting rare liquor is the perfect hobby because there’s no rush to have everything at once, and rare liquors will always be around.

At VS Liquor, we specialize in rare liquor, and you’ll see it as you browse our online store. You can also contact us, and we’ll happily discuss rare liquor with you and answer all your questions. No matter where you are in your collection journey, enjoy the hunt, and more importantly, enjoy a glass with your closest friends. Cheers!