Why American Whiskey is Getting Harder to Get

We got an allocation of Angel's Envy 100 proof rye whiskey last week and it sold out about two minutes after we sent out an email alert. Many long-time customers were absolutely confounded.

Angel's Envy rye? Really? Two minutes?

Are you telling me that we have to be ready to pounce on things like Angel's Envy rye from now on? Not just Pappy, or Stagg, or Black Maple Hill, but fucking Angel's Envy rye for a costly $67.99 a bottle?

Yes. That's what I'm telling you. I can't speak for other stores, but this is the reality at K&L.

We all know that there's a bit of a whiskey shortage in the states right now, but that's not the whole problem (if you didn't know you should read this - scary!). The popularity of American whiskey is through the roof right now, and the fact that Robert Parker is dipping his toe in these waters is only more evidence of this.

However, that's not the whole problem either.

The problem is the increase in accounts looking to sell American whiskey - as in retailers, bars, and restaurants.

Remember that a large chunk of all spirits end up behind a counter, not just on a retail shelf. With every new whiskey bar or cocktail lounge that opens up (about five a day in San Francisco alone, it seems), that's another account that wants part of what's available. They want Buffalo Trace products, they want Heaven Hill products, they want popular whiskies on their menu - period. I've watched the upswing in Bay Area booze-related businesses drain K&L allocations steadily over the past three years. We used to get Black Maple Hill whenever we wanted it. Then it was down to 120 a month. Then 60. Now it's a case here and and case there whenever it's back in stock.

Willett Bourbon is another casualty of this phenomenon. It's not anyone's fault. I don't blame Pacific Edge or any one at the distribution center. They've got more customers than whiskey, plain and simple. That's the same problem we have! Everytime a new whiskey customer starts shopping at K&L, another name goes on the email list, another person clicks on the hotlink, and another competitor for these whiskies joins your ranks. The distribution game works the same way. K&L is competing with other retailers, bars, and restaurants for the hottest products on the market, i.e. American whiskey.

I used to get about 60 bottles of every Willett expression as it was released. More if I asked for something in particular. Sometimes I didn't even take my entire allocation! With the immenent arrival of the new Willett 4, 6, and 10 year old Bourbons, I'm looking at less than 25 bottles total of each expression. That's less than half of what I used to get, simply because Pacific Edge has to spread the wealth a little more these days. And, believe me, these bottles will sell out in two minutes or less.

This is the same reason we have to put "one bottle per customer" limits on things like Russell's Reserve Single Barrel, Elijah Craig Cask Strength, or other super-limited releases. We're getting paltry allocations of rare American whiskey right now, almost to the point that it's not worth the time or effort to take care of three bottle drops (i.e EC 12 cask strength). It's frustrating. It's tough. But it's the reality of the business right now.

We're in the same situation as all of you.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll