It's amazing how popular bourbon has become in such a short period of time, and the trajectory suggests that it's only going to be getting even more popular. IWSR Drinks Market Analysis predicts that the annual growth rate for bourbon will be plus five percent in volume and plus eight percent in value between now and 2026. Supplier sales to meet this demand rose nearly eleven percent last year, just north of five billion dollars! This underlying market demand has driven a premium on rare and allocated bottles of bourbon, and it seems that the sky's the limit on where this premium pricing may be going in the years ahead.
A quick review of our Bourbon Blue Book and the pricing that bottles are fetching on the secondary markets today as compared to their manufacturer's suggested retail value would quickly underscore how valuable some of these sought after bottles are. For a growing base of bourbon aficionados, forking over thousands of dollars or even trading vehicles for bourbon at times seems to be no problem, and countless troves of others fall in this same category, being blindly wiling to open their pocketbooks to land an allocated bottle - and in some instances, even willing to break or ever so slightly bend the law to do so.
High-end bourbon jiggery pokery (e.g., dishonest or deceitful behavior) has landed several unscrupulous characters at the center of recent criminal investigations in Kentucky, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. In Oregon, officials with the states own liquor and marijuana regulating agency the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission used their positions to obtain Pappy Van Winkle's 23-year-old bourbon, using their positions for personal gain and leading to the OLCC executive director and five other officials being removed. Last year the entire state of Oregon was allotted just 33 bottles of Pappy 23, and although not everyone is a bourbon drinker, for a state of nearly 4.25 million people those are thin odds of landing one. That said, five of the bottles went into a lottery, called "chance to purchase" with the odds of winning being 1 in 4,150...."so you're telling me there's a chance..." Given the population, those actually seem like great odds.
No doubt acquiring a unicorn is no simple feat and the average Bourboneur can't even find any allocated bottles let alone a Pappy, and the relationships and effort required to get a shot at something top shelf can take years to develop. Further still, not every store is even going to see some of these bottles. On a recent road trip, I stopped off at a liquor store along an interstate in Illinois where the store owner told me, he has been begging his distributor to give him allocated bourbon and was given a single bottle of Buffalo Trace in return, which wasn't exactly what he was looking for. This disproportionate distribution of bottles is perhaps what led a Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority employee to steal information for their benefit on which state-run stores would be receiving certain allocated bottles, selling this detail through a partner via Facebook. Jail time and a ban from all Virginia liquor stores is what they got for their crime.
Of course, I will say that I have put eyes on several rare bottles in the wild recently, most notably on a bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle. The only problem was that it was priced 3,140 percent above the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP). As another example, I saw multiple bottles of Stagg ranging from a 360-500 percent markup over MSRP. Although this isn't price gouging which has a specific legal definition, this type of premium pricing in many cases above elevated secondary pricing is in a realm all its own - what we might even call "tertiary pricing." When a store owner, much like the gentleman I ran across in Illinois gets hands on one of these rare bottles, I guess it could be viewed as an opportunity to hit a home run, but in our Open Letter to Liquor Stores we highlight there's far better ways to do business than try to create your own bourbon museum.
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