The Art and Science Behind Finding Allocated Bottles of Bourbon
Written by Chris Wilkey – Friend of the site and bourbon lover
If you are in the bourbon world, you know there are bottles of bourbon out there that are hard to find. I’m talking about your allocated bourbons such as Blanton’s, Pappy, Weller, Stagg, Bookers, Old Forester Birthday, and a bunch of other brands that you will rarely find on the shelf of your local liquor store at MSRP.
Have you ever wondered how people get their hands on these bottles of bourbon?
In this guide, I’m going to walk you through the basics of allocated bourbons, where you can find allocated bourbons, and how liquor stores ration out these bottles. Then I’m going to give you 10 tips to help you land your first (or hundredth) allocated bottle of bourbon.
What Are Allocated Bourbons?
Allocated bourbons refer to bottles of bourbon whiskey that have “ordering restrictions” between the retailer and wholesaler, but enthusiasts use the term to simply mean rare and hard to find. These bottles are typically limited in the number of bottles available. They may be aged for a longer period of time or be made from rare or unique ingredients or processes, which contributes to their exclusivity and high price point.
Due to the limited availability of allocated bourbons, they are often highly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts. This can make them difficult to find and they can command a high price on the secondary market.
Allocated bourbons are also often considered to be of higher quality than regular bourbons, as the distiller has taken extra care in the production process, such as selecting the best barrels for aging or using the highest quality ingredients. Blind tastings often reveal there is little correlation between rarity and quality of drinking experience, but this does not stop collectors from feeling the fear of missing out (FOMO) and going to great lengths to find bottles.
When Can You Find Allocated Bourbons?
Allocated bourbons are typically released at specific times of the year, usually in small batches. Many of the standard allocated bottles are released during October, November, and December. The release schedule will vary depending on the distiller.
The best way to find out when allocated bourbons will be released is to check the website of the distiller or contact them directly. Some distillers also have mailing lists that you can sign up for to receive updates on new releases and availability. Additionally, many liquor stores and online retailers who specialize in bourbon will also have information on upcoming releases.
How Do Liquor Stores Distribute Allocated Bourbons?
Liquor stores typically distribute allocated bourbons through an allocation system set up by them to maximize the impact on the stores profitability.
The number of allocated bottles the store receives is typically based on the store's historical sales of that distiller's products, their size, and their reputation. The distributor will decide on how many bottles of the allocated bourbon to give to each store based on this system. Some stores may receive a larger allocation of bottles than others, while some stores may not receive any at all. This can make it difficult for consumers.
When the allocated bourbon arrives at the store, they are usually sold on a first-come, first-served basis, or through a lottery system, where customers can put their name in a draw for a chance to buy a bottle. Some stores also hold back items and sell them to their best customers or customers who they have built relationships with over the year.
It's worth noting that due to the limited availability of allocated bourbons, they can be highly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts and can command a higher price than the manufacturer suggests as the retail price.
It's also worth noting that some stores may have a waiting list for certain allocated bourbons, so if you are interested in purchasing one, it's recommended to contact the store and ask if they have a waiting list, and if they do, put your name on it.
Bourbon Real Talk’s Approach to Finding Allocated Bottles
Photo By Jacob Lund, AdobeStock
As someone in the bourbon community, I have learned a lot of different tips and tricks over the years that can help find allocated bourbons. I think some of the best tips have come from the Bourbon Real Talk community and I’m going to lay out the top six tips below:
Tip 1 – Build a Relationship
If there is one tip you need to know on your quest for allocated bourbon, it’s this: It’s all about the relationship. I teach sales at Ball State University, and I teach multiple classes where we spend months learning about relationship building. In the world of business and bourbon, a relationship is your most valuable asset.
Building a relationship takes time, but it can be very beneficial over your bourbon hunting lifetime. We recommend taking time to learn more about the person who is the decision maker for that liquor store. Find out if they are a bourbon lover and find out how the store makes money. Ask questions and don’t be focused on the thought of allocated bourbon. Instead focus on getting to know the person as a person and build a relationship on that. If they are a bourbon lover, invite them to bottle shares or bring samples to the store.
If you are on the top of their mind when an allocated bottle comes in from the distributor, you might get a call from that person when it’s time for it to hit the shelf.
Pro Tip: If you buy alcohol for any types of gifts, raffles, or other instances where you need a large quantity, always go to that liquor store. I do this for my local Elks Lodge, and I’ve become known as that “dude who buys a lot of booze” – I’ve even had the liquor store employee print a copy of the receipt from my purchase to show her boss.
Tip 2 – Always Have a Bottle of Bourbon in Your Hand
If you walk into a liquor store looking for a bottle of allocated bourbon, you should always have a bottle of bourbon in your hand.
Picture this: You are a liquor store, and you have fifteen different people every afternoon that stop in to see if you have any Blanton’s in stock. Out of those fifteen people, only one of them buys a bottle of liquor. You had fourteen other customers walk in, take up your time, and walk out with nothing. The one person who bought a bottle of bourbon is the one that is keeping your lights on and your door open. Sure, you might have made $30 on one of the other people if you did have an allocated bottle, but they might never come back into the store.
As a liquor store employee, I want my store to succeed, and I need daily sales to make that happen. And often, I am required to buy other liquor just to be able to get my hands on an allocated bottle of bourbon. I’m going to be more likely to sell that product to someone who supports me regularly instead of someone who walks in and doesn’t buy a thing.
I recommend buying items with a high margin for the liquor store if you aren’t brand loyal (also a great way to build a relationship).
Tip 3 – Open Everything (I’m not kidding)
This was a tip I never thought of until I watched the video from Bourbon Real Talk. Always open the bottle (in store if possible and if not, always have pictures).
I know I’m always excited that I have found an allocated bottle, so it’s not uncommon for me to open it that evening. I’ve always been a sipper and not a flipper. I never thought about opening the bottle and offering some to the person who just sold it to you. This is ingenious in a few different ways:
1 - It shows you are going to share the bottle and drink it. The way bourbon is supposed to be purchased and consumed.
2 - Sometimes liquor store staff are not allowed to purchase allocated bottles. By sharing in the store, you give them a chance to try your prized possession.
3 - The bottle can no longer be flipped or resold for a profit. No better way to show you aren’t going to resell a product than opening it right in front of their eyes.
Tip 4 – Always Take the Bottle
This might seem a little strange, but it makes a lot of sense once you get down to the logic behind it.
If you are offered a bottle of an allocated bourbon, always take it. Even if it’s just a bottle of Eagle Rare that you already have on your shelf at home, it’s a big deal to be offered the bottle from the liquor store. They could have offered anyone else that bottle, but they saved it for you and gave you the privilege of buying it. If you turn it down, they might be offended, and you might not get offered other bottles in the future.
So, what do you do if you don’t want that bottle, but end up taking it home? This is a great bottle to take to a bottle share, to send samples to friends and people in the bourbon community, and possibly a great donation to raffle off for a charity or a cause of your choice (if you don’t follow tip 3). Personally, I recommend inviting over some friends and having a great night.
Tip 5 – Understand the Liquor Store’s Side
A liquor store exists not to just provide you with a chance to purchase allocated bourbon. They exist to make money and to employ their staff. And contrary to popular belief, most of their profit comes from low end liquor and beer purchased by repeat customers.
If you start putting yourself in the shoes of the liquor store, you are going to start to understand how to make win-win situations for you and the store.
For example: If you know the store is required to buy a certain brand of vodka to get allocated bottles of bourbon, you can switch and start buying that brand for your house mixers. If you know they have a certain product that is selling slowly (and you like it), you might go out of your way to purchase more of that product. If you know they have invested in a single barrel, you might grab a few bottles to share and send samples to friends in your community.
If you start making choices that benefit the liquor store, you might be rewarded in return.
Tip 6 – Never Call. Always Ask in Person (while buying)
This should be the easiest of the tips on this list, but I still need to mention it. You should never call a liquor store and ask if they have allocated bourbon in stock. The answer is always going to be no. They are never going to tell you on the phone that they have something allocated in stock.
Instead, you should always ask for an allocated bottle while you are buying something else at the liquor store. This shows you are a qualified buyer who isn’t just there for the rare stuff. It also helps with that relationship building I mentioned earlier in the article.
While it can be difficult to find allocated bourbons, the effort can be well worth it for the unique and exclusive taste experience they offer. The tips above can help you start building relationships and connections that will lead to friendships, and possibly allocated bourbons in your future.
If you want a full rundown of our techniques and a few extra tips, make sure to watch our full video below.