Bourbon Hunters Scour Columbus Area Liquor Stores For Rare Goods
More than a dozen people lined up outside Chateau Wine & Spirits on Sawmill Road in Dublin on a recent Friday morning while waiting for the store to open.
Almost all were wearing masks and they stood about 6 feet apart, extending the line almost the entire length of the parking lot from the store’s glass front. They shared a common goal: to find rare, high-quality brands of bourbon.
A supply truck arrived at the liquor store earlier in the morning, like every Friday, bringing in new products, and the so-called bourbon hunters wanted to see if the day’s haul included anything unusual or interesting.
A handful of them arrived more than an hour before the store opened, despite owner Sunny Patel’s attempt to deter queues by putting products on the shelves throughout the day rather than d ‘one shot.
For many bourbon lovers who have shown up at Chateau Wine & Spirits, an hour or so online in front of a mall or grocery store is a regular event. And some even say they are ready to wait longer, because rare products are put on the shelves.
Not everyone has this patience.
“Last week I was told to wait another hour,” said Kirk Seman, who lives in Dublin. He decided not to stay.
Jason Callori, 43, from Dublin was among those waiting. He has called himself a “seasoned veteran” of the bourbon hunt and runs a YouTube channel called Mash and Drum where he discusses whiskey and cigars.
“It seems like it’s getting crazier and crazier every year,” he said.
Callori and others in line said they knew of hunters who waited up to 24 hours outside liquor stores and grocery stores to get their hands on something rare. Those waiting for Chateau to open said they didn’t have specific goals in mind, but wanted to see what was available.
Bourbon hunters look for rare editions of brands like Blanton’s, Pappy Van Winkel, Buffalo Trace, or Henry McKenna, which can cost well over $ 100 a bottle.
What they find has been predetermined by the state of Ohio.
JobsOhio Beverage Systems owns the liquor bottles sold in Ohio stores. Retailers sell these bottles on consignment, taking a 6% commission for retail sales and a 4% commission for sales to bars and restaurants.
Suppliers who sell to JobsOhio Beverage Systems decide which stores receive rare products based on advance demand, said Mikaela Hunt, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Commerce, which oversees the liquor control division.
“The supplier looks at the total sales of bourbon in each store and suggests placement in stores that sell bourbon well,” she said. “We are monitoring this process and at times will expand the allocation to more stores. But it always comes down to what our data shows.”
This level of state control is one of the most controversial aspects of the Ohio liquor industry, which some consumers say limits choice.
Consumers “are locked into the products the state deems best as well as the prices they want to dictate, rather than what the market wants, which leads to secondary bourbon markets with inflated prices,” he said. Mark Roehl, who runs the Columbus Blog Bourbon.
But Hunt said price regulation keeps scarce commodities affordable and gives more people the ability to buy them.
“Because Ohio has cultivated one of the top four domestic markets for Bourbon in the United States, limited and high-demand commodity suppliers give us top choice and more produce than they do in other countries. other states, ”she said.
But for bourbon lovers looking for that rare bottle of Eagle Rare, the only way to get it might be to queue when the truck arrives.
Seman chatted with another enthusiast about their favorite bourbon styles while waiting for Chateau to open. These conversations are part of the call, he said.
“You learn more, and word of mouth helps (find rare products),” he said. “You learn where to find things.”
Patel said he discourages customers from queuing, but some show up anyway.
“Since the start of the (coronavirus) pandemic, we have not been allowed to take products out and make it an event, like we used to do,” he said. “Every two hours, three hours, we put it on the shelf.”
Much of the experience was about the fun of finding something interesting or unique, which is worth the wait, several hunters said.
“It’s like an Easter egg hunt,” said Andrea Stoltz, who lives near Powell and was the second person in line at Chateau.
Not everyone approves of the tactics of the bourbon hunters. Some bourbon enthusiasts believe that line servers give bourbon fans a bad name and deny others the chance to pay rare fines.
“People who are working at that time or who can’t be in a very specific place at a very specific time are out of luck,” Roehl said.
But sometimes arriving early is the only way to find rare brands at affordable prices, Callori said.
“You have guys buying it and selling it on the aftermarket for two or three times the price,” he said.