It’s a well known fact that most liquor stores hate Pappy season. Starting in mid-October, they get dozens of calls a day from complete strangers asking “is it there yet?”.
It’s also a well known fact that how those stores treat their customers during Pappy season determines how those same customers will treat the stores for the other 11 months of the year. The stores that see the calls as a chance to build a new customer relationship are getting it right and we want to recognize them. The stores that see it as an opportunity to make a few extra bucks or express some weird sense of power are getting it wrong and deserve to be called out.
We call hundreds of stores throughout the US and visit a similar number of New England stores in person during bourbon season to get the inside scoop on Pappy, so I think we officially qualify as one of those crazy callers. We never identify ourselves as phantom finders for BourbonSeason because we want to get the same experience that anyone off the street would get. In our phantom role, we’ve experienced just about everything. We’ve had a store owner laugh in our face and we had another one offer us a blind taste test of Pappy next to a few other bourbons to help us evaluate the bourbons for flavor alone. With all the hype around Pappy in recent years, the market is getting more competitive. It’s bringing out the best and the worst in the stores we contact.
For now, we’ll highlight a few of our best “call and ask” experiences for 2014, as calling ahead is the most popular method for hunting down a bottle. When we get a chance, we’ll talk about some of the best “in-person” experiences too. And we’ll eventually share a few of the worst experiences that have pushed us to remove the stores from our Pappy hunting grounds entirely.
Here is a running list of our best “call and ask” experiences.
Hats off to these stores. They’re doing something special. If you have any good or bad experiences of your own, please post them in the comments section below too. Thanks!
1. Table & Vine in West Springfield, MA – This was one of the best phone discussions we’ve ever had with a liquor store about Pappy Van Winkle during Pappy season. Table & Vine is listed as a vendor on the ORVW retailers list (under an older store name) and likely gets many calls about Pappy. Our initial call was transferred to someone specializing in spirits (off to a good start!) who was very welcoming and eager to help us find a good bourbon. They took the time to help us understand the Pappy market and spoke honestly about the allocations that they may or may not receive this year. They also walked us through their process for selling Pappy if they happen to get it, highlighting that they’ve been looking for a way to give everyone the chance at owning it through raffles, drawings, etc. We then went on to discuss other bourbons that they do have, highlighting a few good ones and letting us know that they have Michter’s 10yr and Parker’s Heritage Collection in stock right now. Our phantom finder absolutely loved how this store handled the question and Table & Vine is now on our road trip list to see in person.
A+ for honesty, helpfulness, and service
2. Ball Square Fine Wines, Somerville, MA – This is a close second for incredible customer experience. Our phantom finder called Ball Square on rumors that they might get an early allocation of Pappy (they did). The owner (we think) answered the phone and was more than happy to talk with us. He said that he only got a few bottles of Pappy and had already sold it on a first come / first serve basis, but he followed that up by explaining the Pappy flavor profile and suggesting that there are many other bourbons that are just as good, and not nearly as hard to find. This little bit of follow-up turned this from an average call into an incredible call. I can’t tell you how rare it is for a store to engage our callers to help them actually find good bourbon. This store did, and they did it right. Ultimately, he narrowed down a recommendation to Prichard’s Double Barreled and suggested that we try it, noting that many good liquor stores carry it all year long. No heavy sales push. Just an honest attempt to help us find good bourbon. All that emerged from a simple “do you have it yet” phone call. And to be honest, we were aware of Ball Square as a wine store before our call, but they weren’t really on our radar for bourbon. Believe me, that has been corrected and they’ve now earned a big spot on our hunting grounds list.
A+ for honestly trying to help us find good bourbon.
3. To be continued…we’re only halfway through the season
ABOUT US: BourbonSeason.com started as an underground mailing list shared between a few bourbon lovers who enjoy hunting unique bourbons. We shared tips on store inventories, release dates, events, and prices around New England and the US. Word about our mailing list got out and we started adding more folks (everyone is welcome!). Eventually it became a little too much to handle as a mailing list so we decided to open it up to the world and created this website to meet new hunters and share our hunting guides with a larger audience in a better way. We’re still building out this site and before too much longer we’ll post all of our full store notes, ratings, statistics, etc., but for now we just have time to share a few highlights. We do this for fun with no sponsorship. Nothing you read here is paid content and the stores or bourbons we mention have earned our comments on their own merits, not through any sort of paid endorsement or affiliation. So…that’s us. Welcome to our humble little part of the whiskey world and “Welcome to the hunt!”