A few weeks ago, a reader got in touch and mentioned an article about buying and collecting wine. He mentioned it might be interesting to read a bourbon take on that topic. And while I initially thought about doing a guide on collecting bourbon, I realized two things that put me off of it. The first being that I don't collect bourbon. Price and availability took that off the table for me long ago. The second is that there are plenty of "unicorn hunting" tales out there on the internet. Most of them are probably better than I would write.
So instead I thought I would offer an insight into how I buy bourbon. Because of the site, I buy a lot more bourbon than most of my non-blogger friends. I buy stuff to review, both "special" and "every day," as well as stuff I just want to have on hand to drink. In other words, I might have a few insights to offer. But don't worry, none of these are rocket science or secret, it's just what I've found to fit my typical needs and budget.
1. Have a budget.
Speaking of budgets, if you are going to do some bourbon shopping, you'd do well to have one of them. Bourbon as an impulse buy can wreck your finances fast unless you are independently wealthy or stick to the bottom shelf (neither of which are bad things).
I have two different budgets I use when it comes to buying whiskey. One is a standardized Personal Price Ceiling™. My Personal Price Ceiling is the most that I am comfortable spending on a single bottle of whiskey. It allows me to not agonize over those bottles that I know I can't afford. Right now mine is $135, though there are exceptions if I'm on vacation or if I purchased it for a very special occasion. Now that I work on a freelancer's budget though, I hardly ever reach the ceiling.
This brings me to my second type of budget. The per shopping trip budget. Before I leave the house, I decide about how much I can afford to spend. I don't always know what I want to buy, but if I can at least know how much I'm willing to drop on the counter, it will help keep me in good standing with my wife/accountant. And it will ensure there is money for the next shopping trip as well.
2. Visit multiple stores.
Now, I'm not advocating running all over town every time you want to buy a bottle of Wild Turkey. But it wouldn't hurt to spread that money around a bit. I find that as I visit multiple stores, I get an idea of what each store carries and about what they charge. I know that some stores have a great selection of private barrel picks and that some have rock bottom prices. After a while, you'll learn which stores are knowledgeable, which are staffed by snobs or dicks and which are worth dealing with even if they are snobs or dicks.
Don't be afraid to check online for price and availability either, especially if they are across town. These days, your store doesn't necessarily need to be the biggest store to have their inventory or prices online. Of course, there are many reasons why they might choose not to: they might be too cheap to upgrade, afraid of competition, or maybe they are the snobs or dicks mentioned above. In any case, it never hurts to check.
3. Find a retailer that offers samples.
Finding a retailer that offers samples is an excellent way to make sure you actually want to buy a particular bourbon. It is especially important if the bottle is a little spendy or if it is a private pick. In my local market, I've got quite a few retailers that offer samples, some are massive chains and some are little one-store shops.
4. Bring it all together.
Once you have the budget and the stores mapped out, the last thing to do is bring it all together. Did you read about a bourbon that is losing its age statement? At this point, you probably know which stores are likely to have a large supply of it. Pro-tip: if you know that none of the stores in your area are likely to have something, then you can get a jump on asking friends in other markets to grab some for you. This is why I have a case of 6-year-old Heaven Hill Bonded sitting at a friend's house waiting to be picked up.
I don't personally collect whiskey, I drink it. That said, it's still ok to stock up. I often have a three bottle buffer of things I particularly like that might not stick around. And like I said, I have a case of age-stated Heaven Hill at a friend's house waiting for me to visit him in Kentucky. Of course, don't be afraid to try something new either. The worst that is going to happen is that you'll use it for cooking or in cocktails.
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