Spirits make up one of the large categories of alcoholic beverages, the other two being beer and wine. Spirits are also known by several other names, such as hard liquor or hard alcohol.
Spirits earned the name hard alcohol by having a relatively high alcohol content, at least 20%. Beverages that contain added sugar such as schnapps or creme liqueurs are officially not spirits but liquors, though very few consider this distinction important.
Most people prefer buying spirits distilled in megadistilleries, as the quality of beverages created in microdistilleries varies greatly, and the price of the products is considerably higher. However, nowadays, microdistilling (or craft-distilling) has been gaining in popularity, similarly to microbreweries.
This guide offers price-conscious consumers of spirits some tools and information to find the best option to buy cheap spirits online or offline. It turns out not everything is cheaper in online duty free shops, spirits being one of them (but, for example, cigarettes are.)
UPDATE: Coupon codes for duty free spirits are at the bottom! Scroll down to get the temporary coupon codes, while they are still valid. New coupon codes are posted regularly.
Types of spirits – brief summary
Spirits can be categorised based on their alcohol content (ABV) and what plant they are made from. The most popular types of spirits include:
- Vodka: distilled from cereal grains or potatoes, has an ABV of around 40% (80 proof)
- Whisky: distilled from fermented grains such as barley, wheat, rye and maize. The alcohol content of whisky is generally around 40% (80 proof) as well.
- Brandy: distilled from wine, has an ABV of 35-60% (70 – 120 proof)
- Absinthe: distilled from botanicals such as Artemisia absinthium, flavored with anise. Absinthe has a high alcohol content, generally between 45-74% (90 – 148 proof)
- Tequila: distilled from the blue agave cactus, has an ABV of around 40% (80 proof)
Apart from the plant the beverage is distilled from, the taste of spirits is affected largely by added herbs & spices. For example, the taste of gin results mainly from juniper berries. Many of these additives have proven beneficial health effects.
Duty-free spirits – buying cheap spirits online tax free
Airport shops are among the most popular places to buy duty-free alcoholic beverages. They are often believed to be cheaper, and many airport duty-free shops offer spirits exclusive to the country, such as the Greek ouzo or the Hungarian pálinka.
Duty-free spirits could, in theory, be cheaper than other kinds of stores, as they are exempt from VAT and other types of taxes.
However, this is often not the case!
Due to the differences in exchange rates and the high profit margins, the prices they offer are often higher than those you can find at regular brick and mortar retailers.
/This is true for cigarettes, for example. See the price comparison of cigarettes here./
Luckily, airport shops are not the only places where you can buy duty-free spirits. There are also online duty-free shops, selling from bonded warehouses, which are also exempt from the aforementioned taxes, where you can often buy cheap quality spirits legally. However, it turns out that online duty free shops are actually not a cheaper option in this case!
Btw. be careful with online shops because many don’t offer free shipping and the spirits and other alcoholic beverages appear to be cheaper, but once you add the cost of shipping you will end up paying more! The shops I recommend all offer free shipping to most destinations.
/Apart from checking the prices themselves, you should also be mindful that buying spirits is not legal in every country. Make sure you are not breaking the law. Also, you must be 18+ to purchase spirits online./
Buying spirits online
As mentioned before, there are several online shops – both duty-free and regular – that sell spirits and other alcoholic beverages. Buying spirits online has several advantages over brick and mortar shops.
By ordering spirits from online shops, you can circumvent the problem of the accessibility of country- or region-specific alcoholic beverages.
Still, price is often a deciding factor, and buying spirits online makes it quite easy to find the cheapest spirits by doing a price comparison. Luckily, the prices of many brick and mortar retailers are also available online, so you can always find the best deals.
Naturally, it would be quite impossible to list the prices of all spirits here, especially as they tend to change quite often. To provide you with an example, and to illustrate why duty free shops are not cheaper, I did look up one of the more popular spirits, Absolut vodka.
Absolut vodka is available at practically all duty-free shops, as well as supermarkets such as Tesco, Wal mart etc.. In general, I have found that the price of airport duty-free shops is comparable to those found in supermarkets.
Duty free spirits – price comparison
To compare prices I picked Germany. However, this is a worldwide phenomena, and if you do the price comparison yourself you will see that it applies to almost every country. A price of the world famous Grey Goose vodka in a duty free shop, in a local German store, and an online duty free shop was compared.
|Price comparison – German|
Duty free shop at an airport in Germany
|€ 27,32, but this is only for 0,7 litre, the price of 1 litre is €39, (only duty free shops have 1 l bottles)|
Online duty free shop
Local retailers in Germany sell Grey Goose vodka for almost half the price as duty free shops do! Duty free shops at airports have been scamming people for many years, and they are not actually cheaper. Usually online duty free shops are cheaper and even though the price difference is not great (3 Eurocents) the online duty free shop sells it for the most in this case (this is true for alcoholic drinks in general)
/I only looked at legitimate shops, and avoided sites like craigslists. I know that temporary discounts can make it cheaper in any of these shops, however I looked at regular prices only./
The conclusion is that when buying well-known, widely available spirits, the best option is just to go to a local supermarket instead of buying them at a duty free shop. Unless you can catch a deal (coupon codes are at the bottom of this webpage).
In this case online duty free shops are definitely not a good option. This illustrates quite well the importance of comparing prices in each product category (check the price comparison of other product categories as well). There are many product categories, which are indeed the cheapest in online duty free shops (e.g.: cigarettes, tobacco products, perfumes etc…), you can find them here.
However, in case you are looking to buy spirits online, or exotic, limited edition spirits online duty-free shops can still come in handy, as these spirits are often overpriced, or not at all available at local retailers (they only sell mass market spirits).
Duty-free allowances for spirits
You can find the duty-free allowances for spirits here: Duty-free, tax free guide with allowances (sorted by country).
Certain countries seize your order if it exceeds the limit on duty free products. The UK, and to a lesser extent the US is notorious for this. In those two countries we definitely do not recommend ordering more than the duty free allowance.
Legal issues with buying spirits online
Ordering spirits from online duty-free shops is, in general, perfectly legal (unless buying alcohol online is illegal in your country, must be 18+). However, just to make sure, you should always check out the local laws on importing alcoholic products before you buy spirits online.
If you fail to comply with your country’s or state’s regulations, your order may be seized. If your shipment is seized, contact the retailer you bought the spirits from; even if it was uninsured many online duty-free shops offer some form of recompense.
The shop I use offers a form of insurance to protect buyers. If you decide to pay some extra, your order will be guaranteed to be delivered again if it happens to be seized by customs, free of charge. I strongly suggest using this insurance if you bulk order.
You should also pay attention to the allowances on alcohol in your country, that is, what amount you may import without having to pay extra. You can find the duty free allowances here, at the bottom.
Duty-free spirits coupon codes
Duty-free shops regularly offer discount codes for spirits and other products. You can find the latest coupon codes here.
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Last updated: 2016-08-06
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