Before You Bid, Buy, or Bunker

It’s increasingly easy to spend large amounts of money on various rare and limited whiskey releases. Not only are companies issuing more and more super-premium bottles, but the proliferation of internet sales, online exchanges, and auctions have made these bottles widely available, although often at wildly inflated prices. And this very availability can put pressure on consumers, who feel they have scant time to grab as many bottles of a particular release as possible, despite having never tasted it.

For me, a lot of the thrill of collecting is tied up in the process of searching out a particular whiskey “on the ground” rather than in the digital world. I geek out on talking to people, moving bottles around with my hands, and the singular charge that comes from finding what I’m looking for, lurking on a shelf. Of course, this tactic doesn’t always work, no matter how much I might prefer it. And as the song says, it takes diff’rent strokes to move the world. So, if your tastes differ from mine, or if circumstances compel you to buy expensive whiskey bottles through online retailers, trading sites, or at auctions, I strongly encourage you to do some preliminary reading. Here’s why:

Sanctioned whiskey auctions at established houses are a relatively new phenomenon in the United States. And as the links below make clear, there have been some pretty savage bumps in the road, even at this early stage. So it’s essential that you educate yourself and know what to look for before bidding. There’s a lot to learn about the characteristics of glass bottles, labels, tax stamps, bottle closures, bar codes, fill lines, and other variables. It’s tough enough to apply all you’ve learned when looking at a bottle standing in from of you, but it can be next to impossible when looking at a small digital photo. So if you’re planning to bid, don’t be afraid to ask for plenty of additional pictures and information. It’s up to you to be confident in a particular bottle before bidding.

Similarly, before rushing off to spend hundreds of dollars online to bunker 6 cases of this year’s never-to-be-repeated 29 Year-Old Roger W. Snead Warehouse X Dirigible Accident Survivor Bourbon, pause for a moment. Ask yourself some basic questions. Are you acting out of a (perhaps understandable) panic that if you don’t buy immediately, you won’t have the chance? (Hey – we’ve all done it.) Do you enjoy the taste of extra-aged bourbon? And if so, have you tasted any whiskey bottled under the Roger W. Snead label? What’s the history of the brand, and what can it tell you about the current release? And what are people who have the opportunity to taste virtually all of the limited release whiskies writing about this particular bottling?

There are a few exceptionally informative sites out there with which every whiskey geek should familiarize him or herself. They are written by people who clearly love whiskey, and who’ve invested an enormous amount of time and energy learning about it and sharing that knowledge with the rest of us. It’d be ridiculous not to take advantage of their generosity in posting their knowledge so freely. So, before you begin bidding at whiskey auctions, buying bottles in stores, or bunkering a whiskey collection in your home, start reading.

The LA Whiskey Society

In addition to the society’s very useful archive of whiskey reviews, pay particular attention to the Adventures in Whiskey section, which contains an enormous amount of useful information on the perils of buying old bottles of whiskey, and how to ensure that you avoid any unhappy purchases.

And please read this very informative section on whiskey auctions, as well.

Sku’s Recent Eats

Sku posts a lot of excellent reviews and is absolutely unafraid to call ‘em as he sees ‘em. His style is crisp, his knowledge is vast, and he’s generous with it. If you have questions regarding the American distilling industry (or are curious about his opinions on a wide variety of non-American whiskies) the answer probably lies somewhere on this site. Sku is also a member of the LA Whiskey Society, and more of his reviews are posted on the society’s site.

The Chuck Cowdery Blog

It seems appropriate to describe Mr. Cowdery as the dean of American whiskey writers. His book, Bourbon, Straight, certainly helped to nourish my interest in the history of American distilling, as I imagine it has for many other enthusiasts, as well. It is worth noting that Mr. Cowdery’s experience in the American whiskey industry is decades-long, and that he was writing about American whiskies long before the current popularity of bourbon and straight rye.

The K&L Spirits Journal

Although K&L Wines is a retailer, and obviously has an interest in selling the products it carries, the information in its blog is, in my opinion, fair and open-minded. The whiskey-buyers for K&L (David Driscoll and David Othenin-Girard) provide a fascinating window into the state of retail whiskey sales, and the reasons why we, as avid consumers, aren’t able to buy all of our favorite whiskies whenever we want. If you want to enrich your understanding of the whiskey industry in the U.S., read this blog.

Posted in Collecting and Commentary