Money can't make you Pappy: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Bourbon

Thursday, November 13, 2014 | 0 Comment(s)

I'm a bourbon guy.  I'm big into bourbon.  If you were to check out my Facebook feed at any given time, chances are there would be a picture of some sort of bourbon bottle scrolling on my screen.  I believe they call this a hobby, and it's a delicious one.

As I dipped my toe into the online world of trading and selling bourbon, it has been impossible to ignore the uncomfortable dichotomy between two types of bourbon enthusiasts.  On the one hand, there  is the group of white guys, and I'm generalizing here, that search out rare and old bottles of bourbon to enjoy and drink and trade according to taste and monetary funds.  Sure these guys sell some of their rarer bottles to pay for the next release, but the goal of the hobby is firmly planted in the acquisition and consumption of the very best versions of this American spirit.

The other group of white guys, and this time I am not generalizing save for maybe one or two women, may consume whiskey but that's not their passion.    First and foremost this group pours all of its time and resources into buying out all of the hard to find bottles of whiskey in any given area, in order to immediately resell those bottles online for a profit. They don't just stick to one area either, but will actually fly all over the country to get the jump on the competition.

"These are not the Pappy Van Winkle's you are looking for . . .  Ok, never mind, these are them"
A wonderful example of this "flipping bottles" mentality is currently playing out in Kentucky, simultaneous to the release of this year's much sought after Pappy Van Winkle bourbon.  It starts with people lining up all night in front of liquor stores.  All night they wait to get their hands on as many bottles as possible -- Grown men queuing like teenaged girls for a Taylor Swift concert.  When the doors finally open, these guys grab the most expensive bottles and run to the check out line. While waiting in line to purchase their $250 bottle of Pappy 23 year, they snap a quick picture of the bottle in their sweaty meat mitt.   Before they've even made it to their cars, they've resold the bottle on Facebook or Craiglist or wherever for a cool $1150.  That fast.  These guys may drink bourbon, but what they love is money.

So as I browse one of these bourbon sites, between the posts for bottles sought or bottles for sale, is a running commentary lamenting the loss of the pure love of bourbon, and waging a war of passive aggression against the flipperati.

Every once and awhile someone will post a picture of a table nearly overflowing with bygone era whiskeys.  A tablecloth of seemingly impossible to find bottles that have long since gone out of production.  Usually these bourbon gold mines are the result of an estate sale that some hunter happened upon, and then proceeded to purchase the deceased person's entire collection en bulk to enjoy for himself.  It's every bourbon hunters dream. The mother load.

My guess is that when someone finds a lot with a ton of bottles, the elation of the score has their serotonin flowing so fast they are too busy loading their car to take a moment for introspection.  Of course, when they get home, these bottles aren't all going to get opened.  Oh sure, they will probably crack one of those Old Grand-Dad's from the 1970's, but the majority of the bottles will be stored somewhere in the house in what is lovingly referred to as a person's bunker.  Bunkers range from a handful of bottles on deck to be opened, to shelves about shelves of stockpiled limited releases as far as the eye can see.  If these bottles didn't command such a high secondary monetary value, the people in the later category would have their houses on an episode of hoarders.  You would think that some of them may have been forced to buy a forklift.

So. Much. Bourbon.
Of course the tricky variable in bourbon collecting is that of consumption.  There is an upper limit on how much bourbon you want to be drinking in your lifetime.  And there is another, slightly higher, limit if you don't mind dying of liver failure.  Either way, there is a high water (bourbon?) mark -- a truth which forces every collector at some point to ask themselves, "how much bourbon do I need?"

The "need" is obviously hyperbole.  Bourbon is not a hobby of need, but rather of luxury. Problems in the bourbon community carry such minuscule real world importance that it would be insulting to even compare them to the issues of today.  But, perspective aside, I believe this is question of limits transcends bourbon and is probably applicable to any collection based hobby -- though I realize the vast majority don't involve alcohol consumption.

Me, I've been thinking about it a lot.  As bottles accumulate in my personal bunker, I consider the final destinations of each glass container.  I wonder if those guys with hundreds upon hundreds of bottles see the irony in cleaning out their next estate sale.  How compiling such an unwieldy amount of liquor simply assures that one day their bunkers of today will become the estate sales of tomorrow.  I wonder if when they crawl downstairs to their basement bunker at night they feel like Egyptian pharaohs, waiting to be buried alive surrounded by the thing they loved the most in life.  Their bodies decaying while the juice around them stays safely sealed inside its own glass tomb.

Myself?  I'm a bourbon guy.  I'm big into bourbon.  Drinking it predominantly.  When I go downstair to my bourbon enclave, I envision the makings of my dream bar.  Sure the place still needs a rug, but its clear I'm creating a personal watering hole, not a mausoleum.

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