Every Fall, bourbon enthusiasts across Kentucky are out and about on the hunt for rare and allocated bourbons. While there are special releases of some bourbons throughout the year, late September to December is the true hunting season for the rarest bourbons people want to get their hands on.
A few of the heavy hitters of the fall release period include the Van Winkle line of bourbons, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, Old Forester Birthday, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, and in later fall, Elijah Craig 18 year and Elijah Craig 23 year. Stagg Jr. Elmer T Lee. Colonel E.H. Taylor Single Barrel and Barrel Proof. I could go on with more.
There are two bourbons I chase down each fall, and if I get anything else, then I consider it extra. The two bourbons that I hunt down every year without fail are William Larue Weller and Van Winkle 15 year. I have a small personal obsession with the William Larue Weller. It is to me, outstanding every year, always worth the money and time. I hunt the Van Winkle 15 year for the same exact reason. I’m sure everyone has their personal quests, these two are mine.
A lot of years, there can be subtle to large differences in the liquid in the Van Winkle collection. I can say the same thing for the Buffalo Trace Antique collections. This is the nature of aged whiskey and especially single barrels. Some years the Van Winkle 23 year has too much oak, other years it’s perfect. I feel the same way about George T. Stagg and Eagle Rare 17. Some years are just better than others. However, for me, the William Larue Weller and Van Winkle 15 year are always worth it.
So, how do you hunt these down? Where do you begin?
The best way to find about these types of bourbon releases is to sign up for the Liquor Barn weekly e-mail(s). However, following Liquor Barn on Facebook and Instagram is also a nice tool to keep in your toolbox as well. Here is one more thing to add to your arsenal, if you frequent a Liquor Barn, or more than one Liquor Barn, it is highly recommended that you strike up a relationship with the staff and management at that location. They can help you with some of the smaller, more esoteric releases, monthly releases from Sazerac and Henry McKenna, and Liquor Barn selected single barrels.
Now, let’s say you’ve done these things, what kind of release can you expect? There are several types.
A lottery-style release is the best and most fair way to distribute rare and highly allocated whiskey. This is from years of feedback from our customer base. When you show up, you are not guaranteed a bottle, however, you have a great chance to get a bottle. This method does not require any sort of overnight camping or waiting in line for 12 hours, or more. You can also browse around the store for items you might be after, you can go to the restroom without losing your place in line, you can socialize with other bourbon hunters. So there are several good reasons why a lottery release is the best.
A first come, first serve release is the next release you will encounter. While not entirely ideal due to a person’s work schedule, or home-life with busy schedules for children, if you have the time, you can show up and get in line. This is where some of the best hunter’s shine. They see the release e-mail and spring into action to their closest listed store and get in line. Often, these enthusiasts bring camp-chairs, small coolers and munchies, or if it’s cold, sleeping bags and things to keep warm. It is not uncommon for people to “camp out” overnight to secure their bottles. One of the best things to bring to a first come, first serve event is a friend, or two. It’s nice to have someone to talk to during the wait. Also, it’s a great way to meet other enthusiasts in the area and make a new friend. To be fully transparent, there are people who will bring friends or associates with them to try and get extra bottles, some people call them “mules”. As much as we don’t want that for our best customers, it is hard to police this part of the line/system.
The final type of release would be one where Liquor Barn receives the product and puts it out for sale immediately, usually with a limit of one bottle per customer per visit. This is where following Liquor Barn Facebook and Instagram pages will help you out. These types of items are usually monthly allocated bourbons like Blanton’s, Weller 90 Proof, Eagle Rare, Henry McKenna, Sazerac Rye, Angels Envy, Old Carter, Bookers, or some of the more sought after Liquor Barn selected single barrels like Weller Full Proof, Four Roses Barrel Proof, and Blanton’s Single Barrel.
I truly wish it was easier, and that we could supply the world every bottle of great and rare bourbon they wanted, but alas, we cannot. In fact, more items are becoming allocated all the time. So, sign up for those e-mails, follow us on social media, become acquainted with our staff, join some Facebook groups dedicated to finding bourbon and get ready to hunt!
Cheers and Happy Hunting!
Liquor Barn Bourbon Master & Vice President
Purchasing & Product Development