I may regret this, but I feel I should be sharing my insights on where I find some of my best bourbon picks. I’m usually more reserved in not sharing my secrets of where I find some local goodies, but today, I’m letting down my guard. Here are some of my best tips for finding some special picks.
Going right to the source can be a way to snag some cool swag as well as some unique bottlings. While you won’t find some of Buffalo Trace’s more unique distillations (like Blantons, Weller, or Pappy Van Winkle) at its Frankfort Distillery, you will find large quantities of Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, and Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream. While these all used to be common fare found everywhere, I’ll confess that Eagle Rare is one that has, well, become a little more rare.
You may also find some hard-to-find limited productions as well as first introductions. At Whiskey Acres, you’ll find some of their smaller 375ml offerings, including it’s 5.5 Grain Bourbon. At Woodford Reserve, in addition to some awesome glassware, I was able to snatch a bottle from Batch 0001 of their newest introduction, Woodford Reserve Malt Whiskey.
2. Go Big or Go Home
No brainer here, right? While you won’t find anything unique at the big box grocers and retailers, what you will find is a selection of great everyday spirits. Beam. Knob Creek. Turkey. Evan. Woodford. Bulleit. Makers. You’ll find solid prices and a reasonable selection of what you’ll need day in and day out.
Shop competitively, though. You’ll sometimes catch deals at a local or regional liquor store that will beat the big box. Keep a list (at least mental) of what you consider essentials and recognize when it’s a good deal and when you need to walk away.
3. Regional Liquor Chains
The counterpart to the grocery stores and mega-box stores is the regional liquor chain. While you’ll rarely find the rare stuff here, you will find a vast selection. Many have expanded their selections in lockstep with the recent bourbon boom.
You’ll find good deals on your staples here, as many are pricing their bottles competitively with grocers and discount retailers. Shop carefully here, as well. You’ll find items attractively priced that beat even the likes of a Wal-Mart or Costco, but you’ll also find items cheaper at a major retailer. Buyer Beware.
4. This is the most beautiful sight these eyes have ever seen
I’m a bit of a sap. I love the movie “Rudy” and especially the line spoken by Rudy’s father when he finally makes it to Notre Dame stadium to watch Rudy play in his first college football game. As he walks up to the gates at Notre Dame, he whispers in a hushed tone the line above.
Unsurprisingly, I muttered the same words when I saw my first Liquor Barn in Lexington, Kentucky. While this is a regional chain of liquor stores, it deserves its own special mention.
You’ll find the usual assortment of local, regional, and national beers and wines, as well as a dizzying array of bourbons including a number of select, Liquor Barn special releases from major distilleries. In addition to the spirits, you’ll find aisle upon aisle of local food products, too. Kentucky Proud food products including Weisenberger Mills flours and mixes, Ale 8 Salsas, bourbon barrel cakes, bourbon coffees pancake mixes made from distillers grains, and various bourbon candies are all featured. Horse and UK items abound, including any party goods you’d need for a Derby or UK event.
Did I mention swag? Looking for t-shirts and clothing items from your favorite brands? Check. Glassware from your favorite distillery? Check. Even empty barrels that once held your go-to brand? Yes. Wow, this is a beautiful place, indeed.
5. Dusty Bottles
Lastly, don’t overlook the local mom-and-pop stores or those that may be a little off the beaten path. Locally, we have a number of small liquor stores surrounding a university campus. While they specialize in cheap beer and wines, they also receive allotments of pricier (ie rarer) finds that never make it to the shelf in a large regional chain store. It’s here where I can often find Blanton’s, Wellers (even a prized Weller 12-Year), Woodford Reserve Master’s Selection special releases, Stagg, and others.
Make a point of introducing yourself to workers and owners. Strike up a conversation – these are your neighbors, after all. Be sure to scout for items behind the counter, and don’t be afraid to ask, “Is there anything else in the back?” And if you’re lucky, they might keep a list of bourbon lovers who they’ll call when special items come in.