...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Poacher Enters The Dusty Hunt

I haven't spoken about this to many people, let alone blogged about it, but I have a reliable spot for dusty bourbons.  Rather, I had a reliable spot.

Many of us dusty bottle hunters have a place that's reliable, usually off the beaten track.  And eventually, with new hunters coming aboard every day, that secret place is found by someone else and he or she relieves the store of what remains.  That's just part of the hunt.  I personally do not believe in hoarding a good find, so I usually leave a bottle or two on the shelf for that next person.  Others have done it for me, and I am grateful for it.  If I ever do "clean out" a store, I will share the spoils because I believe whisk(e)y is best as a group experience.

The store of interest here, let's call it Tasty Liquors, had five different brands of '80s bourbons.  There's one particular brand (to be reviewed soon) in which I have the most interest and have occasionally purchased a bottle, leaving more on the shelf.

On Friday night, I opened a bottle of this bourbon and found it to be enormously enjoyable.  When I'd purchased this whiskey two weeks earlier, there were at least 3 more bottles on the shelf.  On this past Friday night, as I delighted in the delicious stuff, I decided that I'd get one more bottle for myself and one for a friend.  So, first thing on Saturday morning, I drove to the store.

When I got to Tasty Liquors around 8:30am, I noticed that ALL of their dusty bourbon bottles were gone.  Not just my favorite brand, but all of the dusties.  In place of every old bottle was its new/current version.  At first I wondered if the old bottles just went to the back of the store so the newer shinier more familiar looking bottles would take front stage.

(Tasty Liquors is run by a very polite Asian couple and I think they recognize me now since I've been gradually relieving them of their old stuff.  The husband had always looked at me oddly as I'd ask for bottles he hadn't been able to sell in three decades.)

More than a little disappointed by the missing dusties, I innocently asked the wife of the couple if they had any of the older versions left, emphasizing that I'd be happy to buy them, not knowing if she would know what I was referring to.  But the moment I said the name of my specific brand, she said that "they were discontinued".

"Discontinued", an interesting word choice.  The ownership and label had changed 25 years ago, the juice had changed 20 years ago, but discontinued?  No.  After additional careful polite questioning, I discovered that the distributor rep who restocks this bourbon told her that all of those old bourbons were discontinued and needed to be pulled off the shelf and replaced with the newest versions...

...and he left with all of the dusties.  I asked her if he had purchased the bottles.  She was confused by that question and said again that he'd said they were discontinued and needed to be taken away.

When I originally wrote this post on Saturday afternoon, I was really f***ing angry.  Part of it was grumpiness about someone emptying out the whole stash.  Part of the frustration was aimed at myself for not stocking up earlier.  But most of it was irrational righteous indignation.

Distributor reps have quite a bit of access to dusty bourbons.  Which is fine.  Some of them are serious bourbon geeks.  I have a buddy who works for a big distributor and he is the smartest bourbon guy I know.  He buys the fun dusties he finds and it's not a big issue for him since the bottles are always very cheap.  Plus he often shares his spoils.  He's the only reason I've been able to try Mr. Van Winkle's bourbons.

But in this instance, if I have interpreted Saturday morning's situation correctly, a distributor rep walked into a liquor store, lied to the owners and then walked out with up to a dozen bottles of collectable (and delicious) whiskey without paying for it.  Thus it's very possible that a thief cleaned out a liquor store using his unique position to lie to unknowing ownership; a lying thief who has access to many other prime dusty spots.

Could I be wrong about this?  Yeah.  Something could have been lost in translation in my chat with the owner.  The rep could have bought up the old stuff when he replaced it with the new stuff.  And if he didn't, the owners look like complete and utter saps for falling for his BS (though, historically, men have gotten laid utilizing more dubious stories).  Or, perhaps the owners finally wisened up after 30 years and realized that there was a market for the oldies (inspired by my sudden purchases) and found another avenue to sell the bottles at a higher price, thus they fibbed to me.  Or maybe I totally misunderstood and someone else had bought the dusties before or after the new versions were restocked.

But, I don't think so.  Those bottles didn't move for almost 30 years and it's very likely more bottles were needed after my previous purchases.  Thus a call to restock.  The rep had clearly pushed the "discontinued" angle.  And suddenly the dusties were gone, with a somewhat confused owner left in the wake.

I happily welcome this fellow to the LA-area dusty hunt, if he's purchasing his finds.  But if he's not purchasing them...  I know the region this person works in, the stores he stocks, and the company he works for.  I'm not going to spill this info in case I'm completely wrong about what happened.  But if, in my hunt, I find this happening again, I will be more than happy to share this information.  All's fair in the love and war of a dusty hunt unless you're a g****mned thief.

Yes, this is the calmer version of my post.  This sort of experience takes a lot of the fun out of dusty hunting.  I've been beaten to a good stash before, a few times.  But never by something that seemed so much like a scam.  And it didn't have to be that way.  These bottles cost, on average, $15.  Am I an overreacting sore loser?  Let me know.  Have you come across poachers in your rounds?  Do you believe in "cleaning out" a dusty store or do you leave goodies behind?  Or have I just inspired you to hoard even more?

26 comments:

  1. I expect I will have wizened up too after 30 years.

    Thank you! Thank you very much! I'll be here all night--tip your waitress, try the veal etc..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dang it. You saying that words mean things?

      Delete
  2. Barb, are you getting enough ketchup? Ketchup contains natural mellowing agents that help you accept that life is not always perfect.

    I still don't believe your store owner's version. There's a lot of space that could be covered with a little fib and with what's lost in translation. Besides that, what are you really angry about? Is it righteous indignation that a poor old feeble immigrant couple got swindled out of $100 worth of retail by an unscrupulous shark? Or that you got beat to the stash?

    Let's say it's the former. And let's leave aside for the moment that we should be more worked up over Crimea than over a liquor store. But then isn't all dusty hunting a swindle? It only works because the dusty owner is not aware of the full value of the dusty bottles. I've yet to hear anyone tell the store owner "you know, this is worth 8 times that much on the free market - let me pay you 3 times what you're asking for and we're even". The two big elements of excitement in a dusty hunt are the hunt itself, with the elusive hope of a find - beating everyone else at it in the process -, and the hope of a great deal, due to the lack of information of the store owner (paying $450 for a Pappy is not dusty hunting). Why aren't you - aren't we - more indignant about this injustice?

    How about buying a clearly mispriced bottle, a whisky that you know should have been $59,99 but the label says $34,99? Have you ever done that? If not, you'd be in minority. I did. We tend to rationalize it - the store was overcharging anyway, this should teach them a lesson, I'm giving them so much business, I'm just paying what the label says, etc etc - but it's still dishonest. (In fact, last time I did that I felt really shitty, and promised it will be the last time indeed.)

    So, yeah, life is full of cynical, unscrupulous assholes. Are you an overreacting sore loser? I don't know - are you? :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So you're suggesting that my efforts to find whisk(e)y at lower prices is ethically equivalent to someone who uses the influence of his occupation to steal things? There's a large number of people who are looking for good deals on whisky right now and they may need to know that their efforts are equivalent to a thief's. And thusly they should be arrested, if caught, for stealing. In fact, the NSA should keep very close tabs on this website since I actively seek out good deals.

      Is bargain hunting a swindle? I don't think so. If a store owner chooses to price something lower OR is not informed about what he is selling, then that's linked to his responsibility as a store owner. If an owner chooses to price everything 20% higher than the rest of the stores in the area, that's his choice. There's a liquor store nearby that does that and it ain't moving a thing. He's had the same old bottles up there for over a year, some for at least three years. He was likely informed that single malts are selling well and he's choosing to bump his prices way up. I, as a financially responsible consumer, know I can purchase the same whiskies for considerably less elsewhere. And if I do, I'm not swindling anyone. I'm providing business to an owner who sells products at a price I can afford. And, may I add, I am paying for those bottles of whisky. If that is dishonest, I'm not sure wherein my deceit lies.

      Yeah, I'm partially grumpy for missing out on a couple cheap bottles. But had I got beaten to the stash by someone who traded currency for the bottles, then I would have been less angry. But I believe I had a very human reaction to experiencing someone stealing something. Do I know for certain that's what happened? No, that's why I'm not treating this as a witch hunt. If this did in fact happen and I later have more solid proof he's done it multiple times, then I'll explore this further. I may be cynical but I'm not cynical enough to shrug off the actions of those even more cynical than I.

      Delete
    2. Michael, you're asking if you are overreacting, and from where I stand the answer is yes. The level of outrage over what may or may not have happened seems not commensurate with the facts at hand, and is better explained by your frustration over missing out on those bottles, is all. It makes for good reading, though.

      Delete
    3. Oh heck. There's one vote for "Overreacting sore loser."

      Any votes for "Columbo-meets-Zach-de-la-Rocha"?

      Delete
  3. Perhaps he thought the new would sell better than the old. Perhaps he gave owners credit for the bottles that were antiquated. If the shiny new bottles sell and the dusty old ones did not that is profit the store is now making to keep them in business regardless if he was surreptitiously dusty hunting. Why are you not mentioning the brands - it would make it more interesting to folks that are taking time to read and comment. Clearly its not lag21 pfffftttt...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi pat, thanks for your comment! And thank you for your thoughts on some angles that I missed. I'm definitely open to other interpretations of the situation.

      I gave this some thought last night before replying. Those newer labelled bottles on the shelf are labels that have been around for 20ish years or so. Meanwhile the older bottles that were pulled off the shelf were sitting there for 30 or so years. Why pull the oldies off the shelf now, especially when someone after three decades is actually buying the stuff? That's not a rhetorical question, I really don't know the answer. You're right that he could have given them some sort of credit for the oldies. Or he could have paid for them himself and that "discontinued" shpiel was just him making chit-chat. Ironically (or not) one of the newer versions of bourbon he put on the shelf is in the process of being "discontinued" in his own terminology.

      Now, about the brands. Firstly, sadly, it wasn't Lag21. Though I do know someone who found the first version of Lag21 in the wild at its original price this past December. Lucky guy. The brands in question are cheapie bourbons and none of which have Stitzel-Weller spirit. I chose not to list the brands in question out of my concern about the consequences if I was 100% off base in my post, but people took it seriously and tried to track the (now innocent) guy down via the brands he repped. But since no one has taken this seriously so far (for better or worse), I'm more than happy to reveal the one actual very good bourbon to look out for: National Distillers-era Old Taylor. Gorgeous stuff. I'll be writing about it later this week, maybe tomorrow if I can get a coherent post together.

      Thanks again!

      Delete
  4. >>Have you come across poachers in your rounds?<<
    Yes. I believe any liquor store selling BTAC or Pappy should limit to one bottle per and no advance orders.

    >>Do you believe in "cleaning out" a dusty store or do you leave goodies behind?<<
    I don't dusty hunt. I remember when BTAC (as recently as 3 years ago) could easily be had months after the release at many stores in town. I bought BTAC in 2011 and 2012 and left many bottles for others. In 2013, the mass purchase phukers appeared in town. See above for how retailers should curb that practice.

    >>Or have I just inspired you to hoard even more?<<
    How much juice can 1 person drink in a lifetime? I have hoarded only once ever in 2003. It wasn't even conscious. The retailer could not sell the product and I asked if I could buy all of it (it is now a legendary tale). A fairly recent MM post showed a fellow in EU with 40+ bottles of the brora special releases. Even if you killed a bottle a year you'd likely not finish them all.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are absolutely right about the BTAC & Pappy insanity. There were six people in two states helping me to get one bottle from the 2013 BTAC. In 2012, I walked into a random store and bought one off the shelf.

      Did you wind up getting something good in your 2003 purchase? At least you have a few years to drink the stuff.

      The pictures of 500-1000 bottle collections or 40-something bottle stash of Brora or PE is the whisky equivalent of a dick pic. That's why I stopped going to the MM FB page.

      Delete
    2. Please don't ask Pat what he got in 2003. It makes me cry every time I hear this story.

      Delete
    3. MAO, you already destroyed my afternoon with your 2048 game (for those who dare, http://games.usvsth3m.com/2048/islay-edition-edition/), so I feel no pity. Now I must know what he got......

      Delete
    4. How far did you get Michael? Today is the day I'm going to beat this game!
      Daaamn youuu, Maaaoooo!

      Delete
    5. I've gotten as far as Octomore. I've stopped playing as I'm afraid the game will swallow my life.

      Delete
    6. You'll have to beg to learn origin of source

      Delete
    7. Pat, does it have two syllables and rhyme with "urban" or does it have one syllable and rhyme with "crotch"?

      Delete
    8. case of prov on sale

      Delete
    9. Firstly, the hint you provided was awesome. I'm just slow.
      Secondly, on what planet did this happen?! Planet Minnesota?

      Delete
    10. Ship to mn from chi mecca. This was 10y ago prior to maltpocalypse. A bit of good fortune plus knowledge of good whisky.

      Delete
    11. Damn. It's good to know whisky fortune can shine so brightly. Maybe not currently, but once upon a time. I hope all of that Prov treated you well.

      Delete
  5. This is how choice off-the-shelf bottles suddently become available exclusively to the "insider" whiskey customers of lucrative stores. Pappy and BATC may be allocated fall releases, but some spirits managers do make them available (privately to their best customers only) multiple times per year. Stores/bars go broke, get shut-down, or the person managing them is uninformed or careless, and distrubutors divert whiskey caches to their most lucrative retail clients, whom in-turn call/email their best customers and quietly sell them for a tidy profit. And that's a best-case scenario.

    Morpheus: "Welcome to the real world."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment, Anon!

      As a consumer that makes me grumpy, but if I was a store owner I can see why that would be the most profitable decision. And I understand why one would want to focus one's resources on a $10,000 client as opposed to a $500 client. Especially if one is running a small business. It's not my favorite outcome, as a $500 client, but I understand that angle.

      The store owners/managers who buy(?) their allocation for themselves then flip them on the secondary market for 10+ times the rate, that's another story, I guess.

      I just hope that those who get BTAC and Pappy bottles drink the damn things occasionally.

      Delete
  6. What's the likelihood that the owner you talked to "sniffed the air", so to speak, after you'd suddenly relieved them of the other bottles so long unloved and dust-covered, and had the remaining ones squirreled away in the back room (or maybe at home)?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a possibility. I've been joking with folks that it was my fault for buying the bottles in the first place! If they did smarten up about the bourbons, then they put on a good show for me. And, for what it's worth, I told them that I would be (or would have been) happy to have bought the rest of the "discontinued" bottles if they happened to find any more.

      At the same time, they didn't pull their dusty scotch blends off the shelf and nor their tax-stamp era brandies. And I THINK there might be one brand of "discontinued" bourbon still on the shelf, but it's stationed near what looks like a heat vent, so I'm not going to tussle with a bourbon that's been slow cooked for 30 years.

      As Florin mentioned in his comment above, most of these small mom-and-pop liquor stores don't know the value of what they have and are just glad to make a sale and clear that part of the shelf for something more familiar to their clientele. Some may be "sniffing the air" with just a few minutes of internet browsing, but I don't know how often that's happening.

      Delete
  7. I've dusty hunted for years. I've also spent a lot of my time studying bottle labels, distillery and bourbon history. Armed with this information means I can walk into a store and pick the good stuff that I like to drink. I purchased two bottles of Old Fitzgerald for $11.95 with the label clearly indicating "Stitzel Weller Distillery". That doesn't make me anything but an educated consumer who got a great deal.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hear Hear! And good finds for you, as usual. Have you ever found any sketchy rep stuff like this in your hunting out East?

      (On a side note for everyone else, I have Greg to thank for my Old Taylor obsession.)

      Delete