Thanks to 2020, I have new-found respect for oversized 1.75 liter bottles of liquor.
These so-called “handles” have existed in the United States since the fall of 1976. At the time, the government wanted to switch to the metric system and reduce the 38 different sizes of bottles available in the U.S. to just six. The handle replaced the traditional half-gallon.
While I certainly have seen these sizable bottles on store shelves, and even bought them for parties or events occasionally, I have to admit I’ve never paid much attention to them.
Then, of course, the coronavirus pandemic hit and suddenly folks across the country were hunkering down and shopping as infrequently as possible. Unsurprisingly, once shelter-in-place orders began, these large-format bottles became a popular option for pantry loading.
Up until recently, the federal government allowed hard alcohol to come in just a few sizes in the U.S., including 375 ml, 750 ml, 1 liter and 1.75 liter. In December, the feds announced some other sizes, like a 1.8 liter bottle.
I think there is a general misconception that bigger whiskey bottles—sometimes glass, sometimes plastic—are full of bottom-shelf booze. The truth, however, is that many premium spirits come in large sizes. While I knew Scotch brands Chivas Regal and Johnnie Walker sold oversized bottles, I was actually shocked by the breadth and depth of the selection of American whiskey handles.
As we head further into what could be another long year for many, here are 11 large-format bottles that will keep you well-stocked.
Jim Beam may make the largest selection of large-size bottles on the market. Look out for the 1.75 liter Maker’s Mark Bourbon ($50) and Knob Creek Bourbon ($60). (The company recently discontinued the 1.75 liter version of Old Overholt Rye, but I would suggest buying the last of these bottles if you happen to see one on a store shelf.) These are whiskies that you can drink neat or use in a range of classic and modern cocktails. Their versatility, of course, makes buying a larger bottle advantageous and makes it worth its weight.
Buffalo Trace has become an expert brand builder, able to turn many of its whiskies into sensations that are tough to find. What’s less well-known is that the company produces 1.75 liter versions of its renowned Eagle Rare Bourbon ($60), Buffalo Trace Bourbon ($45) and even the highly sought-after Weller Special Reserve Bourbon ($50). You can sometimes find these jumbo bottles even when the standard 750 ml bottles are sold out. Although, expect to pay quite a bit more than the suggested retail price for these handles, since they’re highly collectible.
Heaven Hill’s whiskies famously deliver on quality and value. Its large-format 1.75 liter bottles are also a steal, including the Evan Williams Black Label ($30), the Larceny ($45) and Elijah Craig Small Batch ($60).
Willett Pot Still Reserve Straight Bourbon ($90) may be the most attractive large-format bottle on the market. It looks like a glass version of a pot still; even after it’s empty, you’ll probably want to keep it.
I’d also suggest looking out for Old Forester’s delicious and potent 100-proof bourbon, which comes in a 1.75 liter bottle ($40). It’s one of the country’s oldest whiskies and was recently relaunched by its parent company Brown-Forman.