To someone who’s never been through a bourbon hunt, I can only describe it as one of the most intense, emotional, stressful, rewarding, extreme and exhausting non-contact sports in existence.
Starting in mid-September, bourbon fans across the country begin checking-in daily with local store owners to rekindle lost friendships, lobby for list spots, and work leads on potential delivery dates. They slowly change their commuting routes to pass a few liquor stores a night, scouting potential new hunting grounds. To avoid the embarrassment of leaving these scouted stores empty handed, they also start buying stray bottles at each stop. The debt starts to add up and they don’t even have any of the good stuff yet…but they’re hot on its trail.
Within weeks, they know more about this country’s bourbon inventory than the store owners and distributors combined.
About that same time, a national rinse & repeat headline news story surfaces about the bourbon shortage, the hype surrounding Pappy Van Winkle, how much store owners hate getting bourbon calls, and the insane prices people are paying for rare whiskey. Pappy renews its reputation as the ultimate accessory and the brand name clothing crew joins the hunt. The excitement grows.
Then, just before Pappy hits the stores, the news runs a story about a potential lead in the Pappy Van Winkle theft and whips the crowd into a frothy frenzy. “MUST FIND PAPPY!” they chant as their shivering huddled lines wind through the aisles, out the doors, and around the neighborhoods of potential release sites.
Photos of BTAC and Pappy start popping up on social media with captions like “Look what I stumbled across!” or “don’t like bourbon but heard this was good”. Hate, jealousy, urgency, and frustration join forces and push the excitement beyond all measurable levels.
Stunned by the level of competition, the bourbon hunters prepare themselves mentally for potential defeat. They start claiming Pappy Van Winkle is overrated, new bourbon hunters are ruining everything, nobody sells it right, and prices are insane. They curse the distilleries for not making more, the distributors for favoritism, and the local retailers for ignoring them despite a long history. Finally, they reach a breaking point, swear they don’t care anymore, and decide to permanently switch to widely available $30 bourbons that are ‘just as good’.
…then they snap back into the game, sneak off to a dark corner of their house, and start calling around for new leads on BTAC and Pappy.
At some point in late October the overwhelming pull of the hunt eclipses virtually everything else and consumes the hunters. Their normal lives fade into the background as they skitter from store to store and website to website, scanning the aisles for new bottles and the headlines for new leads. Money? Who cares. Work? Who cares. Sleep? Overrated.
And then, as if by magic and with a sense of pride that rivals hitting a game 7 World Series walk off home run, they finally find a rare bottle. They stare at it in disbelief while they slowly swipe the credit card and claim it as their own. Prize in hand, they shuffle out to the car, buckle it into the passenger seat, and take the long way home…proudly staring at it all the way. They are emotionally exhausted and utterly amazed at what they went through to reach that point.
When they get home, they take a few bragging photos to post online then immediately hide the bottle away, knowing that it will be a long while before they work up the nerve to open something that took so much dedication, time, and energy to earn. When the bottle is safely in the bunker, they finally step back, realize how much they missed during the past few months, and swear they’ll never hunt bourbon again.
…and then they get a tip about another bottle. Game on!
Author’s Note: During the fall, we often hear stories about the companies that make the bourbon and the stores that sell it, but we rarely hear about the people who buy it. I am a bourbon hunter and I thought it would be fun to show another side of the news story. Enjoy! – Erik