Not so long ago… in a galaxy that we live in… Single barrels ran rampant across the world.
And, that’s not a bad thing.
Single barrels aren’t anything new. They are as old as aged whiskey itself. Many whiskies were purchased by the barrel until the modern innovations to bottling and distribution. However, this ages-old purchasing trend has come back in a blaze of glory. Not because bottles are hard to find, but because in a high-demand market full of limited allocations and standout selections at every price point, whiskey lovers are looking for something truly unique and limited that they can get their hands on.
The demand for limited and allocated bottles has grown ravenous over the last few years, with many of these limited releases or allocations selling for upwards of three-times the suggested retail price (and sometimes much more). And people flock to pay those prices. So, naturally, a product turn towards another offering of something limited is natural. Stores, whiskey communities, online bottle-pooling groups, and even individuals wait on lists years-long to get an opportunity to select the barrel they like best, put their name on the label, and share it with the community.
This is a win-win for stores and consumers alike. As, the stores that don’t severely overprice their picks of harder-to-find bottles, are able to get drops of more allocated whiskies to bring in consumers and build relationships with their community, and consumers get a chance to purchase something unique or more difficult to find outside the usual flow of distribution.
However, as with most markets, there are a few drawbacks and hurdles that seep into what should be a purely good thing.
Some store owners and bars utilize their flow of allocated whiskies and consumer’s willingness to overpay for hard-to-get bottles to move their way up lists to get selections of limited released single barrels and then sell them for nearly extortion-level prices either in-store, online, or in black-market whiskey trade and sale groups to turn massive profits at the sacrifice of their communities.
The temptation of short-term profits overshadow the benefit of the entire community. While many will say that supply-and-demand is taking its course, there is something to be said about the fact that consumers sometimes are left with literally no choice but to spend these prices or risk missing out on something they may never get the chance to try again.
Where other bottles may just be allocated, barrel picks lend another layer of unobtainability to already restricted supplies, allowing bottle-scalpers to cash-in on the perfect blend of urgency and rarity to play to consumer emotions.
However, life is a balance, and there are good guys in this story. For example, Tampa Bay Whiskey Society.
They have partnered with multiple stores around the Tampa Bay Area and have been deliberate in selecting their partners. They make sure those they partner with are fair and equitable to their whiskey community, often doing launch parties where people can even “try before they buy” the selections, ensuring that people will like what is in the glass, and get it at the proper price. Groups like Tampa Bay Whiskey Society are taking on the role as a buffer between the community and the bottles they want, and building relationships between the store owners that are more focused on being a part of the community than making a quick cash-grab, and their potential consumers in win-win partnerships.
They recently partnered with Davidoff of Geneva for a particularly delicious selection of Russell’s that is both bold and packed with spice flavor. And, Davidoff is not to go unmentioned here. They have engaged in a great symbiotic relationship with the Tampa community by offering “bottle packs.” These packs have a selection of a few bottles, pairing easier to get bottles with more rare and allocated releases to allow them to sell product while still allowing their patrons to get the rare stuff at a price well below what they could be charging.
This trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon, as it seems that the whiskey community surges with new growth every day, and the barrels currently aging for 10+ years in warehouses can’t keep up. However, as the selection grows and more organizations jump into the fray trying to keep prices moderate and bottles available to their members, we may see pressure ease off as some of these barrel selections are just as tasty as harder to get bottles but at a fraction of the price and difficulty to find.
Greg Sinadinos started his spirits journey writing a whiskey periodical for Fine Tobacco NYC Magazine. He began answering review requests under a social media page he named “Whiskey Culture,” which quickly merged with Greg’s passion for connecting with others and his interest in history.
Today, Greg travels the country not just looking for great whiskey, but also exploring the history and individuals that the whiskey community is founded upon. He has authored “Whiskey History From Around The World” and is the host of “The Rickhouse” web series.