The State of the Bourbon Address

If you’ve been part of the whiskey scene for very long at all you will have noticed that almost any notable bourbons and rye are nigh impossible to find.  Stuff that used to be common like Blanton’s or any of Weller’s offerings are hidden behind the counter or tucked away in the back office.  Limited Release products are even harder to find, with stores only getting allocated a handful of bottles.  What’s a bourbon lover supposed to do?

This is The Hunt.  We find ourselves checking all of our local stores in the hopes of scoring rare and interesting bottles.  That desire to walk into the store and find that Pappy or BTAC just sitting on the shelf, or at least behind the counter priced well below secondary, is what makes us keep hunting.  Every now and then you’ll luck out and find a rare bottle.

Just the other day, I walked into a local store and found a Rock Hill Farms just casually sitting on the shelf for just a little above MSRP.  It must have been there at least for a little while because they had taken the time to print a shelf price sticker for it.  I walked up to the register and started up a conversation with what turned out to be one of the managers.  She was very nice and seemed to not mind discussing The Hunt, so I asked how they handled rare items like Pappy and BTAC and was informed that they do a raffle around Thanksgiving and that I should come by in October and put my name in the drawing.  We talked prices and about how crazy the whole bourbon market was getting, then out of nowhere, she asked if there was anything I was looking for.  I seized the opportunity to answer her question with my own question:  “What have you got?”  It turns out that she had a couple of bottles leftover from this year’s raffle, including a Michter’s Toasted Barrel Bourbon and a Michter’s 10yr Bourbon.  The 10yr was a little steep at $180, but the Toasted Barrel was $85 which was much more palatable.

I think one of the biggest issues surrounding bourbon today is the secondary market.  You no longer are spending your weekends chasing bourbon, competing only with other bourbon lovers, you’re now also competing with people who are in it simply to make a quick buck.  Stores are starting to become aware of the secondary market and its effect on their own stocks and subsequently their prices.  They now know that they can charge $400+ for that bottle of George T. Stagg they get every year because that’s what people that can’t find one for less are going to pay for it on the secondary.  As a result, many liquor stores have began to price all of their allocated bottles for above MSRP, some to the point that they are charging above secondary values.  The other day I had a guy try to sell me a bottle of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon for $900.  I could have it shipped to my front door for $325, which is already triple retail!

I understand that demand is high and supply is limited, hell, I even understand that the stores are sometimes “blackmailed” by their distributors just to have the opportunity to purchase the bottles that people want, forcing them to purchase those barrels of 1792 Small Batch that neither the consumer, distributor or store wants.  However, at what point does the consumer simply say “No more.”?  I feel like that time is quickly approaching as prices continue to creep up and allocated (as well as everyday) product becomes more and more limited.  People are becoming increasingly agitated with the bourbon industry each time they walk into a store and can’t buy their daily drinkers like Eagle Rare anymore, or it’s limited to one per customer, or the price is jacked up on it simply because it has been deemed “hard to get” in that particular market.

Something needs to change, but I’m not sure what that change needs to be. Whether the distillers need to increase production, or the distributors need to stop blackmailing store owners or if stores need to stop overcharging or severely limiting product that should be plentiful, it’s tough to say.  Maybe something will happen on the industry’s part, or perhaps there will be a shift in consumers, but if things continue to follow the path they are currently on, then I’m not sure where the bourbon market will stand in the coming year or two and quite frankly, that’s simply a shame.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the bourbon industry?

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