5 Secrets to Buying Alcohol at Costco

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Kirkland Bourbon

Behold, alcohol at Costco!

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.

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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…

Kim Crawford 2013 Sauvignon Blanc

You can maybe buy this at Costco.

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.).

Kirkland Signature Champagne

Since it’s “Champagne,” well, it’s French.

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.

Kirkland Signature Vodka

NOT Grey Goose.

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.

Mind. Blown.

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:

Cameron Hughes Lot 416 2012 Pinot Noir

Cam knows his stuff.

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.

Sofia 2013 Rose

Francis’ Daughter, which you of course knew.

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!

Comments

  1. Gene Bozniak says:

    Does anyone know where I can find out which Costoc stores in the US carry liquor?

    • Dave Van de Walle says:

      Gene,

      Thanks for the comment. Wish I could help more, but I think this is going to be a state-by-state variance thing that’s a potential minefield of legislation to wade through.

      I’m in Illinois, where Sam’s Club does tell you you don’t need a membership card to buy alcohol – but Costco is rather mum on that subject (which may or may not be a state law). Utah, where I’m guessing you are (thanks to your email address), has much different alcohol rules that I won’t even pretend to understand.

      And if you spend any time in some of the “ABC” states where you have to buy booze from the state itself…good luck.

      • Why would there be any problem with *listing* which Costco’s sell liquor at their location??? That makes no sense whatsoever.

        • Dave Van de Walle says:

          Don’t know the answer to that, Audri. Could have something to do with what they sell online vs. in store (as that often is different, some products are online only). Also, there’s still a big focus at HQ (I don’t work for Costco but have spent a ton of time working for a brand doing demos in Costco) on the “MVM” or “Multi-Vendor Mailer.” Those things you get in the mail that tell you a sale is starting next week and here are all the “coupons” (which you end up not needing the actual coupon for in a lot of cases). I guess those are printed regionally, maybe nationally, but surely there aren’t 50 different ones for each state. Thus, it would be a logistical mess to do that, since a big chunk of their efforts hinges on the efforts of the local distributor.

    • lordpowell says:

      someone just invented a thing called a phone all you do is call the business and ask them if they sell booze amazing

    • Las Vegas does!

  2. Why can I not buy Kirkland vodka at the Madison Heights Costco any more? Used to carry it now they say the Mich. liquor control board no longer allows them to sell their(Kirkland) brand. They still carry everything else, just not the Kirkland brand. What a shame. Any info you have would be helpful on this issue. Thanks in advance

  3. Victoria Keisner says:

    The prices are very good for certain wines and spirits of alcohol in the Washington state Costcos but you must shop around. I found the monarch brand vodka 1.75 liter to be a good price and the Kirkland brand Merlot and Kirkland brand Mendoza Argentinan wine’s as good prices for the red’s. They also are a bit less in price on the Columbia Crest wines than the grocery stores if it is in your particular Costco. Comparison pricing is something I’ve been doing since my membership is $55 per year

    • Dave Van de Walle says:

      Victoria, thanks for the comment, and good on you for comparison shopping.

      The Washington stuff doesn’t surprise me at all. Can’t imagine that it does anything but benefit the consumer – though it’s often rather crazy to watch the variances between brands and states from other parts of the country.

      Drink up!

  4. I just bought a bottle of Kim Crawford Sauvignon blanc at Costco for $12.79. I’ve been paying $17.99 for it at both Kroger and Red Dog Spirits. Is Costco exempt from the law that says grocery stores cannot sell wine for less than 20% above cost? Maybe because they’re a membership club?

    • Dave Van de Walle says:

      My understanding of all of this…depends on the state, depends on the laws of that state, depends on distributors…it’s a labyrinthine process, that’s for sure.

      As for Costco, they stick to a margin. They don’t go above that margin. (Wall Street analysts have always hated the stock because they could charge more, but they don’t.)

  5. Jack Sweeting says:

    My brother-inlaw have been a member of Costco’s for a number of years.
    We have been buying your brand of liquor for years and just when you have a nice Canadian Whiskey Kirkland brand you discontinue the product.
    This was one of the best brands you ever carried along with all of the other Kirkland brands.
    What we would like to know is why you discontinued the Kirkland brand of liquor?
    Thank You
    Jack Florida Keys

  6. The Kirkland brands are major brands a friend of mine just tipped me off to this as he works for the distributor at costco, the vodka is Grey Goose, the whiskey is Jack Daniels, Tequila is Patron I believe he said and so on my mind was blown!! I will be testing out the costco nearby I live in Florida and the one in my town is attached to the mall so lets hope this works because I am right down the road from them.

    • Dave Van de Walle says:

      I WAS JUST AT THAT COSTCO ON SUNDAY!

      Yeah, those are rumors you will never get official confirmation of. I’d go so far as say every one of the items has someone good and reputable producing it. (Please keep us posted on your taste testing!)

      Thanks for the comment.

  7. In Colorado chain owned liquor stores are not allowed. Each must be independently owned and operated. Hence there is only one COSTCO store where the alcohol sales are truely COSTCO and that sells the Kirkland products along with others. Luckly it is the one by me! Other COSTCOs have liquor departments but those are separately owned and operated and generally more expensive. The Kirkland brand scotches are outstanding for the price

  8. Rich Parsons says:

    what Florida location has a Costco Liquor store?

    • Dave Van de Walle says:

      I just spun through their site and it doesn’t really say whether or not there’s liquor at each store…I’m in Illinois and they don’t have to separate liquor from the rest of the store – though I don’t recall if the one time I went to one in Florida that was the case.

  9. Happy canadian says:

    Thank god there’s no costco liquor around us. I don’t want my money going across the border

    • DGHBerkley says:

      Don’t know where you’re located, but Madison Heights store (north of Detroit) has liquor galore!

  10. I’m no longer sure where you aare getting your information, however great topic.
    I must spend a while finding out more or figuring out more.
    Thanks for wonderful info I used to be looking foor this info for my mission.

  11. Dave Van de Walle says:

    That “no membership card” thing is key – but I haven’t tested it in other states. (Probably should have, as I was *just* in Florida in a Costco that was attached to an actual mall. Most bizarre setup I’ve ever seen; I don’t think you could actually get into the Costco without going through the mall itself, and it wasn’t a random mall, but an upscale one. It was also five minutes til close and I had kids with me, who were not thrilled to set foot in another Costco, let alone traipse through the alcohol section.)

    Illinois, though, you can pull it off. They’ll call for a manager and use code “99.”

Trackbacks

  1. […] you want to know what Dave thinks about buying alcohol at Costco, read this from one of our sister sites: […]

  2. […] [Hey, that reminds me, didn't we do a post on buying alcohol at Costco? Yes, yes we did! Here's a link.] […]

  3. […] most popular post ever here at Metasip HQ was this one: Costco Alcohol Shopping or some such, I forgot the title. In it, we discussed a not-very-well-kept secret: that Kirkland Signature Vodka […]

  4. […] While Kirkland brands are reportedly pretty tasty, you can also save big by buying name-brand booze at Costco. Plus, thanks to local liquor laws, in much of the US you can buy alcohol from Costco with no membership card. […]

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