Whisky Advocate

On the Hunt for Rare Bourbons

By Fred Minnick

In order to bag a rare bourbon, Ricky Nash endured ridicule. The Georgia native walked into liquor stores and asked for “Elmer T. Lee.” The store associates laughed. He asked for “Pappy,” and they teased the whiskey enthusiast like he was stalking a unicorn.

Nash tracked Internet rumors and the online secondary market, drove across several states, and looked inside more than two dozen liquor stores in search of any limited edition or hard-to-find bourbon. Then, one day in late November, it happened. He stepped inside one of the stores he’d been eyeing and there was the entire Van Winkle line, ranging from the 23 year old for $2,900 to the 10 year old for $400. After negotiating it down to $350, Nash finally owned 10 year old Old Rip Van Winkle and gleefully commented on a bourbon Facebook group, “Today was a good day!! My first bottle of ORVW10!!!.”

He shopped, he scored.

Like many whiskey lovers, Nash realized it’s much more difficult to buy limited edition bourbon now than it was in the good old days, when one ould just walk into the store and buy a bottle. For the casual shopper, the odds of running into a coveted bottle of Pappy Van Winkle, Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC), Four Roses Limited Edition, Booker’s Rye, Parker’s Heritage Collection, or Angel’s Envy Cask Strength is about the same as that of a white rhino. Even if you put in the work, you usually come up empty-handed.

Billy Cochrane’s story is more familiar than Nash’s to many consumers. The Ohio resident visited more than 40 stores, camping out at nine of them in two different states, and even had a store “promise” him a Van Winkle two years ago. Still nothing. “I don’t get angry, I know my state sucks, and I know it’s hard to find. I think it’s funny when people say they’re exhausted after hunting and they show a picture of a Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and Pappy Van Winkle,” Cochrane says. “It seems too easy for some people.”

Of course, it wasn’t always this way…

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On the Hunt for Rare Bourbons

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