Is Bourbon Broken? Part 1 – The Consumer Problem Header

Is Bourbon Broken? Part 1 – The Consumer Problem

In Banter by Brent Joseph70 Comments

I’ve seen this question asked in a few places over the past few months and never really gave it any thought until a couple of things happened to me recently. Over a series of four posts I'm going to dive deeper into this question and share with you my personal views on the issue. You may or may not agree with my logic but I hope it opens up further discussion on what can be done to improve the current state of the bourbon industry.

Let me start by saying that this isn’t an indictment of anyone – not collectors, flippers, hobbyists, taters, distillers, NDPs, distributors, or even liquor stores. These are just some recent observations, experiences, and feelings. I’m not right or wrong. I’m just wondering if people feel the same way, and if so, is there a solution?

I’ve been into bourbon for about 25 years now. It started with drinking Woodford Reserve on the rocks. Now I pretty much only drink it neat. The only real exception to this is if it’s a hot day and I’m relaxing by a pool, then I probably have a Kentucky Mule. I’ve been able to put together a fairly extensive collection of bourbons on my home bar. Over 90% of the bottles I own are open. I buy bottles to drink them, almost always with friends who enjoy the experience. I’m not a hoarder or a flipper. I don’t buy cases at a time or every bottle of Blanton’s I see on the shelf when I come across it. Except for one time in Memphis, TN, in 2011, I bought 9 bottles of Elmer T. Lee off the shelf to bring home and share with my local friends. I’ve never bought a bottle at retail intending to sell it and make a profit. I’m not active on the secondary market and pretty much refuse to pay over retail for bourbon. I’m a member of one or two Facebook groups. Still, I don’t have the time or emotional currency to devote to following and reading every post and argument online.

"I prefer Instagram because it seems to be a bit more sheltered from the try-hards."
I prefer Instagram because it seems to be a bit more sheltered from the try-hards. See a pretty picture of bourbon, like it, and move on. I’ve been around long enough to remember buying a squat bottle of ORVW 10 yr at a retail store for MSRP that was sitting on the bottom shelf in an aisle and not behind a counter. I remember buying Weller 12 off the shelf at $26/bottle. I’d buy Ancient Ancient Age 10 years in plastic 1.75L bottles when I was in Kentucky hitting the Bourbon Trail. I also completely understand the concept of supply and demand. But things have gotten out of hand.

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The Consumer Problem

Last week I walked into my local Total Wine store and happened to find Eagle Rare on the shelf. There were actually two bottles sitting on the shelf. There was also a sign that said “1 per customer per day.” The price was $28.99. I like Eagle Rare. In fact, much of the Buffalo Trace portfolio lands right in my wheelhouse of what I prefer to drink as far as flavor profiles go. Add in the fact that it is priced reasonably at MSRP and is 10 years old makes it an even greater value, in my opinion. I grabbed a bottle and continued to browse the bourbon section.

I noticed another guy down the aisle had a bottle as well. Then I heard two guys behind me get very excited that they had Eagle Rare. Like they saw Bigfoot excited. There were two of them but only one bottle. A store employee was near, and these two guys asked him if they had any more in the back. The employee went to check and came back with a box. He handed another to the second guy and was immediately surrounded by three of four other guys who were all asking for bottles as well. The box was quickly emptied, and everyone in the area got a bottle for regular retail price. Everyone was happy. But after I checked out and got into my car, I felt like I had been fortunate to find this bottle on the shelf at retail, and that started to bother me just a little.

Some local liquor store chains here don't even put Eagle Rare on the shelf. They keep it in the back or behind the counter like it's highly allocated. I think that sucks. I'm all for capitalism and the free market. Stores are free to distribute their product however they see fit. But what really got me thinking is how I felt like I got lucky and found something special. This is what has become of the bourbon game, and I'm not a fan. It's unfortunate that I now feel the same about finding a bottle of Eagle Rare as I used to about finding something highly actually allocated or scarce. 

You see, three or four years ago, you could discover Eagle Rare on the shelf in most local liquor stores. Blanton's was also on the shelves reasonably often, except for holiday time, when everyone seemed to want one for a gift. Blanton's was also a much better product five years ago, but that's another article and discussion altogether. This was also the time before people were chasing specific dump dates that corresponded with their birthdays, anniversaries, kid's birthdays, dog's birthdays, and whatever other dates people think make the bottle special. If you do that, you're part of the problem. Now I'm not saying you shouldn't do what makes you happy or how to spend your hard-earned money, I'm just saying that if you're doing this, or you are the guy that is taking crotch shots in the parking lot and immediately asking "How much is this worth?" in your Facebook group, you can't complain that what you want is now near impossible to find on your local shelves. You're the reason.
"Blanton's was also a much better product five years ago, but that's another article and discussion altogether."

I am in no way saying that I'm not going to stop into stores and see what they have, but I don't hunt as I used. Mainly because there are now too many people who have way more time than I do to devote to the hunt. Many stores also do extremely shady things with their special bottles. The problem is that as a whole, we (the bourbon community) keep lining up in the middle of the night or early in the morning for releases that may or may not be all that special.

The question is, "How do we stop this cycle?" How can we "fix bourbon" if it's broken? Social media has had a tremendous impact on our society, and it has both helped and hurt the bourbon game. There is an endless amount of information out there, and it can be very useful. There are also endless opinions online, and sometimes that's not so helpful. I'm fully aware of the irony as I sit here and type this to be posted on bourbonbanter.com and shared on Twitter and Facebook. People now have the tools to notify hundreds if not thousands of local bourbon fans on the hunt for the current hottest release within seconds. If you aren't a part of that group or don't have your notifications turned on, there is no way you'll have a chance to score that bottle you've been dreaming about. Even if you stop by your local shop every day, you will miss out. Then what?

Let me know what you think about my thoughts so far in the comments, and stay tuned for the next installment of Is Bourbon Broken? – The Secondary Problem.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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Brent was born and raised in Indianapolis, IN. After graduating from the University of Kansas with a degree in Journalism, he moved back to Indy where he eventually resurrected his family's brand of all beef kosher style hot dogs and opened a restaurant, King David Dogs, in downtown Indianapolis. When he's not juggling the many duties of an entrepreneur, he can usually be found relaxing at home with his wife, their twin boys, and their two dogs. Brent is a member of the Bourbon Society of Indianapolis, a BBQ enthusiast, and a cigar aficionado. Three things that are even better when enjoyed together with good friends. If Brent is not talking about bourbon, he's probably talking about sports, in particular, NFL football and Kansas Jayhawks basketball. You can follow his blog, BBQ and Bourbon here.
Read Brent's full profile.

About the Author
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Brent Joseph

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Brent was born and raised in Indianapolis, IN. After graduating from the University of Kansas with a degree in Journalism, he moved back to Indy where he eventually resurrected his family's brand of all beef kosher style hot dogs and opened a restaurant, King David Dogs, in downtown Indianapolis. When he's not juggling the many duties of an entrepreneur, he can usually be found relaxing at home with his wife, their twin boys, and their two dogs. Brent is a member of the Bourbon Society of Indianapolis, a BBQ enthusiast, and a cigar aficionado. Three things that are even better when enjoyed together with good friends. If Brent is not talking about bourbon, he's probably talking about sports, in particular, NFL football and Kansas Jayhawks basketball. You can follow his blog, BBQ and Bourbon here. Read Brent's full profile.

  • Avatar Al Blancher says:

    Amen

    • Avatar Brent Joseph says:

      Al,
      Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for the final 3 parts of this article. I hope you still agree!

  • Avatar Justin Davis says:

    At some point folks will move into other spirits. We love bourbon, but have ventured into other spirits lately. It is not really worth the hassle for certain bottles anymore. The crowd has also changed alot in the past 2 years.

    • Avatar Brent Joseph says:

      Justin,
      I agree, the crowd that seems to be seeking out these bottles has shifted a lot in the past 2-3 years. Everyone with a fb account seems to be the newest expert on bourbon and can’t wait to tell you about their thoughts even though they’re part of this problem. I address this issue and more in the next few parts of this series. Thanks for reading!

  • Avatar Dave says:

    Nice article, I would agree with you so far. While I no longer hunt and haven’t waited in line for years, I am fortunate to be able to buy barrels with a group of friends. We end up with a supply of bourbon that is “special” and suits our pallete.

    • Avatar Brent Joseph says:

      Dave,
      Thanks for reading, I’ve also started to focus on private barrels rather than continue to be frustrated when I try to find some of these bottles.

  • Avatar Hank Bourbon says:

    Absolutely agree 100% with everything said here. I muted all my FB bourbon groups because I couldn’t take the stupidity anymore. I can’t wait for the rest of this series!

  • Avatar Matt Walker says:

    Seems every time I bring this up, whether by a simple observation or as an opinion on what we should do about it, folks tend to lose their minds and manners in responding to it. Hopeful your attempt here is better received.

    • Avatar Brent Joseph says:

      Matt,
      Thanks for reading, we will see. So far so good but the final 3 parts will probably ruffle more than a few feathers.

  • Avatar Gwendolyn McCreary says:

    Great beginning to addressing this issue. Can’t wait to read on… thanks!

  • Avatar Rob says:

    Brent Joseph is right on the mark. Sad to say things won’t change as long as there’s a market for reselling…

    • Avatar Brent Joseph says:

      Rob,
      The only way you can combat the secondary is to not participate. I refuse to pay over retail when there is so much other quality stuff available.

  • Avatar Gene Arnold says:

    Spot on, sir. I’ve only been “in the game” for four years. I’ve already quit hunting. I just buy what ever barrel pick we do as a group and then bottom shelf, daily drinkers. Thanks for this, Brent! Well done!

  • Avatar Mike Stevenson says:

    Well done. I couldn’t agree more and I think you’re onto a great conversation. I’ve been “in bourbon” for about four years now and really have enjoyed learning all I can on my own, sharing/learning with friends and with groups. However, I feel like you, that we’ve stepped out a little too far and I find myself not wanting to go along with the hunters, flippers and active social media bunch. Its now more about barrel picks than unicorns for me. I can’t wait to hear more.

    • Avatar Brent Joseph says:

      Mike,
      Same for me, I tend to focus on private picks and refuse to pay over retail for bottles. Thanks for reading.

  • Avatar DJ says:

    I think you might have missed a bigger issue that has developed more recently on FB, which is the razzle groups.

    With the development of bourbon groups on FB, as little as 2 years ago you would see people in local groups post places that had bottle that were above retail and everyone would shame that liquor store. The local groups would help members find allocated bourbons at a retail price, or sell to each other at retail. Members would avoid buying overpriced bourbon and call you out as a sucker if you did.

    Within the last year or so we have seen the rise of razzle groups on FB, which incentivizes people to buy overpriced bourbon and razzle them off at slightly above secondary. People pay for a 1 in 10 chance to win those bourbons based on powerball numbers.

    So now people are buying bourbons at or below secondary, but above secondary and listing them on those pages. They then often either call a spot for themselves or give their friends a head up that they’re starting the razzle. This leaves the lister with a 10% chance of winning, but they have no monetary commitment in the razzle since the other 9 out of 10 spots covered the cost of the lister buying the bourbon at retail. If they do this often, they get 1 out of 10 bourbons they razzle for the price of just floating the money they paid for the bottle until the razzle is closed and running.

    The razzles force the price of allocated bottles up to secondary at the local liquor stores now because there is always a buyer. Couple this with the nation-wide reach of these groups, and you stop being able to find any bottles a retail outside of a rewards club or knowing an owner, and most prices are being forced up to secondary which is rising due to the liquidity of moving the bottles due to the national groups.

    • Avatar Brent Joseph says:

      DJ,
      I’m not sure the razzle groups are the problem as much as the larger fb groups and social media in general. It seems that there is a lot of monkey see, monkey do. If you can get enough people to hype a bottle, it will sell no matter what it tastes like. We’ve even seen groups hype their own private picks to drive up the secondary price in these private groups. I touch on this a bit in the final 3 parts of the series but the best thing you can do is NOT participate in these groups and buy their overhyped bottles.

  • Avatar Patrick says:

    took a step back recently. if i can go to my neighborhood store and find a good bourbon in my price range i am happy. FOMO = Fools Only Missing Out.

  • Avatar Michael M Robison says:

    Haven’t been at it as long, but see the same things and agree!

  • Avatar JD says:

    Agreed! It’s pretty darn broken :(. But to me it’s like the homeless problem here in LA, how do you fix it lol!?! The silver lining to me is that it has lead me to discover some different brands that are just as good and sometimes even better. Definitely has expanded my palate for the better 🙂

  • Avatar 2weelTom says:

    I am new to the bourbon crowd. Started collecting and sampling a year ago when Covid lock down hit. Watched way too many YouTube spirits videos and thought I needed a small collection. I have upwards of 30 bottles, knowing that is a small collection compared to others.

    I started visiting other liquor stores outside of my usual stop and found a different variety of whiskeys. Buying a bottle here and there I have acquired some that one can no longer find plentiful on the shelves. Not knowing that certain brands or barrels were hard to acquire.

    While shopping an out of town spirits store and browsing the isle the owner asked if I was looking for anything particular. I relayed the above story to her and then she told me she had “Blantons” in the back. I asked her to repeat herself and she stated if she put it on the shelf it would be gone in an instant, yet she offered a bottle to me. The price was more than I was willing to pay so I passed, but had I not mentioned my collection addiction to her she may have never told me of the Blantons.

    She went on to say she had certain customers that she would call when a shipment of hard-to-find liquors arrived at her store. Part of it is who you know, but yet I was a ‘nobody’ to her as it was my first visit. I have since stopped in a few more times and made other purchases. I don’t know if that gets me up the ladder, so to speak. The hunt is half the fun.

    • Avatar Brent Joseph says:

      Tom,
      I agree the hunt can be fun, and it used to be more fun. I just don’t have the time or the willingness to compete with the local fb group of over 2,700 people that post the local release that sees over 150 bottles of a private pick get wiped out in less than a few hrs when it gets posted. If you don’t happen to be in the area or drop what you’re doing to rush there immediately, you miss out. It gets frustrating. That being said, building relationships with a local retailer seems to be the best bet to score what you are really looking for. Thanks for reading!

      • Avatar Kurt Roessle says:

        “building relationships with a local retailer seems to be the best bet to score what you are really looking for” – THIS!!! I have two honey holes that I’ve spent close to a decade doing business with and know the managers/owners very well and make sure to say “hi” to them every time I’m in one of their stores. Buying regularly (and not just asking for unicorns) goes a LONG way to obtaining the scarcer bottles, though with increased demand I’m getting fewer BTAC & Pappy bottles. I used to get three BTAC bottles/yr. from one location, not it’s down to one bottle – but I can remember when I was on the outside looking in and hold no resentment to more people diluting my share, just the nature of the beast….I was once the guy hoping to score a bottle.

  • Avatar Tom Frankenfield says:

    Great article and topic. I have heard many “back in the day” stories of bottles sitting on the shelf collecting dust that now you can only get if your lucky enough to win a bottle lottery. I am always surprised by the collections that people proudly display along with the description of, “I started getting into Bourbon about three months ago…” I have been fortunate to taste some pretty amazing Bourbons and wish that they were available to buy and share with friends. Looking forward to next post.

  • Avatar Amy Rogers Prunty says:

    PREACH!!!

  • Avatar Mike says:

    I’ve logged out of all bourbon and whiskey groups on FB other than S&T. I’m like you in that Elmer was a favorite for a long time when it was $35 a bottle. Now I have moved on. I hate that retailers jack up the prices to secondary level so I just will miss out on several bourbons that I’m unwilling to overpay for

  • Avatar Alex Grimshaw says:

    I also agree. Spot on! With some(not all) retailers charging a premium they just encourage the craziness. My son got me into bourbon and we have enjoyed many great finds. I have to admit that I am conflicted with drinking some of the now ‘hard-to-find’ bourbons which were plentiful at one time. This has actually encouraged me to try other bourbons which are more readily available, which has expanded our palate. Looking forward to the next installment!

  • Avatar JM says:

    100% agreed and have the some opinions.

  • Avatar Kurt Roessle says:

    I’ve been collecting for going on nine years, much of what you’ve said has merit. Problem is social media whoopin’-up noobs into such a rabid frenzy they salivate like Pavlov dogs over a bottle of Henry McKenna, which effects the ultimate issue of supply and demand. Distilleries/bottlers know this and now put out limited releases to capitalize on the bourbon boom, which in turn feeds the noobs’ desire for trendy (i.e. hard(er) to get) bottles. It’s a vicious cycle, one that I only see getting worse over the next five years or so when something else will capture the public’s fancy. I have two honey holes with relationships I’ve built over the years and still get Pappy/BTAC/etal at MSRP, but I do see a lot of the second tier bottles (Weller, Eagle Rare, Blanton’s, ETL, Stagg Jr., etc.) being much harder to come by. I call both places weekly after they get their shipments and see if there’s anything I would want to purchase and for the most part they’ll put a single bottle on hold for me (well except EHTaylor Seventeen Year Marriage, but can’t win ’em all I guess). I think what really exacerbates the issue for bourbon drinkers is the disparity in allocation across the country. I plan on moving from the Chicago ‘burbs to Florida in five years to semi-retire and have seen the slim pickins down there so I’ve been buying ‘retirement juice’ if you will, to take care of my needs post move. I think it’s a shame how unfairly things are spread out across the land. I know I’ve kinda gone off on a tangent, but a lot of people’s issue as I see it is that there’s precious few bottles distributed to the area to begin with and that small quantity gets watered down (excuse the cliché) by noobs ‘hunting’ for bottles they’ve been told are “must haves” which has been fueled by distilleries creating limited edition stuff…..just my two cents.

    • Avatar Wally says:

      Kurt I’m doing the retirement hoard myself. Lol I’m down here in Kentucky and you are doing better than me on the BTAC!! 16 bottles of Knob Creek 13 y/o and up. Even those barrel picks are getting harder due to the distillery cashing in on the knuckle heads. My gripe is why put it on a SHELF!! Drink it with friends and family!!

      • Avatar Kurt Roessle says:

        Well one would hope it gets consumed, though with the amount I have amassed it looks like both of my progeny will receive a nice collection for each of them when I go the way of the dodo. In regard to drinking now, I’ve been reacquainted with dear high school friends after 35 years that love their bourbon and when they come up to Chicago for their kids’ internships I’ll be cracking open some of the best bottles, including some stellar bottles of single malt. My daily sippers are the Elijah Craig series, Four Roses Single Barrel, the Smoke Wagon series as well as Blanton’s and OWA – now hen I say ‘daily sippers’ I mean that I have 1-2 reasonable pours/night – I don’t polish off half a bottle a night, my liver couldn’t take that!

  • Avatar Opti says:

    Good thoughts I drink what I like and take some ratings from reviewers I trust for advice. Try to stay away from blogs etc. too many wannabes. I stick with one store that has treated me well. He is my “guy” in the business. Been blessed to pick up some sweet bottles for retail. If I can’t get them oh well. Then again I’m retired and don’t have anyone to impress except my son and myself. We did the trail together and that was the best thing the love of bourbon has done for me

    • Avatar Brent Joseph says:

      Opti,
      Thanks for reading. Building relationships with a retailer is the best way to gain access locally. The trail is such a great experience, I’m glad you were able to make lasting memories over bourbon. If you can’t share the experiences over good bourbon, what’s the point?

  • Avatar Steve says:

    COMPLETELY agree. It’s hard to find the ” specials ” anymore. I have also gotten out of all fb enthusiasts groups.

  • Avatar Buzz says:

    Good article. We’ve met the enemy, and they are us. Been drinking bourbon for 40+ years. Never thought I’d see it turned into such a gimmicky fad. Can’t blame many folks though, because it’s all about chasing the dollars. Consumers are willing to pay, and everyone else is willing to play. Oh well. Time to drown my sorrows.

  • Avatar TBrown says:

    No doubt about it; nobody doubt it. I agree, 100%. You must be my other brother from another mother. I’ve been drinking Jack Daniel’s and just about any label with the word bourbon on it (but mainly Jack) for well over 35 years. It truly shameful how the bourbon industry, along with retailers, have “elevated” certain labels to hard-to-find status, particularly it wins some type of industry accolade, award or competition. Another great example is Henry McKenna BIB. I love it but can’t find it on any shelf now (in Chicago) after it won “Best Whiskey” at the 2019 San Francisco Spirits Competition. I expected a (the) price increase but to hide it in a back room, and worse, not have any back there, shameful. Also, too many consumers are willing to pay outrageously high prices to secure some of the holy grail type labels. That’s true “trickle down” economics. Keep writing!

    • Avatar Brent Joseph says:

      TBrown,
      Thanks for the kind words. I agree with what you’re saying and I touch on the industry/distribution topic a bit more in the final 3 articles of this series. Thanks for reading!

  • Avatar Mike Bridges says:

    Great read and look forward to the next in the series!! Well Done!

  • Avatar Jerry Cobb says:

    I agree fully. But to our benefit and to somewhat balance the argument, the number of bottles of very good to outstanding bourbon under $30 is crazy high right now.

    • Avatar Brent Joseph says:

      Jerry,
      I completely agree but it is still frustrating to not be able to get what I like when it used to be readily available on my local shelves. I go into this topic a bit more in the final 3 parts of this article. Thanks for reading!

      • Avatar Joseph Davey says:

        Part of the problem that you and so many of us are experiencing is that the demand for almost all bourbon has increased massively. And you can’t go back in time and reseed 10-year-old Bourbon. Hopefully the supply will eventually catch up with demand and fix all the problems but as we both know a lot of producers intentionally keep the supply low to keep the demand and the price high.

  • Avatar Timmy says:

    Agree that this is a concern right now, but I guess I take the long view. The cigar industry went through this a number of years ago as well (90s? Am I dating myself?), so much so that many of the cigar companies considered doing an IPO to capitalize on the hype. Fortunately for the most part saner heads prevailed and the posers moved on to the next fad. The plus side is the number and variety of cigars skyrocketed during that time and many of those survived the ensuing mass exodus of the posers and are still widely available today. And now the ‘impossible to find’ brands (e.g. Fuente) of that time are again available at normal retail prices right next to the ‘new to the market’ (e.g. 5Vegas) brands from the boom time.

    It would appear that right now a lot of these posers have landed in bourbonland and we’re now seeing the same thing happening: a vast increase in the variety available as more companies enter the market to capitalize with many of the traditional brands becoming nearly impossible to find. This too shall pass at some point as the posers move on to their next big thing (based on how mixed up the world is today, it will probably be something completely awful like flavored vodka or seltzer!) and the bourbon world will return to normal – and be better for it.

    Patience, my friends.

    • Timmy, appreciate the comparison to the cigar biz. Question for you though…how long did that take to sort itself out? My concern is that the bourbon bubble has another 20+ years before anything has a chance to return to “normal” and that craft distillers adds a complexity to the market dynamics that may not have been present in the cigar industry. Thoughts?

      • Avatar Timmy says:

        Hey Pops. Love that you’re engaging on this forum.

        As to your question – memory is not a strong point after this long, but I’m thinking the ‘hype’ lasted maybe 5 years at the peak, so with some residuals, maybe it took 10 years in total to run its course. Feels like we’re about 3 or 4 years into the real peak here, so if we assume this has a bit more legs than the cigar fad did (and bourbon clearly would due to the less ‘obnoxious’ side effects – for most of us anyway 😉 ), I would say we’re another 3 or 4 years away from the back end of this.

        I think your craft distillers comment is a really good point, but also one that give us hope for the future. When the back side occurs, some of those are going to disappear – the ones in it just for the short term gains, the ones that just make an inferior product – but the ones that truly shine will remain. And that will be a very good thing. I truly believe competition makes everybody better and this is definitely true in bourbonland. Would the Wild Turkey brand have branched out to create Russel’s Reserve or Longbranch if not for the competition from the craft distilleries? Would Old Tom be back if we weren’t living during this bourbon renaissance? These thoughts aside, your point about this being different: the cigar industry saw the same thing, new startups shoving good (and bad) product at the consumer. After the posers exited, consolidation occurred where appropriate and the chaff drifted away, leaving a much more diverse – and stronger – market in its wake. I think the future for bourbon looks bright, buddy.

      • Avatar Jeff H says:

        Pops, it’s great to see you commenting here. Though I still have a hard time calling someone 9 years younger than me “Pops”.
        As long time bourbon drinker, ex cigar smoker, ex Jim Beam decanter collector (want to buy any?), and vinyl album player I can say 2 things with certainty:
        1. this will never return to the way it was – if that is what you mean by “normal”, and
        2. nobody knows how long this crazy cycle will last because any comparisons to past events is misleading.

        and 3. I believe that Scotch and Vinyl records are going through something similar and are further along on the curve.

        On #1 – there will always be someone willing to pay more for that special bottle and social media is not going away. What is likely to happen is that with all the new distillers that have ramped up (and increased capacity at the established distillers) at some point there will be a glut of bourbon on the market. This will force prices lower for most items and possibly drive some of the distillers out of business. But there will still be demand for the “special” bottles in limited supply. And there will always be someone who is willing to pay the higher market or after-market price for them.

        So we will never return to hat it was like in the ’80s and ’90s – if that is what you define as “normal”.

        On #2, comparing this to the cigar mania of the ’90s (or comparing my perceived coming glut to the bourbon glut of the 70’s) is a misconception. The rise of social media, bloggers, sites like B&B, etc make this a completely different environment. With Cigars in the ’90s word of the next greatest cigar was spread via print media and a few limited audience chat rooms. It took days and weeks for people to learn about releases and they had to call and track down the special ones.

        But today when an bourbon gets awarded best in the world by an esteemed organization or Pappy gets released to a store, thousands of people learn of it instantly. Within minutes people are scouring store websites for that newly crowned bourbon and depleting the shelves. Then when the next wave hits the bottles are gone, people start posting “where can I find one”. So for the next award even more jump on it because of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

        A potential coming glut will possibly make the second tier (bomberger’s, Weller 12 year, etc), and third tier of top notch bourbon (Blantons, Elmer T Lee, Eagle Rare, etc) a little easier to get because there will be plenty of quality product available. But there will always be demand for the Pappy’s, the other Van Winkles, O.F. Birthday, and the other highly sought after limited or annual releases. And there will always to pay more than you or I for them.

        Now for #3. Look at the Scotch market and the vinyl record market. They have gone through something similar. The market for special scotch releases started 10-15 years before bourbon and forever changes the scotch landscape. The vinyl record craze started later than the bourbon craze, but the market is smaller and more select – so it has a shorter curve.

        What you see in both of these is what I described above. With Scotch, demand grew for single malts, the prices were driven up, and the older forms became very hard to come by. Distillers expanded capacity and now there is plenty on the market. The older releases are available again – but at higher prices. And the really really special and limited release bottles are still in demand and sell for $3000 and up.

        But as I said, the really good ones are readily available, for a price – I can pick up a Macallan Rare Cask or Macallan 18 year or Highland Park 21 year right now if I wanted to spend the $300. How about a Glenrothes 23 year or Balvenie 21 year for $230, or maybe spring for a BenRiach 30 year $500. All of them are available at the shop down the road.

        The 12 years are also higher but more affordable with Glenfiddich at $45, Aberlour at $50, GlanDronach at $60, Balvenie at $75, and Macallan at $85. I can even get a Glenlivet 12 year for $25 and I picked up a 1L 18 year in duty free last year for $90.

        With vinyl records the bubble curve is shorter with similar results. After the brief period of little being available, new vinyl is readily available again, at higher prices than before. Good used vinyl is more widely available thanks to websites like Discoggs, though prices are higher than they were before.

        So if you are looking for a time when you can buy Pappy on the shelf again – it will come back. But I think in the not-to-distant future you will be able to buy good quality 8 to 15 year bourbon from solid producers without having to bribe a store clerk to get it out of the back room.

        • Avatar Jeff H says:

          Sorry, typo in my last paragraph – I meant “So if you are looking for a time when you can buy Pappy on the shelf again – it will NEVER come back.”

    • Avatar Brent Joseph says:

      Timmy,
      I too went through cigar hype of the mid 90’s so I’m familiar. But that took at least 5-10 years to come back to normal. Unfortunately I see this lasting longer. Only time will tell.

  • Avatar Delivery guy says:

    I’m a vendor who delivers to grocery stores in the Phoenix metro area and I’ve seen firsthand why some of the bottles never make it to the shelf. Some people are on a waiting list and are called when their bottle arrives. But the dark side of the business is there are people “ I actually work with one” who network with delivery drivers and key store personnel to get notified of upcoming deliveries. He scores a few “ unicorns “ , flips what he can to cover his investment plus a little more

    • Thanks for the behind the scenes input. I’ve been aware of this practice for years and while it’s clever of the hunter to establish these connections, it’s just another reasons why I don’t put in the effort to try and “hunt” things down.

    • Avatar Brent Joseph says:

      Delivery Guy,
      Yep, I’ve unfortunately encountered a similar situation here as well and it’s not an isolated incident. I touch on this and more issues over the next 3 parts of this series. Thanks for reading!

  • Avatar W.W. Eagle says:

    I have to disagree with what I interpret as your overarching point. That there is a “standard” for buying and consuming behaviors and now that the bourbon market has changed, bourbon world is “broken”. I would suggest the feeling of nabbing a bottle of 10 yr eagle rare is authentic, its just that when bourbon wasnt cool we didn’t appreciate it like we should have because the stock was everywhere. Bourbon is now merely in a different phase, I would even argue a strong growth phase which long term is good for the industry. Short term the clamour, hype and scarcity is surely frustrating for educated, long time, bourbon supporters….but it’s a natural reaction to market pressures. It wasn’t 15-20 years ago that bourbon was still struggling in many ways. Alternatively the craft products rush to market hasn’t helped either. Craft distilleries aren’t doing a good job of putting stock away and simply just giving it time. Im stunned at the amount of craft distilleries that are 10 years old and not only do they not have any aged bourbon for sale, what they do have is woefully young and not very good distillate. So continue to cherish (but also consume) those Staggs and Elmers, while also reveling in bottles like Yellowstone for $30.

    • Avatar Brent Joseph says:

      WW Eagle,
      There isn’t a standard. I was comparing the current situation to what it was like a few years ago before every know it all with a fb account started buying bottles b/c someone online said it was “good.” Agree completely on the “craft” issue. Stay tuned, I address this and more over the next 3 parts of this article.

  • Avatar Whiskey Nut says:

    The same thing is happening to the whiskey world in Ireland & Scotland.
    Sign of the times ?

    • Avatar Brent Joseph says:

      I’m not sure about those markets since I’m pretty much a bourbon and tequila/mezcal guy but only time will tell. Thanks for taking the time to read.

  • Avatar Dave says:

    I couldn’t agree more. It has gotten out of hand. It is sad. I remember getting a bottle birthday bourbon sitting on the shelf, now you have to pay 500 for it on secondary markets. The problem can’t get fixed until all the flipping gets shut down hard, and I hate to say that.

  • Avatar Susan says:

    I am 56 and was drinking bourbon before it became cool. I drink and share what I buy. I am a kindergarten teacher so I have a bourbon budget. I don’t buy secondary. I buy what I can afford with an occasional splurge. I look for restaurants with really nice selections to try some of the bottles I will never be able to buy. I also have some generous bourbon buddies who share samples with me. I agree it is crazy to see bottles that were once readily available become allocated. I do not understand the I collect it but don’t drink it crowd.

  • Avatar John B. says:

    At my local Kroger liquor store, they get Buffalo Trace on Saturdays at 9 a.m. People start getting in line at 6 a.m. For Buffalo Trace.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love Buffalo Trace. For years it was my standard buy.

    But lining up for it on a Saturday morning???

    I switched to Wild Turkey 101. It’s fine and it’s always available.

    Bourbon has gotten out of control.

  • Avatar Mary says:

    I think your observation is SPOT ON!!

  • Avatar Gary says:

    Great article! And nothing more than the truth. I’ve been into bourbon for the past 3-1/2 years and at first, would go on the “hunt” frequently looking for specific bottles. I have seen the back room stash in some stores. All this accomplishes, it give the stores the power to jack up the price based on how bad you want it or tell you to put your name on a list of customers to be called when shipments arrive. I have found some real good bourbons sitting on the shelf by just taking a chance and buying them, taste unknown. I have also learned to keep quiet about the ones I find that are not yet hyped up on the social media pages.

  • Avatar Scott Taylor says:

    Great article and I read part two also. Looking forward to the next installment

  • Avatar Jeff H says:

    Broken? No, but it certainly has changed.

    When I did an inventory a few months ago during another covid lockdown weekend I had 81 bottles of whisk(e)y – 62 bottles of American Whiskey (bourbon, rye, etc) and 19 bottles of Whisky (mostly Scotch, a few Japanese, and a couple others). The inventory has changed a bit since then – for example, the Bella Meade 10 yr and the Barrell 16 year Cask Strength are gone, but I added a Bomberger, a Weller full proof, Traverse City, and a few other tasty treats.

    Do I call myself a collector? Not at all, because I drink them and share them with friends – including my remaining Pappy 15 and the other hard to find items. Of my current inventory, about 40 of the bottles have been opened. And the only reason I haven’t opened more is that I have no more room – so I need to finish one to fit a new one. In the past 3 weeks I finished off the above mentioned Barrell, a Redwood Empire, and the Jim Bean in my decanter used for mixed drinks (and when I just want a basic dram and not something more special).

    I started drinking bourbon/whisky in 1979. Back then in CA about all we knew about was Jack, Jim, Evan, and the fancy stuff – Makers Mark. Then in the ’90’s I was fortunate enough to start traveling the Kentucky on occasion and the bourbon world opened up for me. Back then I would carry back at least 1 bottle of something from Kentucky that you rarely saw on the shelf in CA – but was easily available there because the bourbon rush had not started yet. I would get Pappy 14 year (then 15 year), Van Winkle 12 year and Old Rip 10 year. I discovered Stagg, Hirsch, Eagle Rare, Elmer T Lee, Weller, Black Maple Hill, Blanton’s and many others. Yes, I even had a Hirsch 16 year and 20 year.

    Do I regret drinking them and not saving them? Not at all. I bought them to enjoy them, and I did – along with my friends who I shared them with, gave them to for Christmas, etc. Back then we never thought that bourbon would become a cherished item, that people would spend part of their lives hunting them, and prices would skyrocket.

    Today I look for others one that I will enjoy. Do I miss buying Pappy? Not really. Don’t get me wrong, it is one of my favorites (as was the Hirsch). But Pappy has also changed. The Pappy of today is not the same recipe that they had in the ‘70s and ‘80s (released in the ‘90s). It is still great, but not the same. And there are plenty of other great bourbons out there, and new ones coming out every month.

    • Avatar Brent Joseph says:

      Jeff,
      Thanks for reading and thanks for taking the time to comment. I too buy bottles to drink. The vast majority of my stock is open unless I have multiples. I really think that the internet and social media has a lot to do with the issues we are discussing and not in a good way. Only time will tell.

      • Avatar Jeff H says:

        Hi Brent, Thanks and I agree. So many people out there on social media getting people spun up about who can get that rare bottle …
        And then there are all the YouTube videos and bourbon podcasts and review websites pushing the greatness of the latest special release. Sites like Bourbon & Banter … oops, did I just say that out loud 😉

        Let’s face it, we are all part of the problem, but that is part of a free society. I am free to buy and drink what I want, you are free write your posts and blogs, and Pops was free to launch Bourbon & Banter.

        Maybe you cover this in parts 3 or 4 … but it seems to me that you have to recognize that B&B and the other sites created to “spread the Bourbon Gospel” (or simply make money) have contributed to the rise in the demand for quality bourbon.

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not complaining. I’ve has some pretty good drams because of reviews and articles I have read here. But you have to be honest that this site and the contributors such as yourself as well as all the the others that post bourbon reviews and information online contribute to the problem.

        And I’ll keep coming here for good articles and reviews 😉

        • Jeff, you comment about websites like B&B being part of the issue is fair one in principle but it’s a topic that frankly could have a it’s only mini-series of posts. Any review/feedback mechanism plays a role in making people aware of a bourbon and what the writer feels about it. This could be a magazine, radio talk show, local bourbon club, review sites like ours, and more than ever…”influencers” on social media. Obviously a bit biased towards sites that are first and foremost honest about a product and avoid the hype train unless they really believe in a product. But even with the explosion in influencers on social media who churn out reviews at a pace destine to kill their liver, the existence of our words and thoughts don’t themselves purchase the bottles, flip them, or demand exorbitant prices. At most, those of us that write honestly are guilty of creating purchase intent among consumers which may lead to certain bottles going onto allocation. While search engines and social media clearly bring our words to more people, making our words more visible and available, it still requires human behavior to create the issues Brent has been writing about. And for me, while I hate bottles being hard to find, if it was due to people simply buying and drinking the bourbon, I wouldn’t have a lot to complain about. In the end, yes, B&B and other similar sites are guilty of spreading the bourbon gospel and increasing demand for quality bourbon. As for the rest of the bad behavior that goes on, we’re not the cause. In anything, we’re one of the voices calling it out and working to educate people in a way that will reduce it in the future. Cheers!

  • Avatar Howard says:

    I agree totally. When I see pappy van winkle for $1000 when 20 years ago I could get pappy for $60 or now blantons is over $100 a bottle and I used to think $50 was too much years ago. I see the eagle rare 375 not the 750 for $30 a bottle and when you find a 750 -10 year old eagle rare it’s pricey. It’s almost like the distiller make sure they produce a small amount so there is that shortage and price hike. My cousin got a bottle of JD silver select for qa gift and he’s a vodka guy so he gave it to me. I stopped buying jack years ago because I can get better bourbons for less than what a single barrel jack costs. Well I decided to look up the silver select, now it goes for over $500 on the secondary market. I’m never selling it but it’s jack daniels LOL come on now.

  • Avatar Joe Gulino says:

    Maybe you’re right, but I think the best way to cut through all the red tape mentioned, is loyalty to one or two liqour stores (don’t spread yourself thin), and maintaining good (trusting) relationships with the managers. If you’re a consumer they will know that and appreciate that and your business, the opposite will undoubtedly occur for flippers! Good article, thank you Brent!