Grail Searching: Is Rare Bourbon Hunting a Fool's Errand?
Updated: Jan 24, 2022
I remember when I first got into whiskey (yes, I'm American so I spell it with an "e")...I'd drive around looking for elusive high-brow bottles, hoping to find a Pappy Van Winkle or an Old Forester Birthday Bourbon. Each and every liquor store I'd come to was a new opportunity to land something great. At one point, given I live in a large metropolitan area I even mapped every single liquor store within a 20-mile radius, amounting to some seventy locations. I visited every single one and even had created a rubric for whether I thought a store was even worth a revisit based on my perception on if they even saw "nice" bottles. In the liquor world, these bottles tend to be referred to as "allocated" meaning they have a limited supply and are apportioned across markets. But is rare bourbon worth the hunt?
After countless thousands of miles driven, hours of small talk made with random employees hoping one would toss me a bone, have something "in the back" or just happen to have a bottle that just came in, let me tell you that it was all mostly a waste of time, energy and resources. These allocated bottles often never see the shelf, and in many cases are held back for special raffles or lotteries, the managers friend Larry, or that high end customer who spends a cool grand every other week in the store on liquor.
There is of course the darker side to the business of liquor and that's the network of flippers who make their living buying bottles at retail and selling them into secondary markets for a hefty markup. Take a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year Old - the MSRP is $250, however, on the secondary market that same bottle fetches a $4,500 price tag. There's too much money to be had in this game for there to be many real opportunities to happen across a nice bottle "out in the wild."
What I'd suggest for folks looking to find a great bottle of bourbon, is to let those bottles find you. The guy or gal at liquor store X,Y,Z can't handle hearing "do you have any Blantons" one more time. The chances of you coming across anything noteworthy are slim...granted, people know they're likely not going to win the lottery but they still play. When I have managed to get a good bottle, it's almost always been because I know someone. I'm also not a flipper, so the folks I know who are in the business know that I love whiskey and I love sharing the whiskey I have. For me, whiskey has always been about creating a shared connection with good people.
In conclusion - yes - some folks do get lucky and find some great stuff out and about. You can pour a ton of your valuable time into a mostly vain attempt to do the same and come out with little to show for it except a lot of frustration. There's a lot of very good and easily attainable whiskey you can pick up every day of the week. Even with a lot of great, highly desirable bottles, the whiskeys I tend to go to on the regular are ones you'll find all day long out and about.
What's Better Than Finding a A Bottle of Rare Bourbon?
The people you share it with. Ultimately, that's what Bourboneur is all about: how to create a space for making memories with friends. Having good whiskey on hand never hurts. For me, I'd rather spend more time here in the bar than out searching for bottles to fill it. You can learn more about the ins and outs of setting up your garage bar right here at Bourboneur.com. Get started with tips on the Blog, and personalize your space with items from The Shop.