Here are some of the best deals of the practice, when a bar sells an ounce of a rare, expensive or collectible spirit at cost to customers.

Share story

In this all-knowing, social-media-fueled food world, no secret menu or private reservation line is hush-hush. And yet the best drink deal around Seattle is the one discerning happy-hour customers know little about.

Some of the most expensive whiskeys and rare spirits can be had for under $10. You just have to know where to go, whom to ask. A Paul Giraud Tres Rare 40-year-old cognac for $8.50. A “Legend of Cuba Rum Pre-1962” for $9.

The “break-even bottle,” as the deal is called, is where a bar sells an ounce of a rare, expensive or collectible spirit — at cost — to customers.

Bobby Heugel made it popular at his acclaimed bar Anvil Bar & Refuge in Houston.

It’s offered for all sorts of reasons: as a special to industry folks and loyal customers, or as a clearance sale to move top-shelf spirits that weren’t selling.

But lately, the break-even bottle has become a form of protest, a statement against collectors and the one-percenters who hoard acclaimed spirits as status symbols or trophies. That in turn has jacked up prices and made those bottles out of reach for the average consumer.

The break-even bottle has moved from being a drink special to become a movement of sorts; to make good booze affordable for the average Joe again. There’s even a hashtag for it: #drunkensocialism.

Two years ago, the bar Smith on Capitol Hill got a hold of Pappy’s 20-year-old bourbon, one of the world’s most sought-after whiskeys.

The going rate for that shot ranges from $120-$200, but the bar priced it at cost, which worked out to be $17.50 for an ounce.

Management thought the public was getting gouged as the bidding for that cult bourbon was getting out of control. (The bottle retails for a few hundred bucks, but since it sold out, you’ll pay more than $1,000 on the secondary market.) Smith is a neighborhood bar filled with students, artists and young couples in entry-level jobs, and management said it wanted to reward those regulars who kept it in business.

These days, the break-even bottle is becoming more common. Here are some of the best break-even bottle deals:

• Mulleady’s in Magnolia offers the Chartreuse V.E.P., aged 8 years in oak vats for $6.13. Its next break-even bottle after that will be the acclaimed Compass Box “The Circus” scotch. But the chartreuse may be sold out before the “The Circus” gets delivered to the bar, management says, in which case the Irish pub will offer the Port Charlotte 13-year Islay scotch for $7.42.

Mulleady’s, 3055 21st Ave. W., Seattle, 206-283-8843 or mulleadyspub.com

• Liberty buys rare whiskeys such as the 1971 Old Fitzgerald bourbon and sells a shot of it at cost in its “Sharing is Caring” deal. Currently the 1980 Commonwealth whiskey is offered at $20 an ounce. It’s a highly sought bottle for Pappy collectors.

Liberty, 517 15th Ave. E., Seattle, 206-323-9898 or libertybars.com

• Westward offers one of the best break-even bottle deals, but it’s not printed on the menu. You have to ask for it. The bar currently features the Blackadder Raw Cask Rum Finest St. Lucia Rum, 12-year, for $5.45.

Westward, 2501 N. Northlake Way, Seattle, 206-552-8215 or westwardseattle.com

• Rumba runs something akin to a drink club, where patrons who sample enough flights get the break-even bottle rate on some of the world’s rarest rums. Currently that bottle is the 27-year Enmore from Guyana for $9.

Rumba, 1112 Pike St., 206-583-7177 or rumbaonpike.com