It was maybe two years ago now following an envious comment I had left on a friends Facebook page regarding a bottle of bourbon she had opened, when a friend of hers saw my comment and messaged me rather out of the blue. That message led to several invitations to join various "invite only" private groups online which were dedicated solely to the buying, selling, and trading of bourbon.
I recall thumbing through one of the groups many listings of various rare and unique bottles I would never see in a lifetime of randomly popping by various liquor stores and thinking to myself “this is where all the bourbon has gone to!” Post after post of Pappy Van Winkle 23, Double Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, Michters Celebration, and loads of other difficult to find bottles that I drooled over as I scrolled through the page, thinking much as Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore that I had found my “happy place.” I was able to move from Cloud Nine however and find my feet as I saw the pricing on these bottles…every one in the thousands of dollars.
These groups as I quickly found out get shut down on the regular so as to ensure continuity, each of these typically have backup pages which members add for when the inevitable shut down occurs. As one door closes, another opens, seemingly as if nothing had happened. One group I subscribe to went down in the past few weeks, and, just like clockwork, its backup page was up and running immediately, and over twelve thousand people had made it across to that site last I checked. Secrecy reigns supreme in these groups where a very structured set of rules governs transactions and street cred is gained over time. Following a potential purchase folks may be asked to vouch for the individual making the transaction if they’re new or if it’s a high dollar exchange, seeing a string of “Mike is GTG” “Deal in Confidence” “Mike is Solid” “Bombproof shipper” and a variety of other random odds and ends which can at times be rather comical.
As time has passed and bourbon has continued to gain in popularity, I have watched the prices for sought after bottles continue to move north. Given the secondary markup one could gain on a rare or unique bottle, many never find their way out of the back room of your local liquor store. As a matter of fact, a friend of mine used to work at a liquor store in the Midwest where the owner of the store would parse out a handful of the more exciting bottles that came in to his good friends and then had an employee “buy” the remaining bottles and list them for sale on the secondary market, driving up the profits four to five fold from what he was able to generate in their brick and mortar storefront. It probably happens a lot more than you think.
The Whiskey Community is an interesting one, and at the end of the day and there is lots of good and bad that goes along with these secondary markets. It’s not all about the juice – though it mostly is – but I’ve seen some great things like folks contributing bottles to be sold to raise money for a funeral for a long-time community member, or a random dude who was trying to trade his way to a Pappy starting with some bottom shelf Mellow Corn and folks helping him trade up over a few months time and after a dozen or two trades, landing that coveted bottle of Pappy. But there is the bad stuff as well, and there’s plenty of seedy characters in the world attempting to pull one over and make a quick buck, so these groups can be a source of thievery with counterfeit bottles; more on that subject here. There’s a fair bit of self-policing in these groups however, and these folks get weeded out, but it happens and it’s a risk that anyone takes in buying bourbon from a stranger.
Good, bad, or otherwise, to this day, it remains a past time of mine to scroll through postings and gawk at the prices that some bottles now command, but also to keep up to speed on what is new and unusual and to get a flavor for trends in popularity…of course, some bourbons like Pappy, never go out of style.
Bourbon Secondary Market
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