Drink: Balcones Rumble
Living in Connecticut, I’ve learned to shop around for alcohol. Difference in price on even something as ubiquitous as Jack Daniels #7 can be as much as $10 to $15 within the same town, sometimes even down the street. About a year ago I walked into a small liquor shoppe (it felt like it should be spelled that way) and saw a bottle of Woodford Reserve for a whopping $45 at a time when it was generally available for no more than $30 almost everywhere. And that was on the high side.
Add to that a 6.35% sales tax (do you know your state’s sales tax to the nearest hundredth?), a fairly high excise tax, and state minimum pricing, and price shopping becomes a must. Ironically, I’ll sometimes spend more in gas than I save on a particular bottle by getting it at Store A instead of Store B, but I love knowing I got the product itself cheaper. High five to myself, which is just me clapping once, and I look silly, so I’ll not do that.
My iPod has become my go-to device for all things whiskey related, including shopping. I have all of my favorite blogs bookmarked*, and all of my liquor stores bookmarked as well, at least the ones that have online inventory and pricing. These include several stores in the area, New Hampshire’s, and a few others out of state.
New Hampshire’s is very helpful as it lists price, stock, and location. I frequent their stores at least once a year to take advantage of their relatively close proximity, low general taxes, and zero sales tax. I should note, in case you’re thinking of shopping there now that, in general, their prices on American and Canadian whiskies are excellent whereas their prices on Scotch are high. Even after tax, Scotch is usually cheaper here at home. This is a generalization and doesn’t apply to every single whiskey, but it’s usually true.
So I’m making my Christmas wish list for anyone who feels generous enough to buy me a bottle of various whiskies, and I notice that Pappy Van Winkle bourbons are available in a few stores relatively close (meaning shortly after crossing the border). Wow, I think, it’s crazy to see them available at specific places. They’ll be gone by the end of the day, for sure. Especially if you can see where they are.
The next morning comes and, low and behold, aside from a single purchased bottle, they’re all still there. Hope flooded my system and I began to scheme over a “quick” trip up after lunch break or immediately after work. I debated this all morning until just after 9, when they open, and I decided to call to see if the stories were true; was there actual Pappy available for me, the common man?
No. No there wasn’t.
I figured as much and went on about my day. What struck me about the whole experience, and is the reason for my post (after that significantly lengthy introduction; thank you for sticking with me), was how much I would have done to go get a single bottle.
Pappy Fever is one word for it. I was wiling to drive two hours, take a whole afternoon off of work, and shell out $60 and nearly a whole tank of gas for a single bottle of bourbon. Say what?
I was treating it like a rite of passage. If I get my hands on a bottle of Pappy, then I’m the genuine article; I’m not just a self-professing bourbon enthusiast, I can prove it. See? I have a bottle of Pappy. No, the 12 year! I can’t believe it either, but here we are. I’d like to thank God, my family, my friends, the makers and bottlers of Pappy, Buffalo Trace, and the Van Winkle family, without whom, none of this would be possible…
Somehow that bottle would solidify and validate my enthusiasm. I’d become one of the professionals. It would be like the plaques on the wall in a doctor’s office. See? It’s official.
But then I started to think (before the phone call to NH). I have easy access to several bourbons that I thoroughly enjoy for half the price of Pappy and significantly less hassle, like Elijah Craig 12 year.
Yes, but Pappy is wheated.
So are Larceny and Maker’s Mark. Weller (by the same distillery!). And they’re available!
Yes, but Pappy is bottled from the best hand-selected barrels.
So is Blanton’s. Elmer T. Lee. Eagle Rare. And those are all from the same distillery. No, they’re not wheat recipes, but they’re all delicious, easy to find (save ETL on occasion), and worth every penny. Like Serge’s comic strip on Whisky Fun suggested: “If they all only select the best, where goes the rest?” It’s not as if the cream of the crop goes in a Van Winkle bottle while the rest of the Buffalo Trace lineup is crap.
But you’ll only truly be a bourbon enthusiast if you get your hands on a bottle of Pappy. It’s a rite of passage, man. Unless you go through it, you’ll always be a whiskey noob.
And my thirty open bottles of whiskey don’t say otherwise? The fact that I can walk into a liquor store and generally know and understand whiskey more than the employee doesn’t mean anything? Marketing’s spell on me having long been broken doesn’t help my advancement?
I’m not against buying Pappy and I’m sure it’s a fine bourbon, but for now I’ll be content to try it at my local whiskey hole (whenever I can get there; diapers don’t change themselves). My family needs me to work the afternoon so the mortgage gets paid and food is on the table. My children need me home, not galavanting through New England in search of a mystical bottle, so that I can build relationships with them.
And I need to keep my cool and not give in to Pappy fever so that I can do those things. Besides, if I can’t be content with the several shelves of whiskey I have in the basement, another bottle won’t change that. “If I just get this one whiskey,” will still be thought. Remember that wish list I mentioned above? Once it’s completely fulfilled, there will be another.
At present, Pappy has the coveted spot of being considered the apex of American whiskey (aside from the Hirsch 16 year which has found its way back into stores at a gazillion percent increase in price). At some point another whiskey will overtake it, then everyone will trample each other for that one. Instead of adding to the clamor, I think I’ll cut the crap and sit back, relax with a good bottle, and watch from a distance.
That sounds significantly better.
*It is here that I will give a shout-out (not that they need it) to the blogs I check obsessively, including (but not limited to), Chuck Cowdrey’s Blog, Sku’s Recent Eats, The Coopered Tot, and Scotch Noob.