What’s the Difference Between: Well, Premium & Top Shelf Liquor

There are tiers to everything in life. Tiers to clothing, cars, and even food. So, what makes you think there aren’t tiers to your alcohol?


How many brands of alcohol are out there you question?


Oh boy…thousands. Amongst those thousands, they are broken down into categories: well, premium and top shelf liquor.


Let’s explain a little further. Placing these categories in relation to cars:


Well = Kia

Premium = Honda

Top Shelf = Mercedes


Keep on reading to figure out the difference between well, premium and top shelf liquor.


Well Liquor

Referred to as well or rail spirits, these alcoholic beverages are the cheapest offerings on the totem pole. We should say bargain booze!


They are referred to as well or rail because this is what the “workspace” of the bartender is called.

Well Liquor
Well Liquor Speed Rail

The well or rail is the spot where non-name brand liquors are kept for ease of access and speed. It’s like a trough in the most accessible place possible for the bartender.


This by no means categorizes well spirits as unwanted or gross (even though there are some brands out there you should steer clear of) this just simply means, they are non-name brand liquors that are offered at bars or restaurants for the cheapest option for the consumer.


Many times, happy hour offerings will include well or rail drinks at a discounted price.


Premium Liquor

Premium Liquor
Premium Liquor

Premium spirits are a step up from well. These are name brand liquors such as Absolut, Tanqueray, Bacardi, Jameson, and Jack Daniels to name a few.


These popular brands are very well known due to marketing, popularity and are great go-to’s for many. The companies that make these “tried and true” brands have tested, proved and asserted themselves in the liquor industry with very loyal consumers.


Top Shelf Liquor

Top shelf liquors are referred to as such because they are usually kept on the “top shelf” in the hierarchy of a bar set-up. This is to show their status and well, heck, they’ve earned it!

Don Julio 1942: Top Shelf Liquor
Don Julio 1942
Top Shelf Liquor


Brands such as Don Julio 1942, Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Belvedere Vodka, and Hendricks Gin are a few top-notch contenders.


Of course, there are a lot more.


What Is the Difference Between the Tiers?

The difference lies within the distilling process and the care and conditioning it took to make the end product.


For instance. The luxury tequila, Don Julio 1942 has earned its top shelf regality due to its small batch handcrafted recipe that has been aged for 2 ½ years and is one of the choice of tequilas of connoisseurs around the globe.


Some spirits are not made quality which can take time (years, sometimes) or with high end initial products which ultimately will render them a lesser spirit and further away from top shelf status.


A great rule of thumb is, typically the higher the category of the spirit is, the more expensive and/or smoother it may be. Now you know the difference between well, premium and top shelf liquor. Do note, that this isn’t the case for ALL alcohol because taste is subjective to the consumer.



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