A few months ago I traveled south of the border for our family summer vacation. No, not south of the border down Mexico way, but South of the Border South Carolina way (Myrtle Beach actually). You know where within 100 miles of the actual SC border you start seeing signs for Pedro practically every mile and you can by fireworks that are illegal in the 47 other contiguous states. Yeah, you know the place. It’s quite annoying to be honest, but I do have a favorite sign, however: “South of the Border – 75mi. You never sausage a place!” Get it? Sausage = saw such. Simple, yes, but it made me chuckle.
Besides looking forward to spending a relaxing week of sun and sand with my loving family, I secretly looked to stockpile bourbon, add to my collection and save some money in the process. I knew that South Carolina only charged a 6% tax on alcohol as compared to 9% in my home state of Maryland and it goes without saying that things are just cheaper in the south. So I figured I’d bring home a few bottles of my old stand-byes like Bulleit and Evan Williams single barrel and potentially add some new or top shelf bourbon to my bar at a discounted price. Prior to our trip I, as any good Bourboneer would, did some research on area liquor stores near our hotel. To my excitement nearly all the stores in the surrounding area prominently displayed the word “Discount” in their title. The gears in my head began to churn, “Discoooooount booooourbon ahhhhh” I salivated in my best Homer Simpson. Sweet and provoking thoughts of rows and rows of cheap bourbon cascaded through my mind (and by cheap I mean in price not grade). Not only was there a lower tax rate on alcohol but it was discounted too!?! Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to patronize as may stores as possible.
Now to provide a little background information. In the U.S., there are 17 states in which liquor sales are owned and run by the state government. South Carolina is NOT one of them. Neither is Maryland for that matter. So if the store is not state run then it is individually owned and operated as a small business. This means liquor, beer and wine can only be sold in these stores and no where else. Since the state government does not have a hand in the proprietorship, the alcohol is generally sold for less than in a state owned store which, of course, is music to the ears for any bourbon lover like myself.
Keenly aware of this information, I knew that SC did not participate in state owned liquor stores and I knew the prices would be considerably cheaper there than in a state like, let’s say Virginia (state owned with a 20% tax on distilled spirits). I also knew that MD, even though it shared SC’s self proprietorship and was not state run, had more expensive liquor prices as it is historically famous for being one of the higher overall taxed states in the country. All leading to the conclusion that Myrtle Beach, SC would be a great place to buy my bourbon on the cheap.
I WAS WRONG!
The use of the word “discount” is a sales/advertising ploy and clearly a subjective term. I probably should have seen that coming but I let my avarice cloud my common sense. The reason I mention this is due to the fact that there was absolutely no discount in either of the two liquor stores I visited in Myrtle Beach. It wasn’t even close. My favorite mass produced bourbons like Jim Beam, Wild Turkey and Evan Williams were several dollars higher in price than they were in MD. Yes! That’s right! More expensive than Maryland!!! The mid to upper shelf labels like Woodford’s and Michters were priced even higher, averaging about 7-10$ more per bottle (750 ml). And the smaller brand, boutique bourbons…forget about it. They were outrageous. To add salt to the wound, I was laughed at, yes laughed at when I asked one of the sales reps if they stocked Blanton’s (my favorite). Dismissively, he called out to his fellow sales rep and actually said, “We should have shirts made that say we don’t carry Blantons”. Really… shirts made!?! Maybe you should have a shirt made that says you’re an asshole!
What was going on here? How could this be reality. Nothing is cheaper in MD south of the state line! Nothing! Was this price gouging as a result of Myrtle Beach’s high tourist population. I am not sure. But what ever it was, it was disappointing. My ambition of stocking my bar with affordable bourbon was dashed. No way was I going to pay for any bourbon at 20-30% more than what I do at home, vacation or not. I do have some fiscal standards believe it or not.
So I guess the moral to my story is that things aren’t always cheaper South of the Border, especially if you love distilled spirits, preferably bourbon. Oh and by the way SC…I can buy Blanton’s in MD:)
Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Old Forge Reserve Single Barrel Tennessee Bourbon Whiskey, 44.5% ABV or 89 proof (Aged 10 years) Old Forge Distillery, Pigeon Forge, TN