Fear of a Bourbon Shortage Puts Enthusiasts Over a Barrel
Whiskey Lovers Stock Basement Bunkers; Searching for Elmer T. Lee
SIMPSONVILLE, S.C.—On a recent Saturday, Edward Johnson hurried into Harvard’s Liquor & Wine and made a beeline toward a 4-foot-wide section of bourbon. There he bypassed the Old Crow and Jim Beam and reached up to grab one of four stubby bottles of Blanton’s, a rye bourbon. At the register, the cashier had a 10-year-old bottle of Henry McKenna Single Barrel waiting for him. It was set aside that morning.
Mr. Johnson shelled out $107 for the bourbon and then headed to a nearby Sam’s Club, where he spent about $100 on diapers for his 19-month-old daughter. People observing this routine might wonder if he has a drinking problem. He doesn’t. What he has is a serious case of anxiety.
It began two years ago, when Mr. Johnson and his brother-in-law heard of an alleged bourbon shortage. He has been making monthly liquor and diaper runs ever since.
“It scared us and fear is a motivating factor,” said Mr. Johnson, a 36-year-old managing partner of Old Colony Furniture, who now has a stash of about 50 bottles of bourbon. The collection, he says, grew out of an urge to make sure there would never be a time “I wanted bourbon and couldn’t get it.” After a while, he says, the habit “took on a life of its own.”
He isn’t alone. Panic has gripped bourbon enthusiasts across the country, and they are amassing stockpiles of it, hoping to guard against shortages and price hikes.
Greg Gilbert of Lovettsville, Va., built a basement bunker for his 700 bottles of bourbon. He also joined a private club so he could bypass retailers and buy barrels straight from distillers. Joe Conner, a warehouse worker from Rockford, Ill., created a spreadsheet for his 120 bottles of bourbon so he could keep track of what he had bought, what he had opened and what he needed to purchase.
Steffen Braüner, a surveyor from Denmark, travels to Las Vegas for a whiskey-tasting event so he can embark on an annual bourbon hunt.
Last year, he drove from Las Vegas to Utah, hoping that in a state filled with teetotalers he would be able to find a bottle of the extremely limited George T. Stagg. “There’s much less of what’s good to buy,” says Mr. Braüner, who returned to Denmark empty-handed.
Bourbon’s popularity has surged ever since the amber liquor became a star of Mad Men. Magazines such as GQ and Bon Appétit have devoted pages to articles on bourbon cocktails. The Manhattan and Old Fashioned have become fashionable again. President Barack Obama recently proposed a “Bourbon Summit” with Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell.
“Whiskey has gone away from being seen as an old man drink,” says Mahesh Patel, a structural engineer who owns 4,000 bottles of whiskey and sponsors an annual tasting conference in Las Vegas.
Sales of bourbon are growing at a dizzying rate. Domestic sales of Kentucky-made bourbon have increased 36% in the last five years to $1.5 billion. Exports rose 56% to $300 million from 2010, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S.
All this makes bourbon aficionados practically see double. Prices of their favorite brands are rising. Within a few months, Mr. Johnson says he saw the price of a bottle of his favorite Blanton’s go from $45 to $60.
Rationing is increasing. Buffalo Trace Distillery, in Frankfort, Ky., has hired an allocation manager to make sure its bourbon is distributed evenly nationwide. Willett Distillery, in Bardstown, Ky., this year began rationing the amount of whiskey it sent wholesalers for the first time since prohibition ended in 1933.
Anxiety has intensified since Japan-based Suntory paid $13.5 billion in January for Beam Inc., the maker of Jim Beam, Knob Creek and Maker’s Mark bourbons. A main reason for the acquisition was to export whiskey—and a taste for American-made bourbon.
Bourbon made today can’t be sold tomorrow. It typically ages a minimum of four years in oak barrels charred by fire. The more it ages, the richer its flavor. Also, it evaporates over time. One of the oldest bourbons on the market, Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year Old, begins as a 53-gallon barrel but yields just 14 gallons. A bottle sells for about $250.
It isn’t bourbons like Jim Beam and Evan Williams —the kind often served at parties and tailgates—that are in short supply. Those are produced in much larger quantities, but people are increasingly buying bourbons that are produced in smaller batches, the Distilled Spirits Council says. That is why bottles of Elmer T. Lee, which its producer says smells of clover and old leather, and John E. Fitzgerald Larceny, which its maker says tastes of buttery caramel and honey, are tough to find.
Some suspect distillers are fueling the frenzy—only to capitalize on it. Reid Bechtle, a retiree with more than 500 bottles of bourbon, became suspicious in 2010 when Heaven Hill discontinued its Elijah Craig 18-Year-Old Single Barrel bourbon priced at $39 but later released 21- and 23-year-old versions of Elijah Craig priced at $120 and $200, respectively. Mr. Bechtle wondered if Heaven Hill intentionally pulled its 18-year bourbon off the market to age it three to five years longer so it could command a higher price.
A Heaven Hill spokesman said it had a supply problem that year and felt the bourbon was underpriced. The company plans to reissue Elijah Craig 18-Year-Old next year but will charge more than $39 a bottle.
Bourbon makers manage supplies closely. They have been burned by having too much whiskey in the past, says Buffalo Trace CEO Mark Brown. During the 1970s, the industry ramped up production only to have demand crash. Bourbon makers then put it on the market at lower prices. It took decades to recover.
“A whiskey maker’s worst nightmare is having too much,” Mr. Brown says.
It is this kind of thing that compels Mr. Gilbert to keep stockpiling. His basement is filled with bourbons that have spiked in price or are no longer available. W.L. Weller Centennial: “Disappeared.” Old Charter 12-Year: “Gone.” Eagle Rare Ten, 101 Proof: “Discontinued,” he says.
His wife, Kelly, says she sometimes wanders downstairs, surveys the ever-growing tower of bourbon, and thinks: “If he sold that, think of all the shopping I could do.”
Found at the WSJ.
Stupidity is rampant among the youngsters….
Cuba and the US are restoring diplomatic relations.
The process of normalizing their relationship is likely to move fast, with loosened travel and economic restrictions announced today and a US embassy in Havana a possibility in just a few months. An hour-long phone call Tuesday between US president Barack Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro was the first such conversation since the Cuban revolution, White House officials said.
It’s not the US embargo that keeps Cuba poor, it’s the brothers Castro
Many Americans and Cubans believe that it is the tight noose of the US embargo that keeps the island nation deep in poverty. This narrative suits the regime of Fidel and Raul Castro, because it gives the grim brothers a ready excuse for their inability to give their subjects decent economic opportunities.
But the noose is pretty loose: Most of the world does business with Havana. Although much is made of Cuba’s special relationship with Russia and Venezuela, it trades with most of the countries that would be considered close US allies. With a halfway competent government, Cuba could be a fairly wealthy nation, able to brush off the American embargo as a minor inconvenience.
For a microcosm of the Castros’ failure as managers of the Cuban economy, look no further than the tourism industry. The island—blessed as it is with gorgeous beaches, warm weather, fantastic music, and terrific rum—gets nearly 3 million foreign tourists a year. Nearly a million come from Canada, with the UK, Italy, Spain, and Germany all accounting for large groups.
For a country with 11.25 million people, that’s a lot of tourists. (For comparison: India gets 6.5 million foreign tourists a year for its population of 1.25 billion.)
What’s more, for 20 years most tourist services and imported products in Cuba have been priced in an artificial currency created by the regime to bilk foreigners: the so-called “convertible peso,” or CUC, which is pegged 1:1 to the US dollar. Local products use the regular peso, called the CUP, which is 1/25 the value of the tourist version. Though the government announced last year that it would scrap the CUC altogether, that process is moving slowly.
The CUC makes hotels and other tourism services in Cuba absurdly overpriced relative to the real economy. But the businesses that charge in CUC are largely state-owned, so most of the money spent by those 3 million tourists goes to the government’s coffers, from where it goes…. who knows where? Certainly, very little reaches ordinary Cubans. And if the dual-currency system is abolished, that won’t change unless a lot more businesses end up in private hands.
Thus, lifting the US embargo will certainly increase the number of tourists, but it won’t automatically improve the lot of Cubans. That’s not a reason to keep the embargo in place: It hasn’t worked, and should be scrapped. But let’s be clear-eyed about what removing the embargo will achieve. While the Castro regime is in place, the answer is: not much.
“…to their everlasting shame, 20 Republicans voted to reject Cruz’s point of order, waive the Constitution, and green-light Obama’s amnesty.
These quislings are Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), John Barrasso (Wyo.), Dan Coats (Ind.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Me.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), John Cornyn (Texas), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Dean Heller (Nev.), Ron Johnson (Wisc.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), John McCain (Ariz.), Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Pat Toomey (Penn.), and Roger Wicker (Miss.).” –Matthew Vadum
Did a plumber’s pick-up truck from Texas end up carrying an anti-aircraft gun for Islamic fighters on the front lines of Syria?
Mark Oberholtzer, of Texas City, Texas, sold his truck to a dealership three years ago
The truck, featuring the name of his company – Mark-1 Plumbing – is seen in a propaganda photo released by Islamist group Ansar al-Deen
The vehicle has been outfitted with an anti-aircraft gun and is fighting on the front lines in Syria
The logo features Oberholtzer’s phone number and he says he’s now getting death threats
But a propaganda video shows a similar vehicle shooting from exactly the same position, raising questions about the photo’s authenticity
Read all of this with pictures HERE.