By Darren Scott
To all of my Kentucky bourbon fans out there, you may be wondering, “where oh where have all my good bourbons gone?” At Village Wine & Spirits, we used to be able to regularly stock plenty of well-known labels like Elmer T. Lee, or E.H. Taylor, or even Blanton’s (the first small batched bourbon). Now, those spots on my shelf sit empty, just waiting week after week for the magic liquor truck to bless us with a few bottles when we once bought cases.
So what happened? The easiest way to put it is that too many folks like yourselves suddenly liked the stuff! Seriously, just a few years ago there was plenty to go around and then without warning, the market exploded and there wasn’t enough sitting in barrels at the warehouses ready to bottle. If you are reading this column and are not familiar with bourbon, the juice takes a lot of years in the barrel to reach peak flavor maturity and the reputations of every master distiller hinge on delivering a consistent product. Simply put, you can’t just start cracking open barrels and filling bottles at the first sign of market influx.
To be labeled a Straight Bourbon, one of the rules is that the product has to rest in freshly charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years. But almost all of the finer small batch ones that we all came to love aged for much longer than that. Some would sleep for 6 years while others wouldn’t see light for almost 12 or more! The distilleries would have had to predict the sudden surge of business at least 5 years before it happened, which to me seems almost impossible.
The good news is that we are about 4-5 years down the road from the bourbon boom and every Kentucky distillery has since ramped up production so now there are thousands of barrels filled with that sweet brown elixir just waiting to be ready for bottling. The bad news is that we are a capitalist country that loves to respond to market changes with price increases and brutal allocations. So, a brand like Elmer T. Lee that used to cost $29.99 and be regularly available, now retails about 25% more and is never around. At Village Wine & Spirits, we have sign up sheets for many of these brands and those waiting lists have gotten completely out of hand.
So what can diehard fans of beloved brands do until the market fully heals? There’s always the secondary market on the internet and at liquor auctions, but who really wants to do that? My advice is that you make friends with your local liquor store and join those waiting lists that many of them have. Also, listen to their advice on other brands that may be new to you that still pack a lot of bang for your buck.
The situation will be fixed soon enough, it just takes time.
Darren Scott has been an Athens, Ga resident since 2002 and is the owner of Village Wine & Spirits on the eastside of town. He has 15 years of experience in the beverage industry but is always thirsty for more.