Death, Taxes & Pappy Van Winkle

Death, Taxes & Pappy Van Winkle

Yesterday I saw a road that had collapsed under water and a duck floating down the street in front of my house. If that wasn’t enough to confirm that fall has officially arrived in Colorado, I saw pictures of the new Parker’s Heritage and Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch on Facebook. Buffalo Trace also announced the release of their BTAC which should be ready to ship by the end of the month, and that means the cloak and dagger Van Winkle release is surely close behind.

Three things in life are certain: Death, taxes and, the fall shotgun blast of high end bourbon. With the first sighting of these bottles, bourbon enthusiasts begin salivating like Pavlov’s dog, but it also indicates the fall bourbon blitz is finally upon us. Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines…or…don’t.

The bourbon bubble has provided plenty of people to run around town searching for these bottles, but the bourbon bubble has also caused a form of “bourbon burnout” for those that have been in the hunt a few years. The work needed to get even just one bottle of this year’s releases seems exhausting. Some are abstaining because they are fine drinking what is on the shelf. Others have enough stocked away to make it through the year. Unlike tax season, you can choose to sit out this year’s bourbon hunt if you feel the juice is not worth the squeeze. I am sitting this year’s search out because of a cheery optimism that someday soon, people will stop caring and all this work will be for naught.

Pappy might be the most diverse beverage ever, splitting time between a highly enjoyable pour of bourbon, an investment, a status symbol and a classy piece of man-cave art, but it has also increased the popularity of other rare releases. With every new angle bringing consumers to the hunt, the odds go down and the secondary market price goes up. Right now on the secondary market you are looking at a king’s ransom. In some “exchanges,” the only thing missing is a ransom note made from clipped letters from a magazine.

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So why not try even harder to get a bottle at retail knowing that there will be so much competition this year?

It seems like Pappy Van Winkle, and subsequently the BTAC and the like are going the road of Tickle-Me-Elmo, Crocs, Tamagotchis, iPads and Beanie Babies. Just like every Van Winkle and BTAC, these items were impossible to find when they were hot, but ask yourself how hard they are to find now?

There is no doubt that this bubble will pop, but ultimately the question is when? When I see people posting pictures of dozen bottle stashes of Stagg Jr, Wild Turkey Forgiven and Black Maple Hill NAS on Facebook, it reminds me of when one bedroom crack dens were selling for $300,000 at the peak of the housing bubble, only to be reminded that they own a one bedroom crack den when the bill came.

The housing market was a wild ride, but the people left owning homes when the ride ended were stuck paying inflated prices. These prices were based on value that never really existed. In our world, people are hitting up liquor stores, buying “special” releases, snapping pictures of the bottles in their car, and selling them before they get home. The buyers don’t see these bottles in their stores, so they assume they are rare. Everything rare must become “rarer” and everything rarer must be worth more than rare things so buy everything! Right?! Right?

Who knows what the prices will be when this ride ends, but I encourage you not to be caught holding the one bedroom crack den when the music stops.

The End is Near

At risk of sounding crazy, I believe the end is closer than we think. Accepting the fact that life can be lived without a deep stash of high end bourbon, even if the bubble lasts a few years it should only be considered a mere inconvenience. I mean, consider what awaits when the bubble bursts.

A perfect storm could be brewing where bourbon distilleries increase production of their top shelf brands, and in a decade or so when they mature, the bourbon-bandwagon is only left with bourbon drinkers.

We are already starting to see the increased production of special releases with the 8,000 bottle Parker’s Heritage release and this year’s Four Roses LESmB. Even if slightly, other distilleries are doing the same, not to mention the dozens of newly opened distilleries that are producing high quality craft whiskey. Eventually, bourbon will loose its shine. Maybe aged rum, top shelf tequila, or something entirely unrelated to liquor, but something bright and shiny will catch the eye of the bourbon buyers that aren’t bourbon drinkers.

You won’t be searching liquor store shelves shoulder to shoulder with people only looking for Pappy or Stagg so they can update their Facebook status or flip it on the secondary market for four times what they just paid. Stores will actually have to create shelf space for the BTAC, the Van Winkle line, Four Roses Limited Editions and Parker’s Heritage. Newcomers to bourbon will only be encouraged to stick around if they enjoy bourbon, not because they see dollar signs. I know, it seems like an alternate universe compared to what today’s bourbon market is like, but easy come, easy go. After all, all you need to pop a bubble is a needle.

4 responses to “Death, Taxes & Pappy Van Winkle

  1. True True. The are many well-moneyed-over-worked-socially-under-stimulated people who’ve never made the time or effort to develop deep meaningful interests in anything. They tend to be quick to gravitate toward bright shiny objects and trends in search of meaning and something resembling commonality with others as a proxy for friendship / companionship. Their large cash reserves and quick buying impulses ensure the presence of a paparazzi-like crowd that follows them around, pumping them up with one hand and peeling money off them with the other. This has happened since Dutch Tulips and it’ll happen till the sun burns out. If the booms they trigger bring investment into the markets they target, then so much the better. If they cause over-expansion of those markets, the fallout later can be ugly and bad for the market overall. Let’s hope that it’s the former and not the later in this case. I’m perfectly content to drink quite wonderful though more common elixirs like Four Roses Single Barrel, Blantons, various Willett Bourbons & Ryes & such – and discover newcomers with talent such as High West & Burnside. Let the fluffers & preeners & posers have their fun. If they don’t completely destroy the market with their demanding but uneducated palates by pushing bourbon toward sweetened up overly big nightmare concoctions (as they did to the California wine market in the 90s) then I’ll be just fine. As long as they come, partake, enjoy & leave the place intact when they’re gone – then I don’t mind losing a couple years of the top flights to them. Maybe some will be genuinely educated and enthusiastic and remain when the dust settles. Maybe some of them will go on to become the next generation of distillers and enthusiasts. Hope so.


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