Well hello, and happy 2016! It has been a while, hasn’t it? I’d like to say my absence wasn’t deliberate, but that wouldn’t entirely be true. But the hiatus is over, I’m happy to say – I’m back from sabbatical – with a fresh mindset and some thirsty taste buds.
Before I dive back into reviewing whiskies, I would like to take a few minutes and speak to what it was that caused my blog vacation. See, as I’ve written before, my love of bourbon was born of simple tastes. I always liked whiskey, and as my tastes developed, I found bourbon whiskey to be my favorite. The more bourbon I tried, the more I found I enjoyed differentiating the tastes that made each bottle so different, and so special.
I eventually found myself immersed in Bourbon culture too – and at just the right time, because the last ten years have really been a ‘Golden Age,’ so to speak, for bourbon. The major distillers have created more and more unique, interesting products. Masters like Harlan Wheatley and Jim Rutledge were crafting new and experimental brands with worlds of difference between them. Bottlers bought up vast quantities of aging spirits, from storages as simple as MGP, and as complex as the various Stitzel-Weller and Bernheim reserves, creating new brands (some worth their weight in gold, like a JPS 17, and others simple as a 2-year-old, barely barrelled pour). And micro-distillers began popping up, with innovative styles, aging techniques and recipes. The Kings, Wigle’s, Grand Traverse’s, Detroit City’s…so many new things to try.
But with success like this comes growing pains. No sooner did I come around to bourbon than the Pappy Van Winkle craze took off, and then all of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. If you are reading this blog, you probably already know where it went from there.
I did my best to keep up, without resorting to asking for samples from the makers themselves. As the number of bourbon-buyers expanded, it got more and more difficult. Store owners would tell me stories of people calling them in the summer, to offer hundreds and even thousands of dollars over retail prices for the most limited bottles. The list of hard-to-find bottles expanded too. By spring of last year, I had accumulated a list of almost 100 bourbon or rye whiskies that we on my ‘near-impossible’ list. There were the usual suspects, but the list had grown to include names like Elmer T. Lee, Old Weller Antique, EH Taylor Barrel Proof and Rock Hill Farms. Where I had gotten used to putting hours into searching out PVW or an Orphan Barrel release, I was now putting equal energy into finding anything not named ‘Beam’ or ‘Makers.’
As time went on, I also moved from the occasional Craigslist purchase to joining a number of Facebook “exchanges” where members sell or trade hard to find bottles among themselves. Again, I watched as the posts went from people offering ‘an extra bottle’ to those who were buying the bottles strictly to “flip,” or make a quick (and often astronomical) profit. More and more pictures were of bottles on a passenger seat, with the purchase having been made moments earlier. Or even worse, still on the store shelf, while the flipper tries to determine enough of an interest to buy at all. The final step was when the groups were taken over by raffles, mostly dictated by buying numbers in that weeks PowerBall drawing. Suddenly, a $79 bottle that was already being ‘flipped’ for $200 was instead being raffled for over $300 in $10 increments.
Two things began to happen to me at the same time: I became obsessive about finding the hard to find bottles at all costs, at the same time as I started to loathe what popularity had done to the bourbon culture I had enjoyed. By last summer, I was having trouble bringing myself to open a bottle to try and review because I was worried I would be unable to replace it if I liked it. Sure, the err in logic is quite obvious, but that didn’t stop the anxiety from building up.
So I took a step back. I spent the fall and winter enjoying bottles I had opened, and not worrying about reviews, or where I would find the next rare bottle. I talked to some local shop keepers without caring if they were going to offer me a bottle of Pappy (they didn’t) or sell me EC 23 at cost (nope). I pulled down some of the fall releases, missed out on others, and even spent a relaxing day at the Makers Mark Distillery with my wife.
Most importantly, I came to my senses. As I spent the holidays visiting friends and relatives and enjoying bourbon, I missed writing about it all. So I’m back, and I will be writing about the whiskies I can find, rather than worrying about those I cannot. And I hope you stay with me, dear readers. I did peek at the analytics – plenty of people are still visiting. So let’s settle in, and pour a glass. I’ll see you soon.