What's The Fairest Way?

Fall is when many of the top whisk(e)y producers release their limited, special release items that send whisk(e)y fanatics into a frenzy, scurrying all over the country to track down their favorite bottles.  The Sazerac company has two of the most sought-after collections - both the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and the Pappy Van Winkle Bourbons.  On top of those American classics, Diageo is planning on shipping their 2011 Rare Malts series across the pond, also in minute quantities for select retail outlets.  With more and more people discovering these whiskies every day, there is nowhere near enough booze to supply demand.  I mean it's not even close.  While these companies look at numbers to decide who gets how much of what, should retail stores be using the same standards to decide how to distribute these bottles fairly?

My allocation of Pappy Van Winkle is entirely based on how much Rain Vodka, Sazerac Rye, and Buffalo Trace Bourbon I purchased over the past year.  The bigger stores like BevMo burn through more product so it's only fair that they get more Pappy.  Unfortunately, the collectors and the serious geeks who want this stuff don't shop there.  They shop at places like K&L.  I've had the pleasure of meeting many wonderful people over my last 2 years as spirits buyer and, because I want to please all of these folks, I'm put in the position of trying to satisfy them all.  If I get 6 bottles of Pappy Van Winkle 15 year and 6 bottles of the 20 (which is about what I get), then how can I possibly satiate the appetites of more than 500+ special customers? 

Right now our strategy is simple.  We have a special insider email list and we send out an email asking people which bottles they would like.  We throw the names into a hat and choose winners out of the lottery.  It takes hours of extra work, but at least it's fair.  However, is that really the fairest way?  If my allocation is determined by how much I buy, should the most voracious K&L spirits customers therefore also be given first dibs?  Should the guy that shops here once a year have the same chance as the guy who comes to all the tastings and buys all the special K&L bottles?  I'm conflicted about these issues as you can see.  I don't like being in the position of having to play favorites, but I also don't like checking customer profiles to see that the only thing they've ever bought from us is Pappy Van Winkle every November.  There's a certain responsibility to take care of the people who take care of you. 

In a sense, that's what the Sazerac company does. We support their business by patronizing their brands.  As a "thank you," they send us their most special whiskies.  Maybe we should be taking a look at some of our most dedicated customers and simply say "thank you" to them as well by giving them the cherished bottles they're after. 

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll