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The bourbon world has been flipped on its head in the last decade. What was once a common sight to see collecting dust on the shelves of liquor stores across the US has now turned normal men and women into cut-throat collectors.
With people stopping at nothing to get that last bottle for their verticals or that new release coming out that will only have 200 bottles, the landscape has changed dramatically for finding rare and high end bourbon.
Bourbon Secondary Market
Enter the “Bourbon Secondary Market.” According to some economics professors in Kentucky, the average price for bottles on the secondary market has risen over 200% between 2015 and 2017 according to the data collected on the matter.
Nowadays, bourbon secondary sites are filled with eye-watering prices that easily approach the four digit mark and beyond.
As the majority of the bourbon enthusiast world watches their ability to obtain these rare bottles diminish like a paratrooper’s view of the airplane he just jumped out of, the question that ultimately must get asked is “Is the bourbon in that rare bottle even worth the amount of money people are paying for it?”
This question has been asked many times in the past and depending on your circle of friends, you’ll get two answers: “Hell No” or “Yes, value is in the eye of the buyer.”
Assuming you have the means to buy these bottles, you can quickly dismiss the Hell-No’ers out there who simply can’t afford to keep up. But what about these bottles makes them so captivating?
What makes them stand out and demand the high prices? Lastly, are they worth the price that you are paying for them?
Rarity is a guaranteed way to drive up the price
Let’s step back a moment. People that are shelling out $1,000 (Pappy Van Winkle 15 year)…$2,000 (Michter’s 20 year)… even up to $5,000 (Double Eagle Very Rare) are the kinds of people that can afford to do so.
The posers who think they can keep up are quickly unveiled and retreat from the tables. These rare, ultra-luxury bourbons weren’t created for everyday sipping or for thin budgets.
They are barrels that are the pinnacle few of the millions of barrels all over Kentucky (…and Indiana). And rarity is a guaranteed way to drive up the price.
There is a reason people can charge whatever they want
There is also a reason that these labels or the owner of these bottles can charge however much they want, and that is because the bourbon enthusiasts who have had a taste will immediately attest to the supremacy of the brand or label.
There are some people out there that will try to poo-poo these kinds of bottles by claiming that such highly-sought after bourbon tastes like it was filtered through 3-day old underwear, but in reality they are having a bad palate day, had an outside factor that tainted the whiskey inside (crumbled cork) or are trying to hate on the label just to ruin somebody else’s day.
Bottles that represent the cream of the crop of any brand were never filled with whiskey that was sub-standard.
To be an outstanding bourbon, the barrel really has to stand out. This is harder than it may seem to be. Most bourbons, regardless of mashbill or distiller can have very similar profiles.
When you’re using primarily corn and putting it in a new charred oak barrel, there’s some basic things that happen to every barrel that you’ll find across the board. It’s pretty certain you’re going to get vanilla and caramel notes.
Other notes like oak and fruits will come with the distiller’s yeast and age. But the barrels that are pulled for the BTAC lineup, Pappy Van Winkle or Michter’s Celebration (to name a few) demonstrated such intensity and panache that the tasters sat up and took notice.
Imagine being a judge on the TV show Top Chef where every contestant has to use the same ingredients, but can make their own little tweaks.
You’re going to end up with some dishes that can taste very similar. But every now and then a chef will craft those similar ingredients so well it causes the judge to instantly declare a winner.
The right touch can make all of the difference between ho-hum and absolutely amazing. In that same regard, the right mix of factors can separate Weller from Pappy Van Winkle.
Think about the last tasting party you were at. What did you bring? What did your friends bring? Chances are high that you brought the bottle that would deliver a knockout punch on the very first sip.
You don’t bring a middle-shelf bottle in the hopes that somebody really spends some time with it to uncover its secrets.
No. You brought that King Kong bottle because you want there to be no confusion when lips meet glass that this is something special.
Additionally, you probably have friends who have enormous collections because of the thrill of the chase, yet they may pour and drink whiskey from a rocks glass.
So that absolutely amazing whiskey could be taken down a peg or two before you taste it and that’s why it needs to be the best; so it can remain the best in any drinking occasion.
It’s almost unfair how much flavor more expensive bottles pack
Have you ever had Stagg Jr. side-by-side with a George T. Stagg? The differences in mouthfeel, heat, variety of flavors and overall depth are undeniable WHETHER OR NOT YOU ACTUALLY KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TASTING.
And this is the most important point. Bottles that fetch unbelievable prices are usually so unique and so intense that whether or not you’re doing a blind taste test, having a glass in a crowded whiskey bar or are already hammered, you’re going to be able to tell that it’s something special.
True story, I have brought bottles of ECBP, Stagg Jr, Blantons Gold and other assorted barrel proof offerings to tastings where BTAC was present and I will always be blown away by how average those bottles have tasted compared to a GTS regardless of year.
It’s almost unfair how much flavor the more expensive bottles can pack.
So with the rare bourbons being snatched up at higher and higher prices, of course money spent on these rare bottles is money well spent.
There is a reason that they fetch the prices that they do: they’re worth it. Like all physical things in life, if you want the best, you’re going to have to pay for it.
It’s a fact that is hard for most people to grasp, so they grasp at straws to tell you how an average bottle is better (or even equal to!).
But you both know the truth; nothing can touch the majesty of these expensive bottles. And that is why these allocated and rare bottles are worth every penny that we pay for them.
Be sure to check out our second part of this series: Why Expensive Bourbon’s Are Not Worth The Money
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