Collecting For Later, For Show
This is just a quick little thought, but I could probably write a dissertation about this subject. I've noticed a lot of conversations on whisky blogs as of late that lament the nature of collectors - how people are no longer buying their whisky to drink, but rather to collect it. There is a lot of frustration about the lack of availability concerning highly-sought-after bottles like Pappy Van Winkle and that frustration is being totally misdirected. From my experience as a retailer dealing with customers, very few people are buying these bottles to resell. From the people I've spoken with personally, everyone of them plans on drinking these whiskies or saving them for a special occasion. Even the guy who pays $300 a bottle on Ebay probably plans on drinking it - he just doesn't feel like spending hours on the internet or on the phone trying to find one, so he's willing to pay the premium.
There is nothing going on here besides old-fashioned supply and demand. People want something, it's hard to find, so the price goes up because someone is going to pay it. It's a chance at an experience. People pay $50,000 to eat dinner with the president. It's not that different. You can bitch and moan and say, "He's the president, he should be representing the everyday American by eating dinner with people for free, since we elected him anyway," but that's not really the issue. That's really just bitterness about not being able to do so yourself. The truth of the matter is: more people are finding out about wine, beer, and spirits and there simply isn't enough of some products to go around. The more people talk about how great they are, the more people are going to want them. The more people fear not being able to get them, the more people hoard them for later. Both of those things will raise the market value and also limit availability.
The Van Winkles are not to blame (and their whiskies taste just as good as ever, so all of this BS about how the 15 is no longer good is just embarrassing to listen to). It's just the frustration of limited availability talking. The distributors are not to blame. Retailers are not to blame. Ebayers are not to blame. Auctions are not to blame. Collectors are not to blame. There simply isn't enough product to supply demand. If you want to blame someone, blame the people taking pictures of themselves drinking Pappy Van Winkle on Facebook. Blame the people on Twitter saying, "I just drank PVW last night and it was amazing." Blame the people who are turning whiskey from something that should be sipped and enjoyed into something that should be bragged about and documented for others to see.
If it wasn't so damn cool to be drinking Pappy Van Winkle, there wouldn't be any problem landing a bottle.