Ohhhhhhh, you gotta love the whisky blogosphere! People are out there on their computers being passionate about whiskey, voicing their opinions, talking about the state of the market, and chiming in on the issues we all face as certified whiskey fanatics.
Like this thread, for example, on the always entertaining message board - Straight Bourbon.
What happened here? Let me tell you. The demand for the impossible-to-find, incredibly-sought-after Jefferson's Ocean Aged Bourbon was out of control. I was personally getting over twenty emails a day from customers all over the country looking to score a bottle of this elixer, not to mention the voicemail and the forwarded messages from our customer service department. I spent more time returning emails about the Jefferson's Ocean Bourbon than I did ordering products for the K&L chain of retail outlets. It consumed much of my freetime for weeks. All of this work, tons of typing, loads of explaining, for a whiskey we had yet to get and might not ever actually obtain.
Finally the news came. We were going to get one bottle of Jefferson's Ocean Bourbon. One whole bottle. I had responded to at least four hundred emails from new, virgin K&L customers, telling them we were planning on holding a raffle for our bottles. Now that "bottles" had become one bottle, a raffle of over 1,000 people seemed ridiculous. Because, you see, we already have a huge list of loyal K&L customers. When you add on the newcomers who simply wanted the Jefferson's Ocean, you're talking about a gigantic pool of consumers. It would mean multiple days worth of work between myself and David OG to organize, instigate, and manage a fair raffle with this much consumer interest. I don't think anyone, neither our customers, nor the most stingy whisky geeks on the blogosphere, could argue that K&L drop everything - all of our orders for regularly stocked booze items, our importation of exclusive single malts, our negotiations for more interesting spirits, our time to help customers make smart booze decisions - just to make sure that one bottle of Bourbon is distributed in the fairest of possible means.
David OG and I talked a few times and decided we wanted to try an experiment. We're always testing the technology to find the easiest and nicest way to decide who gets things like Pappy Van Winkle or George T. Stagg. We've done email notifications. We've done online-only sales (hackers crashed the entire server). We've done raffles. We've done first-come, first-served. Few customers have ever been entirely happy with the result (except for those who get the bottles, of course!). We have gone out of our way to let everyone have a chance, not wanting to simply hook up our best friends. "Let's try the auction," we said. We had a point to make. We wanted to show people what would happen if we left the distribution of rare whiskey up to pure, unadulterated capitalism.
People didn't like it. Neither did we, however. A process that excludes many customers is never fulfilling. We had been previously worrying ourselves sick, spending hours if not days, deciding which measures would most fairly distribute our strictly-allocated products, only to see those same bottles pop up on Ebay minutes later. If the highest bidder was going to decide the final ownership of these hard-to-find whiskies, why not just facilitate the process ourselves? As we all know now, the Jefferson's Ocean sold for over $1,000 on the K&L auction site. That message was heard loud and clear across the whisky world. As my friend SKU would later go on to say,
Everyone mark this moment when an independently bottled bourbon originally listed for $90 sold for over $1,000. This, more than any single event, marks the end of the golden age of whiskey and portends the crash.
Most of our customers have no idea how crazy this whiskey game is getting. We try and let everyone know that we appreciate their business, but that we simply cannot accommodate every request for the rarest of the rare. We wish we could! We can't. The Jefferson's auction, however, was the perfect way to illustrate exactly what is happening to the Bourbon industry. I knew it would take $1,000 to secure that bottle. I wasn't surprised in the slightest. In fact, I thought it would go for even more.
So what now? Is K&L just a money hungry company looking to exploit the market? Come on. You know us better than that. The extra money we made on that auction is not going into the company coffer. It's going to a good cause. We'll be cutting a check this week for a local charity that will receive the extra $900 we made from the Jefferson's auction. We never planned on keeping it, however, it did provide some important research for our auction department that has been looking into spirits development (booze = big bucks). I never thought we needed to actually tell people what our plans were, but it seems like that information might help ease some minds.
We're moving on. We're sticking with a raffle for the upcoming Pappy products as well as the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection bottles. However, we're hoping people are paying attention. We've got customers willing to pay over $1,000 for a whiskey originally scheduled to retail at $90. That's the demand we're facing. Until the hype dies down, it's only going to get tougher for whiskey fans to get these precious bottles. I'm still hoping to find the best and fairest way to distribute them to our wonderful customers, but in the meantime, I'm happy that one local charity will have close to a thousand dollars to work with for a worthwhile cause. If we can't make the stakes even, we'll at least make them worthwhile.