Posted By Wayne Curtis On October 13, 2008 @ 11:24 am In Food & Drink
T he news is in, and, frankly, it’s not good: Aged bourbons are growing scarce, and the remaining bottles are facing price hikes…when you can find the good stuff at all. However, there is a silver lining, as there often is with a limited natural resource: If you know which quality bourbons to look for, you could turn your taste for fine spirits into a way to beat the NASDAQ.
First, some brief backstory. About 14 years ago, the demand for bourbon collapsed in the era of white wine spritzers, and producers, fearing a long-term decline, scaled back production. “Distilleries were being shuttered,” says Brett Pontoni, specialty spirits buyer at Chicago’s Binny’s Beverage Depot, and the amount of whiskey being put away in barrels for aging dropped precipitously.
Naturally, the thirst for bourbon didn’t die. And when demand rebounded with double-digit growth, a new crop of connoisseurs, accustomed to scotches and Cognacs, snatched up the smoother, aged product, making it even harder to find. Sadly, the prospects for getting caught up soon aren’t promising. Distillers have been raiding their ricks earlier, replacing 10-year-old bourbons with eight-year, then six, compounding the scarcity for the next several years. Maybe longer: “The shortage is permanent,” claims Bill Owens, president of the American Distilling Institute. Like two-dollar gasoline, inexpensive old bourbons (10 years and up) may become a tale to tell your incredulous grandkids.
One example: A.H. Hirsch’s 16-year-old bourbon could be found a few years ago for $40. Congrats if you bought it then. Today it can go for $280 (with sleuthing you can find it for under $200). Granted, A.H. Hirsch is highly prized by collectors (it’s some of the last whiskey made by the Michter’s distillery), but the price reflects a broader trend. “If you’re drinking something older than 10 years, the price is certain to go up,” says Charles Cowdery, author of Bourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey .
How to profit from this? The best tip mirrors advice for buying art: Trust your taste. If you like a bourbon, buy an extra bottle. If you really like it, buy all you can and stash it away. But avoid the novice mistake of snapping up the oldest, most expensive bottles. Extra-old bourbons (especially 20 years and up) can get bulldozed by their oak. You may find a smoother sip with those aged closer to 10 years. Prowl the forums at Straightbourbon.com to distinguish bourbons of the same brand produced at different distilleries, since this can affect their value. (The forums and eBay are your best bets for eventually selling.) If you know what you’re doing, “shortage” can sound a lot like “opportunity.”
A.H. Hirsch Reserve 16-Year
This is the legendary blue chip of bourbon, found for $40 just three years ago, and now selling for around $280. Experts whisper about the possibility of it hitting $500 over the next few years, depending on the bottling.
Eagle Rare 10-Year
This is a solid entry-level investment bourbon made at the venerable Buffalo Trace distillery. It’s widely available right now, but if demand continues unabated, look for a steady upward creep in pricing. About $30.
Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve 90 Proof
The esteemed 10-year, 101-proof Russell’s Reserve is growing scarce; expect to pay about $75 for it. Get ahead of the curve with the more common 90 proof, now on shelves for around $30.
Old Fitzgerald’s 1849
This lightly wheated bourbon is considered a penny stock among aficionados. Bottles labeled “8 year” are rare, but even the current six-/seven-year blend has a beguiling butterscotch taste that plays well with oak. About $16
Prichard’s Double Barreled Bourbon
Only eight barrels remain, then this acclaimed bottling will dry up for good. This whiskey is aged twice (cask strength, then bottle strength) for 10 and a half years by microdistiller Phil Prichard. About $60.
Pappy Van Winkle’s family reserve 20-Year
Another coveted whiskey, this is an incredibly smooth product of the famed (now, sadly, shuttered) Stitzel-Weller distillery and is highly regarded by bourbonphiles. Around $90, if you can find it.
This article originally appeared in the November 2008 issue of Men’s Journal.
Article printed from Men's Journal: http://archive.mensjournal.com
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