Where have the days gone where anyone could walk into a liquor store and pick up a bottle of Blanton’s or Pappy 15-Year-Old for retail? You didn’t need to have a special password, secret handshake or know someone on the inside—just money and a smile.
The bourbon boom has been great for the spirit but needs improvement for the everyday consumer. We love that there are more distilleries, brands and increased quality of the brown liquid we love. The drawback is that the aforementioned rare bourbons are impossible to find; if you do, you will need to sell a kidney to afford them.
Many raffles with $100 entry fees give you a chance to win a unicorn bourbon, but I could just as easily take that $100 and buy two or three bottles of everyday drinkers. Just the other day, a local liquor store held a sweepstakes for a chance to buy a bottle of Pappy’s and at least 1,500 people showed up in 30-degree weather at each location hours in advance.
The bourbon boom has created another budding industry. The secondary market is where collectors can trade and sell bourbon worldwide. The drawback is that some rare bourbons sell for 20 times more than retail. Even just an empty bottle of Pappy can go for hundreds of dollars on websites.
Here are six tips to help you find a unicorn bourbon:
Make friends with a bar owner
- At least here in Kentucky, bars are allowed to sell bourbon from the establishment. You can secure a bottle or two slightly above retail by chatting up the owner. Bars are also on allocation through their distributors, so do not take advantage because the owner is losing money by selling to you. A 1.5 oz shot of Eagle Rare can go anywhere from $15-$20. Typically, a bottle yields 16 shots. That’s $320 minus the cost.
Travel to other states
- If you know about a honey hole, then everyone knows about it. You may travel to other states to find a bottle when popular liquor stores are picked over. Plan a road trip and hit mom-and-pop stores off the beaten path. Out West, where tequila and rum are more popular than bourbon, you are more likely to find something worth buying.
Play the bourbon lottery
- More and more brands and stores are holding lotteries. State liquor-control boards are starting to get in on the process also. Recently, Old Forester opened a lottery for its coveted Birthday Bourbon release. Instead of people lining up at the distillery trying to buy a bottle, the distillery allowed people to enter through the website from around the country.
Use social media
- The fastest way to be informed about releases or honey holes is to follow the brand’s social media pages. If that seems too daunting, follow bourbon platforms like The Bourbon Flight and other in-the-know sites. Insiders receive early information, tips and locations of hunting sites.
- Use friends and family from other parts of the country to find rare bourbon. Incorporating others in the hunt increases your chances of finding what you want. One friend may love a rare bourbon that could be found easily in other states. So, it can be easy to buy and trade with a partner.
Be mindful of the calendar and clocks
- Pay attention to the brand’s expected release dates. Most brands have release calendars built-in and always check for updated material. A rule of thumb is that most allocated releases happen in the fall, but some special or limited-edition releases go to shelves in the spring. Always research and do not hesitate to reach out to the brand and ask.
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