Bourbon Dispatches No. 11 – How to Hunt Rare Bourbons

This week I picked up a copy of Whisky Advocate magazine to check out their Annual Whisky Awards. For the record, Booker’s Rye ($300) won the year’s best American Whiskey and has been added to the top of many Bourbon hunters’ “Unicorn List.”

But I also stumbled across an insightful article by one of the top Bourbon writers around, Fred Minnick, on hunting rare Bourbons. This article by itself is worth the $6.99 price tag or you can subscribe for $22 a year.

So today, I am going to summarize Fred’s advice for those who are new to the game.

First, let’s look at which bottles are considered rare in this day and age. Here’s a quick list of some of the hardest to find:

  • Van Winkle - (Release starts in fall, but some retailers and distributors stagger the release.)
    • Pappy Van Winkle includes 23, 20 and 15 year
    • Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year
    • Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 year
    • Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye 13 year
  • Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) (Release begins in Fall, but can vary depending on the locale)
    • William LaRue Weller
    • Thomas H. Handy Rye
    • Eagle Rare 17 year
    • Sazarec Rye 18 year
    • George T. Stagg
  • Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition (Releases in September; 9,258 bottles released in 2016)
  • Parker’s Heritage Collection (Releases in Fall)
  • Elijah Craig 18 Year (Releases in early spring in 2017)
  • Booker’s Rye 13 Year (Released as a one-time bottling in May 2016)
  • Angel’s Envy Cask Strength (10,000 bottles to go out in Fall of 2017)
  • Weller 12 Year (Releases in the Fall)

Here’s Minnick’s assessment of how the Bourbon hunting has evolved over the past few years:

“Starting about a decade ago, high-volume retailers saw Bourbon fans arriving early, and such limited edition bottles were gone by store’s close. By 2009, the early-risers stood outside waiting for the doors to open. They were camping out the night before in 2012. Now, if you want to glimpse such elusive prey, you’ll have to prepare, make a game plan, stalk the target, and readily adapt to a changing landscape. You must become a Bourbon hunter.”

Rules for Bourbon Hunting

Minnick overviews five rules for bourbon hunting in the article and over the next few weeks, I will share some of his thoughts on each one. Let’s start with rule number one:

Choose Your Hunting Grounds

  • “Rare Bourbons are meted out like genie wishes to top retailers, a process known as allocation.”
  • “Major markets get the bulk of the bulk of the product and high volume accounts are rewarded for selling their products. In this system, the Chicago retailer who sells the most Four Roses Yellow Label will receive more Four Roses Limited Edition bottles than a low volume account.”
  • “Despite the doom-and-gloom allocation stories, retailers are receiving bottles and you increase your chances of obtaining one if you know which stores receive them.”
  • “In control states, where the liquor stores are government operated, allocation numbers are available to the public. The Pennsylvania Liquor Board (PLCB) received 927 bottles of BTAC for the state in 2016...In 2016, vying for 1,601 bottles of Van Winkle, the PLCB received 88,068 entries from 13,085 entrants. Nearly 10,000 names were removed for duplicate entries, non-verified Pennsylvania addresses, and violation of lottery terms and conditions. Even with cheaters removed, participants in the 2016 PLCB VAn Winkle lottery had about a 2 percent chance of winning.”
  • “You’ll find better odds in Bourbon’s mother state. At the Liquor Barn’s Springhurst store, 700 people participated in a lottery for 100 BTAC bottles, a one-in-seven chance of taking home a bottle.”
  • “K&L [a popular California and online retailer] only received one bottle of Sazarec 18, three of George T. Stagg, two of William Larue Weller, six to twelve bottles of Four Roses Limited Edition and a dozen bottles of Pappy Van Winkle. This allocation must be split among 5,000 K&L customers. After trying raffles, [they] are moving toward preferential treatment."

Pappy Van Winkle 25 Year – Fuhgeddaboudit – Bourbon Dispatches No. 10

The word is out. Pappy Van Winkle 25 Year is coming soon, but...here's the bad news -- just 710 bottles of the once-in-a-lifetime bottle of liquid sunshine will be sent to retailers. So as Vito Corleone would say: fuhgeddaboudit!

But at least you'll save a cool $1800 by forgoing the buy. And for secondary buyers...who the hell knows what you'd pay? I'm guessing -- if any shows up -- it will cost no less than 10 times retail, likely more.

So why only 710 bottles? According to Julian Van Winkle III only 11 barrels tasted heavenly enough to make the cut. So you can bet the Angels and the Devils both took their share, and unless you have a direct line to either you probably won't --- EVER!

How to Make Pappy 25

As the Buffalo Trace press release explains: the barrels "were distilled in the spring and fall of 1989 and stored on the lower levels of a metal clad warehouse built in 1935 at the Van Winkle family distillery in Shively, Ky. In 2002 the barrels were moved to Buffalo Trace Distillery, where they continued to age for another 12 years on the lower floors in Buffalo Trace’s brick warehouses. The lower floor placement helped preserve the sweet, mellow notes of the world-famous wheated bourbon recipe."

So if they went in the barrels in 1989 why aren't they 27 or 28 years old. Well, in 2014 Buffalo Trace transferred the barrels into stainless steel tanks. Why? This stops the aging process and retains the mouth-satisfying flavor profile that has made Pappy Van Winkle bourbons, the best on the planet.

Bottom line, this is the original stock that so many Pappy Collectors yearn for.

Packaging Schmackaging

The Pappy 25 will be packaged in handmade glass from the Glencairn Crystal Studio and the wooden boxes will be crafted with the staves from the lucky 11 barrels. And JVW III will place his name on the bottle.

But packaging don't mean shit. If you've ever had Pappy, you know what everybody really wants -- the 100-proof golden brown elixir inside the fancy schmancy bottle and box.

So there are sure to be some Pappy flippers who try to make a quick buck or 10,0000.

Who Will Get It?

Nobody really knows, but it will go out in April. I suspect some of the stores will do auctions and/or lotteries. So, as with the regular release, we will do our best to get you the lowdown as soon as we can and make you aware of any opportunities to find it. We will post these in the club section of the site. So if you're not already a member now is a good time to join. Here's how.

Anyway, I hope at least one of you reading this will find the unicorn of all Bourbon unicorns! If you do, please don't sell it -- even for a lot.

Not much left in this world that is truly once in a lifetime.

Cheers!

Bourbon Boom Fuels Kentucky’s Economic Expansion – Bourbon Dispatches No. 9

Yes, Bourbon is so much more than good drinkin'. It is also boosting Kentucky’s Bourbon industry to new heights. In the last two years, Bourbon has added $1 billion in revenues and 2,000 distillery-related jobs into Kentucky.

Each year, the only native American spirit generates $8.5 billion for the state’s economy. But that's not all, it creates 17,500+ jobs paying more than $800 million. And for the politicos, Bourbon puts $825 million in Kentucky's coiffeurs via tax revenues. Plus, the distillers are adding $1.2 billion in distillery and tourism expansion.

So yeah, the Gov Matt Bevin is pretty happy about the study by the University of Louisville’s Urban Studies Institute and the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.

Hittin' the KY Bourbon Trail

“There were more than one million visits to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour experiences last year, elevating the Kentucky tourism experience to levels never seen before,” said a local politician.

KDA President Eric Gregory said, “This report proves that Kentucky Bourbon is the new fuel for the state’s economy."

Well if you want to boost the economy. Bourbon is as good an impetus as any.

Here are some details for you geeky econ Bourbon drinkers.

  • Distilling contributes $8.5 billion to Kentucky’s economy, up $3 billion since 2008 and $1 billion in the last two years alone. This includes direct, indirect (spin-off) and induced impacts;
  • As many as 17,500 people owe their paychecks to the spirits industry; either directly, or because their employers are part of the industry supply chain, or due to the household spending of those people. This is up 2,000 jobs from 2014;
  • Payroll for those workers increased to more than $800 million, from $707 million in 2014;
  • New craft distilleries employ 200 people with salaries totaling more than $5.5 million;
  • Average salary for distillery employees is $95,089;
  • Distilleries are in the middle of a $1.2 billion building boom driven by the virtual repeal of the ad valorem barrel tax and new tourism reform measures;
  • Use of locally grown corn has increased by 65 percent in the last two years, aiding Kentucky’s farm families;
  • Distilling has the second highest job multiplier in the state when it comes to total number of jobs and spin-off factor, behind only light truck and utility vehicle manufacturing;
  • More than $190 million in tax revenue for local and state governments is generated by spirits production and consumption, distillers pay another $625 million in federal excise taxes;
  • At 34.4 cents per dollar of output, Kentucky taxes spirits higher than all other 536 industries in the state. Kentucky’s spirits tax rate is fifth highest in the country among open market states;
  • The number of distilleries has grown to 52 – the most distilleries in Kentucky since the repeal of Prohibition;
  • Bourbon barrel inventory, now at 6.7 million, has reached its highest level since 1974;
  • If the industry continues to grow at this rate, economic output will exceed $10 billion by 2020, with employment more than 20,000, payroll over $1 billion and state tax revenue $200 million.

So here's the bottom line. Drink more Bourbon and keep the Kentucky economy humming along. It won't last forever, but enjoy the party while it lasts!

I'm off to buy some more of the good brown stuff. My justification: I'm helping folks get jobs and it tastes damn good too! And it don't make you feel too bad either.

Cheers.

If you want to read the whole report go here.

To Swirl or Not to Swirl; That is the Question – Bourbon Dispatches Issue 8

This week Katelyn Best of the Whiskey Wash took on the subject of swirling whiskey. If you came over to the Bourbon tasting world from the Wine tasting world, you might believe this is an essential part of tasting whiskey.  Plus, it makes you look and feel sophisticated, like a real Whiskey snob.

But the question --- is it absolutely necessary to enhance the tasting experience?

I'll let you decide that for yourself.

But here's Kate's breakdown:

Wine changes substantially and quite quickly (within minutes or hours) when exposed to air, which is why experts recommend decanting, at least with certain wines. Spirits oxidize much more slowly than wine. That means that while the swirl encourages those aromatic compounds to evaporate, that’s about all it does—you’re not substantially changing the character of the whiskey by exposing it to more air.

The Pros of Swirling

  • Swirling Gives You a Gander at a Whiskey's Legs

One reason for swirling is to let you get a look at a whiskey’s legs—the drips that form as the liquid recedes from the sides of the glass. Legs can tell you a few things, if you know what you’re looking for: since alcohol is more viscous than water, heavier, slower-moving legs indicate higher ABV. Heavier legs are also said to indicate an older whiskey.

  • Swirling Evaporation and the the Nose

The other reason to give your whiskey a spin before you sniff it is to promote evaporation, which sends aromatic chemicals towards your nose. Evaporation is crucial, since without it, you wouldn’t be able to smell whiskey at all. On the other hand, it does occur without your help; a quick swirl merely speeds the process along.

The Con of Swirling

  • Swirling Leads to Burning Sniffs

You can’t get aromatic compounds to evaporate without also encouraging alcohol to evaporate, which is why you’ll get a harsh ethanol burn if you inhale those aromatic vapors too sharply.

If You Swirl, Sniff Lightly

So Best's conclusion (which I tend to agree with) is "just be more delicate than you would with a glass of wine and you’ll be fine."

Bourbon, Football and Trump – Bourbon Dispatches – Issue 7

My beloved (and consistently loserish) Atlanta Falcons made it to the Super Bowl this week so I thought I would talk a little Football and Bourbon, with a smattering of the new President thrown in.

All three "hot" subjects were recently covered in in this article on former Ravens standout Ray Lewis. Yes, everyone is getting in the Bourbon game.

RAY LEWIS LAUNCHING BOURBON BRAND FOR CHARITY, GIFTING FIRST BOTTLES TO TRUMP, PENCE

Now I could say something snarky, (like what the hell is Trump going to do with a bottle of bourbon? He doesn't drink right?) but I won't and here's why:

It won't be a profit-driven enterprise. Instead, only 100 bottles will be produced for charity.

The proceeds from their sale will go to the Time to Shine Scholarship & Internship Program for Women, which helps high-school aged women pursue educational and professional opportunities.

Ok. That is kinda cool. Bourbon "helps high-school aged women pursue educational and professional opportunities."

Sounds great to me. And "Lewis intends to give the first two bottles away as gifts to incoming president Donald Trump and vice president Mike Pence."

Why?

“I have been thoroughly impressed with president-elect Trump and his desire to help inner city kids and provide better education opportunities for women,” Lewis said.

The bourbon will go on sale starting February 15.

Now whether or not you like/agree with Trump or Lewis --- what the Hell let's give them a chance and see what happens.

If they F*** it up there's always Bourbon.