It seems hard to believe, but there was a time when you couldn’t give a bottle of bourbon away. Twenty years ago, you could walk into any liquor store and find premium bottles of well-aged whiskey stacked on the shelves for prices that didn’t require a spit take. From the 1970s to early 2000s, Americans just weren’t that interested in whiskey, particularly bourbon and rye, and were guzzling down clear spirits like vodka instead. Of course, we still love vodka and, actually, agave spirits are set to outpace American whiskey in sales over the next year or so, but don’t get it twisted: Rare whiskey that sells out immediately upon release and ends up on the secondary market for triple the price (or more) is par for the course now. So, where to buy rare whiskey? Glad you asked.
You might be familiar with the usual culprits of rare, hard-to find whiskey like Pappy Van Winkle, Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, WL Weller, Michter’s 10 Year Old, and Old Forester Birthday Bourbon are just a few examples from the bourbon world. Single malt scotch from distilleries like The Macallan, Bowmore, and The Balvenie regularly command upwards of $50K. And Japanese whisky…well, forget about finding that bottle of Hibiki 17 that’s been discontinued along with many other age statement expressions.
So what’s a whiskey fanatic to do these days? Here are expert-backed tips on where to buy rare whiskey.
1. Don’t be entitled
One choice, and hear me out, is to just abandon the hunt altogether. There are so many excellent, available, affordable whiskeys in all categories that match or surpass their unicorn counterparts. But for those who thrive on the thrill of spending big bucks to catch elusive elixirs, we got some expert advice on how to procure rare whiskey.
Justin Sloan, owner of Kentucky whiskey emporium Justins’ House of Bourbon, laid it out plain and simple. “The biggest tip I can give, more than anything, is simply don’t be a dick,” he says. “Don’t act like you’re entitled to anything when asking for something rare.”
2. Be a loyal customer
Sounds like sage life advice in general, but Sloan also points to two L’s: luck and loyalty.
“Being at the right place at the right time,” he says, is also part of the chase. “Keep up with releases coming out, contact your stores, and sometimes you can get lucky and inform them of something they need to order before they know it’s coming. Loyalty means a lot. Buy the barrel picks and things they recommend. Don’t come in and ask for an allocated bourbon and walk out.”
Adam Walpole, bourbon steward at Hermitage Farm and Barn8 Restaurant & Bourbon Bar in Kentucky, agrees that establishing relationships with local stores is important.
“But this doesn’t mean asking them every week if they have any Blanton’s,” he says. “Support them by shopping there for your needs. They know their regulars and they will reward them.”
3. Ask your local liquor store about collabs
Checking in with your local liquor store is a good idea, as sometimes they partner with specific brands to offer access to rare bottles. ANA Wine & Spirits, located in New York City’s Hudson Yards, is collaborating with The Macallan over the holidays to bring the rare M Series to fans of this sherry cask-matured whisky. Other retail shops will have special exclusive private barrel picks for sale. And in some control states, like New Hampshire, members of the liquor board will even travel to distilleries to do their own barrel picks, allowing you to purchase bottles you literally can’t find anywhere else.
4. Subscribe to email lists and cast a wide net
Walpole also suggests signing up for big-box store email lists to find out about allocated whiskey releases. You can ask friends and family to do so as well—just return the favor and buy or cook them dinner as a thank you (over whiskey, of course). Use social media to establish relationships. Scour hashtags or follow accounts like @whiskeyadvocate for everything from new releases to reviews. You can also check our spirits coverage for new drops on luxury spirits.
5. Be patient
Perhaps most important: “Take your time,” Walpole recommends. “Whiskey is in a boom and it’s incredibly popular. Enjoy some of the great offerings that are available and be patient until you can bag that unicorn.”
In addition to following all of this expert advice, there are some websites and whiskey clubs that are worth checking out as well to score elusive bottles.
Best Websites and Whiskey Clubs to Buy Rare Whiskey
1. The Whisky Exchange
This website is a treasure trove of rare bottles, with a section literally dedicated to the hunt called “Old & Rare.” You can sign up to join a mailing list, which will alert you to the availability of new releases, which are heavy in the single malt scotch category, but be prepared to pay a premium. One useful feature of this website is that you can also purchase mini bottles and samples of whiskies if you don’t want to spring for an entire bottle.
For all things Japanese whisky, head over to Dekanta to stock your home bar. In addition to the regular (and very expensive) selection, there’s a “Rare” page where you can find exorbitant bottles like Hakushu 25, Yamazaki 25, and bottles from Ichiro’s Malt Card Series. It’s not just whisky either, as Dekanta has a range of other Japanese spirits that can be difficult to find in the U.S.
For bourbon fans, Caskers is a good resource to check frequently, and sometimes the prices aren’t stupefyingly prohibitive. For example, you can find a bottle of Blanton’s for less than $200 or Weller 12 for less than $300—not cheap, of course, but manageable for some. Pappy, BATC, and Birthday Bourbon are going to range into the thousands, but hey, at least they’re in stock here.
4. The Bourbon Concierge
This Bourbon Concierge is not just for collectors, but also for those looking to legally unload their private collections of unopened whiskey. This means there are a range of rare bottles from various years and brands, including the usual suspects mentioned previously as well as bottles of WhistlePig Boss Hog, Mic Drop, and Angel’s Envy. Best to visit often, as many of these bottles are on the verge of extinction.
5. Scotch Malt Whisky Society
This well-known whisky club is a boon to those who love rare single malt scotch, offering bottles that you won’t find anywhere else of single cask and cask-strength malt whiskies. The Vaults Collection is where you’ll find high-end bottles, but the rest of the website offers a more affordable range of whisky to try from many different distilleries, some familiar and others not so much. Members have access to benefits that include a chance to sample lots of different bottles and access to club locations in the UK.
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