Fall is whiskey season. Not just for drinking, but for new whiskey releases, too. From September to November, the biggest bourbon makers in the world have made fall whiskey’s unofficial drop season. Here’s what you need to know about Autumn’s five most hunted-down bourbons.
How to Score Bottles
Short of paying inflated secondary market prices, there are no sure things in the search for any of the whiskeys below. These methods are used to increase odds, not guarantee you a bottle.
Get on the List: Many liquor stores receiving higher-end, allocated whiskeys dole out the bottles they get using a raffle method. It may not be as exciting as finding a choice bottle collecting dust at the back of a shelf, but a score is a score.
Location, Location, Location: Liquor stores in population centers are more likely to get both coveted whiskey and huge crowds. Stores out in the boonies have less foot traffic and are allocated less of the good stuff in turn. In whiskey hunting, the edge of suburbia is fertile ground — where stores receive the bottles you’re looking for, and the odds you’re the only person on the premise who knows what to look for improve (marginally).
Buy More Whiskey: Being a good customer is the simple and sagely advice of all experienced whiskey collectors. You give your business to a store over a period of time, befriending managers and employees, and the odds of a store clerk throwing you a bone increase exponentially.
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon
Release Date: September 2
Retail Price: $100
Street Price $500+
Birthday Bourbon marks the beginning of bourbon hunting season. According to Campbell Brown, it was launched in 2002 as a means for the brand to re-establish itself as a premier whiskey making operation. Its timing couldn’t have been better. In the coming years, the bourbon market erupted, and Birthday Bourbon became a flagbearer for the ultra-premiumization of the category. It has continued to fly off shelves since.
The Backup Bottle: Old Forester Prohibition Style
Birthday Bourbon is higher proof and more mature than standard Old Forester’s, but it’s still made with the brand’s standard mashbill. That description could just as easily apply to Old Forester’s well-reviewed, widely available Prohibition Style. You can find Prohibition Style for $60 to $70 in liquor stores nationwide.
Parker’s Heritage Collection
Release Date: September
Retail Price: $150
Street Price Varies by release, $350+
Named after the late, legendary Master Distiller Parker Beam, Parker’s Heritage Collection is Heaven Hill’s most experimental line of whiskey. Released annually, the only consistency from year-to-year is that there is no consistency. Past bottles have been filled with straight wheat whiskey, 24-year-old Bottled-in-Bond whiskey, curaçao-finished bourbon and other weirdness. Each release is hunted to retail extinction.
This year’s Parker’s sticks to the status quo of not having any semblance of a status quo. It’s a rye whiskey aged for eight years and nine months made with Heaven Hill’s standard rye mashbill — the same it uses to make its Rittenhouse and Pikesville ryes — and it will retail at its usual $150. But where most Heaven Hill products (and most whiskey in general) is aged in Level 3 char barrels, the new Parker’s rests in Level 5 char barrels. Expect a spicy, woody, smokey, vanilla-heavy whiskey.
The Backup Bottle: Heaven Hill Pikesville Rye
Get one of Heaven Hill Distillery’s other ryes. Pikesville is a couple of years younger, proofed a little higher and made with the same mashbill. Bonus points for those who get both and drink side-by-side.
Buffalo Trace Antique Collection
Release Date: October
Retail Price: $99 a bottle
Street Price $300 to $1,000
The dream haul. Its hype levels exceeded only by only the likes of Pappy Van Winkle, Buffalo Trace’s annual bottle drop is perhaps the most-awarded collection of booze in the world. Comprised of the staggeringly high proof George T. Stagg, William Larue Weller (which shares a mashbill with another whiskey on this list), Eagle Rare 17-Year and a pair of older Sazerac ryes. Finding bottles in stores in hard enough; finding bottles at retail prices is virtually impossible. The most valuable of the lot are generally the George T. Stagg and William Larue Weller.
The Backup Bottles: Stagg Jr., Weller 12, Sazerac Rye
Seeing as the Antique Collection houses a number of bottles, there are a few backups. Stagg Jr. is a worthy alternative to George T. Stagg and isn’t too much of a chore in most states. William Larue Weller’s legendary wheated mashbill can be found in any bottle of Weller, but Weller 12-year is probably the closest (or the newly released Weller Full Proof). Sazerac’s standard, slept-on rye remains one of the best values in all of whiskey.
Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch
Release Date: September
Retail Price: $140
Street Price $300+
It gets less mainstream coverage than others on the list, but it’s no less revered by those in the know. Every bottle is a little different, with Master Distiller Brent Elliott and team tinkering with aging and Four Roses’ trademark dual-mashbill, variable yeast whiskey making process (it’s not as confusing as it sounds). It’s particularly popular with Four Roses completionists for very obvious reasons.
The Backup Bottle: Four Roses Small Batch Select
Released this year, Four Roses Small Batch Select mirrors many of the Limited Edition’s charm. It’s higher proof than most of the brand’s offerings, it’s non-chill filtered and it shares much of the same recipe. Find it for $55 to $65 in most states.
Pappy Van Winkle Collection
Release Date: October
Retail Price: $60 to $270
Street Price $1,000 to $3,000
What more is there to say? The poster bottles for the most ridiculous parts of the bourbon boom are, perhaps more than any other whiskey, known within and without bourbon collecting circles. Every piece and parcel of Van Winkle mythology has been dissected and analyzed, but one truth remains: finding any of the bottle in the Van Winkle lineup at or near retail price necessitates purchasing. Its price, while painful, is reflective of its status as the sole über-limited bourbon to break into the mainstream. Pappy is a grail for more than just whiskey nerds.
The Backup Bottle: Weller 12
Those who fail to find it in the wild often opt for a whiskey made with the same exact recipe — Weller. Both made with the same wheated mashbill at Buffalo Trace’s Frankfort, Kentucky distillery, Weller’s rise to prominence is one of Pappy’s aftershocks. Weller 12’s lower proofing makes it the best candidate to replicate the sweet, low-burn of the most sought after whiskey in the US.
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