You stare at the interesting bottle of bourbon on the liquor store shelf. You’ve heard it’s good — but is the price right? It seems a little high. Or maybe it’s worth the splurge?
We’ve all been there. Since the Bourbon Boom, the prices of even everyday whiskey bottles have become a crapshoot. MSRP doesn’t mean much when demand is high. But maybe you’re new in town. And anyway, what about trying a new bottle you’ve never heard before?
You could go down a rabbit hole, like I did, and find @OverpricedBourbon on Instagram. Since it started a year ago, the account has amassed more than 40,000 followers, hooking them with a straightforward premise: someone sends the account a picture of bourbon on a shelf, usually with the store’s google info and the account gives the thumbs up or thumbs down to pricing. It’s the invisible hand of the market, made visible, with emojis.
On a bottle of Weller Antique priced at $129.99: a cringe emoji, with the caption, “Gonna have to pass” (671 likes). Four Roses Small Batch Select for $48.99: Thumbs up emoji (822 likes).
Recently, I reached out to its founder, who wished to stay anonymous, to find out more about the account. “I started the page just to help bourbon drinkers old and new know what stores to stay away from,” he wrote. “But what started out of frustration quickly grew, and soon I was receiving as many good submissions as I was bad.” He wanted to stay anonymous, he said, because he receives threats from bottle flippers who don’t like him calling out price gouging. I asked him about how the page got started, his favorite bottles and how consumers can find bourbon at a price that’s deliciously fair.
Q: Tell me about yourself. Who are you, where do you live? What do you do for a living? How did you get into bourbon?
A: I have spent the last 15 years serving my community as a first responder. I guess you could say I am your average middle-class guy from Tennessee. The ideal evening to me is spending time with my family and friends around a fire with some bourbon in hand.
I have always enjoyed a strong drink on occasion but I became obsessed with bourbon when my oldest child was born. I had a good friend take me to a whiskey bar to celebrate with something special. He bought me a pour of Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 23 and I was blown away by how delicious and complex it was. Now mind you, before this I was drinking my whiskey with a mixer more than I was neat. I jumped down the rabbit hole of finding and trying new bourbons.
Q: How did the Overpriced Bourbon account idea come about? How long has it been going?
A: The idea came about mainly from my frustrations with how difficult the market had become. Bottles that once sat on the shelf at MSRP now had become allocated. Many of my favorite bourbons were now very difficult to find. As I was scanning through social media, I saw more and more stores trying to sell these allocated bottles for double, triple, even ten times the MSRP.
Q: How does it work? Do people simply send you a pic and you post it? Do you ever get interesting feedback from fans/haters?
A: Yes, it’s as simple as picture, price and location. I receive many submissions but most pictures I post are for teaching people what a good price looks like or even where the bottle was purchased.
I have received almost any message you can think of. People tell me everyday how much they appreciate the time and hard work I put into the page, or even how much money I have saved them by teaching them what a good price is. I also receive many threats and harassing messages from people that flip bottles but the good far outweighs the trash people send me. I think the best message I get is a picture of an allocated bottle at retail and someone tells me “your page is the reason I found this today!” I think that in itself is pretty amazing.
Q: What do you think the best cure is for the over hyping and overpricing of bourbons? Who’s to blame for the state of overpricing?
A: As fast as bourbon is growing in popularity I don’t see a cure coming anytime soon. No one part of the market is solely to blame. Consumers, store owners, distributors and social media are all part of this market rush. At the end of the day in a free market we as the consumers are to blame for the demand we place on a product. There will always be people with money in hand willing to pay fifteen hundred dollars for a one hundred and twenty dollar bottle of rare Kentucky bourbon. I feel like Overpriced Bourbon doesn’t matter to those people. However, there is a very large portion of the market that could easily get talked into paying one hundred dollars for a fifty dollar bottle because they don’t know what the MSRP is. This is what makes my page popular.
The majority of the bourbon market doesn’t have thousands to spend on one bottle. They want a good deal on a good bottle of bourbon they can share with their friends and family. In a free market store owners have the right to price as they see fit but we as consumers have the right to shop where we want. It’s a difficult balance of patience and luck in this market to find some of these bottles for a good price.
Q: Any bourbons that have gotten really expensive or rare that you especially miss being able to buy and drink?
A: Recently I received a picture of a liquor store shelf from about fifteen years ago. It had Old Weller Antique, Old Rip Van Winkle 10 and Old Forester Birthday Bourbon on the shelf at MSRP. That picture says it all. I think we would all love to step back in time and walk through the doors of that store. There were so many passed over bourbons back then that some people literally had the choice to pick one or the other. They didn’t think twice about leaving a bottle on the shelf.
For me personally, in my state two bottles that stand out are Old Weller Antique and Eagle Rare. Both of which I enjoy, but are now getting pretty difficult to find on the shelf at MSRP.
Q: What’s the most commonly overpriced bourbon that you see in pictures sent to you?
A: Weller Special Reserve is by far the most commonly overpriced bottle I see. What should be around thirty dollars on average is routinely marked up to fifty and even hundreds in some rare cases.
Q: What about the most commonly underpriced?
A: There are multiple large brands that consistently offer products widely available on the shelf at a great price. I tell consumers to not be afraid of the middle and bottom shelf options available from distilleries right now. Don’t get tunnel vision on hyped up bottles. You’re probably walking by a great bourbon for a great price without even realizing it. There are so many good options out there, find something that you like and don’t let anyone influence you. Find out for yourself.
Q: What’s the best-priced bottle you’ve ever found? Wanna shout out any really good stores?
A: The best priced allocated bottle I have found was a bottle of Thomas H Handy from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection for $119.99 which is an amazing price for my state.
Absolutely, I have several stores that have stood out since the page was started. I have had positive interactions with the stores and their customers.
1010 Washington Wine & Spirits – 1010 Washington Ave Minneapolis MN
Argonaut Wine & Liquor – 760 E Colfax Ave Denver Colorado
Maria’s Market Place – 115 N Haggerty Rd Canton Michigan
These stores all have great pricing on everyday bottles and try very hard to keep it fair when it comes to allocated products. They work hard to retain their regulars and that means a lot to the bourbon community.
Q: Ever splurge on a bottle?
A: Yes. Before the page was started I broke down and paid $400 for George T. Stagg. It was very good but after opening and sharing with friends I instantly regretted paying that much. After that I made the decision to pay around MSRP on all my bottles.
Q: Are the Pappys and the BTACs of the world ruined now? Or can we still find a way to enjoy them?
A: They are only ruined if you collect them to take pictures for social media. It’s a shame that so many of these bottles are collecting dust in private collections. When I see people that hoard cases of BTAC or Pappy just because they have the money and connections it makes me sick. I wish more people could have the chance to enjoy these bourbons.
If you are fortunate enough to find one. Buy it, open it, share it. What makes bourbon so amazing is the connections and memories and that come with it. What a complete waste sitting on a shelf as a trophy…
Q: What’s your message to people out there who are paying too much for their bourbon?
A: If you feel like you’re paying too much, then do your research, watch Overpriced Bourbon and make connections in the bourbon community. Finding rare bottles in this market is not easy, but it is possible. Patience is key. So many people have told me they walked out on a bottle of Blanton’s for one hundred only to find it a week later for sixty dollars.
Q: What do you like to drink on the reg? Any dirt-cheap bottles that you love?
A: I actually like quite a bit. I have about seventy open bottles on my bar and I work my way through them based on what catches my eye that evening.
As for some dirt-cheap bottles I enjoy, there are a handful that come to mind. Recently a great article came out that featured bottom-dollar bottled in bond options. Evan Williams, Early Times, and Old Grand Dad all made the list and are some of my favorites. I’m also a big fan of Wild Turkey 101 and Cooper’s Craft. I’ll probably catch some grief for saying all that but I’m no bourbon reviewer. I’m just a regular guy that loves bourbon and accidentally started a Bourbon movement.
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