How To Find Barrel Picks

Feb 03 , 2022

Barrel picks are when someone gets single barrel samples of usually 3-6 barrels (but sometimes more or less), tastes them all, and decides which one they want to buy. Whiskey clubs love to do barrel picks because it gives the club an opportunity to offer something “one of a kind” and exclusive to its members. Some people believe the person coordinating the pick makes money off the bottles, but this is illegal in all cases unless the club is licensed as a liquor marketing company in the state and has a marketing contract with someone in the food chain. There are countless stories of clubs trying to manipulate stores into cutting the club a check, pressuring the store for allocated bottles, pressuring the store to donate to their non-profit, but understand this is not a profit making venture.  You are not licensed and you should be doing this to benefit your members. 

From a technical standpoint, a whisky club can not do a barrel pick.  Whiskey clubs provide marketing for retail stores in exchange for access to the barrel. There are 3 tiers to the whiskey distribution system in the US that are federally mandated. 

  1. Tier one-Producer who is licensed with a Distilled Spirits Plant (DSP) license to make and purchase spirits. They can sell limited quantities to consumers who come to their licensed location (dictated by state law). They can usually operate as a bar (dictated by state law) who sells drinks that include their spirits they make on site. They can sell in unlimited quantities to wholesalers. All spirits sold must be sealed and in bottles 1.75 liters or smaller.
  2. Tier two-Wholesaler or Distributor who is basically responsible for logistics.  They pick up the spirits from the producer, sometimes store them in regional warehouses, and deliver them to retail stores who order products. They can sell unlimited quantities to retail stores and zero to consumers or producers.
  3. Tier three- Retail stores sell direct to consumers in unlimited quantities.  They are not allowed to order from producers, only wholesalers. 

If a club wants to do a barrel pick they have to have all three tiers for that whiskey set up.  Producers have to be set up in the state for taxes.  They have to have a state wholesaler. Most importantly the club must have a retail partner who is willing to put in the purchase order for the barrel.

A whiskey club could be awarded a barrel pick at any of the three tiers, but all three tiers must be set up in the state the club wants to release the barrel in. If you have a producer who is willing to give you a barrel, but the producer doesn’t have a wholesaler in the state then the pick is dead.  If they have a wholesaler but there isn’t a retailer who trusts their regular customers would want the pick, or that the club will be able to sell the pick out, then the pick is dead.

If you are an individual who wants to offer a pick to your club I would recommend that you start looking for retail partners. You must have a trust relationship with the retailer, because they have to be convinced that you have enough influence with the members of the club to sell out the barrel, or at least sell enough of the barrel to keep the store from ending up with inventory they don’t have customers for. If a store is willing to “give a pick” to your club, you need to get them to talk with their brand and wholesaler reps to find out what barrels are available to them.  

WARNING: The odds of them having a barrel available to them that your club members want, and them being willing to give it to your club are low!  They typically want you to sell out a barrel they don’t have customers for…which usually means it isn’t a popular barrel. 

If you work hard enough you can find a retail partner worth building the relationship with, and you can get them to give you a barrel pick you think your members would like.  You need to develop marketing procedures that work, a system to determine who will be able to buy what bottles (doing this wrong causes splits and new clubs that hate your club), a system to create and print tater stickers, a system to cover the cost of the tater sticker design and printing, a sequence of announcement that doesn’t leave you looking like a fool when the barrel doesn’t come through (yes this happens), a system to deal with the wholesaler losing cases after totals bottle counts were communicated from the producer (this happens a lot), and understand that when you stick a store with inventory that doesn’t move you have destroyed the reputation of your club. You will also need to consider the markup percentage of the retail store (less than 25% is reasonable but above 30% is someone trying to take advantage of the marketing value of your club), but that is a next level discussion.

This is a little like trying to explain brain surgery to someone who has never held a scalpel, but I figured it out, so you can too.  This is enough to get you started. 

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