There’s no time quite like the holiday season with the year winding down to a close, the magic that comes with Christmastime born out through kids everywhere and allocated bourbon drops abound. The thought of simply waltzing into your favorite liquor store, or any liquor store for that matter, and happening across a bottle of something sought after, a true unicorn in the wild, is whimsical. Of course, wild unicorns have become a bit pricier than in the past as retail establishments have sought to get a piece of the action in the secondary markup game. Nonetheless, it does happen, and those inspirational stories drive many Bourboneur’s everywhere to hit the streets in search of coveted bottles of brownwater.
What is however very striking about this time of the year is the divide in the haves and have nots. As I stood in a line last week waiting for an opportunity to buy a Weller 12 for forty some odd bucks, the idea for this post took shape. There were 35 bottles of Weller 12 available, and as I stood there attempting to loosely count the number of folks in front of me, I knew I was going to be close to the cut off, perhaps a bit past it…there were a couple spouses it looked like hanging out and so a “real” count was going to be tough to make. I ended up being the next to last person to get a bottle, and out of luck several folks behind me received some Blantons…but the line was long and there’s a whole pile of folks who walked away empty handed. Good timing on my part hitting the line when I did.
The empty-handed feeling however is incredibly prominent this time of year as I, perhaps more than most, see post after post on socials and secondary pages with boxes of BTAC, piles of Pappy, and at times a pallet of other allocated bourbons. Literally, a pallet…folks are out of control. I can only imagine that the Joe or Suzy Bourboneur’s of the world must feel disenfranchised by these images. So, what leads to this feast or famine type situation in terms of access to bottles?
The problem starts with the distribution system, also known as the “three tier system” in the United States. It’s rather complicated, but at a high level the distillers of bourbon by law, are required to sell it to distributors. Those distributors have leverage in allocating out their products. So, if you’re a regular liquor store, you’re going to need to sell some silly number of cases of Fireball or other swill to be offered an opportunity to get a bottle of something rare, like a Pappy. The situation of the “haves and have nots” isn’t just a consumer issue. I stopped off at a small liquor store along an interstate on a recent road trip where the owner told me that he has begged his distributor to give him something good, to then receive a single bottle of Buffalo Trace. He seemed defeated by the system and held hostage by his distributor.
When these bottles find their way to the retail side of the equation, some markups feel nearly criminal. We all live in a free market however, and stores can ask whatever they want, especially if the market is willing to bear it. As a high school teacher once told me, “we all vote with our hard-earned dollars, so cast your votes in the right place.” As you’re out and about doing your shopping use these couple questions to help guide you on your decision of “is this a place I should be shopping at?” First, what sort of experience do you have in shopping at the store; are you treated well? I’ve been all around my area, and there’s one locally owned store that I always go to. They are friendly, helpful, and a standout from some of the other local spots that don’t even acknowledge you’ve entered the building. Do they have a loyalty program – and, importantly, if so, is it fair? I’ve seen these used to varying degrees of success. For example, some larger chain stores have these and, they seem to work in terms of I feel like I have a real shot at getting allocated bottles, and I’m not paying the kings ransom for that shot. On the other end of the spectrum, a local store has a program, and if you collect X points you can buy a bottle of E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof for retail (and others). If you do the math however, the X points for any of the bottles available would equate to you simply paying two times the going rate on the secondary market, then paying retail on top of that. Hard pass. There’s no silver bullet to fixing the system, but we can support the good actors and hopefully help bridge the divide in the haves and have nots.
Bourboneur App Release
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