We really should have named this…
“5 Secrets to Buying Alcohol at Costco That THEY Don’t Want You to Know About…“
but that would have sounded way too much like an infomercial. And, of course, for maximum clickbait exposure, we should have said something like “#3 will blow your mind!”
But what we really want to do is make this as informative as gosh darn possible. So that’s what we’re going to do, darnit.
Now, before we dive in, a little background. I spent many a Saturday and Sunday at Costco stores in suburban Chicago, peddling wine (for a brand that we’ll get to in point number 3 below). I learned quite a bit – not just about people’s wine-buying habits, but about how they buy beer, spirits, and everything else.
Yes, the Costco experience is something to behold – if you don’t have one near you, I feel bad for ya. And if you do have one near you but you live in a state with odd rules about buying alcohol, then this post isn’t for you. Unless you’re moving. Or you have a friend that can ship you stuff. Or you work out some other arrangement.
Without further adieu, here’s the post:
5 Secrets to Buying Alcohol at Costco
*One Editor’s Note as we get rolling: if you have a different sort of warehouse club by you, these rules MAY apply. But they possibly will not: part of my gig included the occasional trip to Sam’s Club. Comparing Costco to Sam’s Club is like comparing…actually, I just took a five-minute break, racking my brain trying to figure out if there is any real comparison. There isn’t. If you’re like us, the only reason you had a Sam’s Club membership is because it’s 12 miles closer than Costco and sometimes you absolutely need cheap gas. In fact, we didn’t really need the membership, because…segue…
1. You May Not Need a Membership to Buy Alcohol
We told you above that reason #3 might blow your mind, but, honestly, this one is the one that leaves people saying…WHAT?
This is not true in every state in the Union, and you’ll need to check your state and your individual club. But we know this for a fact in Illinois: at warehouse clubs such as Costco and Sam’s, a membership card is NOT needed to buy alcohol.
When you get to the front door and they ask for your membership card, say “I’m buying alcohol.” They’ll let you in, provided that’s the rule in your state.
When doing those promotional events I mentioned above, there were times when the person behind the counter when I was checking out didn’t even know the rule. Sometimes they’d just say “99” and ring me up. But other times, they’re calling a manager and asking around.
Keep this in mind – if you’re in one of these states where you don’t need a membership, you can’t buy anything else. Just alcohol (and maybe cigarettes, cigars, etc.).
2. If It Says “Kirkland” on the Label…
This should really be in two parts: part one is that it’s been fully vetted, and part two – which might be a no-brainer to some, but is worth mentioning anyway – is that Costco didn’t make it themselves.
Really: if you see a Bordeaux wine and it says “Kirkland,” do you think Costco has its own winery in Bordeaux?
No. They don’t. They’re sourcing products of all kinds from throughout the world. Coffee from Rwanda is produced by Rwandan coffee growers, then Costco gets it to you through the magic of their distribution network. Alcohol has more hoops to jump through, but, since they’re America’s largest seller of wine, they’re on the case.
3. Some Kirkland Products Are Actually…
This is a good one: they won’t tell you what they actually are, because they can’t. But here’s where the fun starts.
An unconfirmed rumor is that Kirkland’s Vodka, the one made in France, is actually Grey Goose. Or at least made at the same place AS Grey Goose.
Now, whether or not that’s true, we’ll never know. But, unless you are a brand-loyal vodka drinker, you can take a chance on a vodka, or a whiskey, or a gin, save some serious cash – $15-20 savings per bottle – and have a rock-solid libation in your liquor cabinet. This brings us to another mystery, and allows us to tell you a little more about who we were working for when we were at Costco:
4. Cameron Hughes Wine Figured This Out
Full disclosure: these are the folks I worked for, doing wine demos in Costco off and on for five years. There actually IS a Cameron Hughes and he’s the guy behind Cameron Hughes Wine.
What he’ll tell you about his approach is the same thing I would tell you if you bumped into me at Costco and I had the salesman badge on: some wineries will sell their “remainder” and he bottles that and sells it to you at a markedly lower price. After people gasp, I’d explain the economics behind the business model…
Take Winery X. They’re ready to sell their California Cabernet for $50 a bottle. They’ve got 10,000 cases ready to go and they learn that Winery Y is also ready to sell their premium Cab at $50 a bottle. And then Winery Z wants to do the same…pretty soon, you’ve got a glut – too much premium stuff.
Winery X, being smart and knowing about supply and demand, thinks they can fare better by cutting their own supply in half. They also know that the actual value of the wine itself is much lower than $50 a bottle – so they call up Mr. Hughes and cut a deal.
Next thing you know, 3,000 to 5,000 cases of a California Cabernet from Cameron Hughes Wine make it to Costco. But it’s a limited quantity (each wine gets a lot number) AND it’s priced to sell – their wheelhouse is $12-$16 a bottle.
You get a wine that drinks much more expensively than what you paid for it.
5. Costco’s 14% Rule
This is another secret – not well-kept but no one will give you the exact number. We’ve heard 13% and 15% – doesn’t matter, the bottom-line here is that they’ll mark the product up only to the limit, and not more.
Where this benefits you, the buyer of all things alcoholic, is mostly with the big names. Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio will be cheaper at Costco than anywhere else you’ll find it, and the same goes for any of the big-name spirits – and even some of the smaller names (we thought Tito’s Handmade Vodka was cheap at our local Walmart, but Costco won that battle, too).
You can also have quite a bit of luck with those things that keep us humming along here at Metasip: the sub-$10 wines, and the craft beers. (A nifty combo of rule #2 and rule #5 is at play with the Kirkland Beer Sampler.)
Next time you’re at Costco, remember these tips. And happy drinking!
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