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Hunting the elusive Unicorn Bourbon

By Jake Kratzenberg

First, what is a Unicorn Bourbon? It is a bourbon that is hard to find, such as Pappy Van Winkle, Four Roses Limited Editions, or Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection. Hunters travel far and wide to bag a unicorn. I have even heard hunters paying store clerks and owners to notify them when a specific shipment is supposed to arrive.

Bourbon accounts for 37 percent share of the whiskey subcategory and 13 percent share of the total liquor category in 2021. Over the same period in 2020, bourbon held a 40 percent share of the whiskey subcategory and a 14 percent share of the total liquor category.

There are bourbon auction sites where one could find a sought-after bourbon, but that is like shooting ducks in a barrel. Plus, you could be paying well-over suggested retail price. In Kentucky, no law sets a maximum price that retail liquor stores must follow here in Kentucky.

Prestige & Rarity

As stated above, collecting premium bottles of unicorn bourbons requires hunters to enter auctions and lotteries, wait for release dates, or buddy up with a well-sourced liquor store owner. As many of these bourbons are released in small batches or are incredibly old bottles, prices run high. Unicorn bourbons are becoming investment pieces that increase in value over time.

Some unicorn bourbons, like those from Pappy Van Winkle, tend to be scarcely available, to begin with, since they have won many competitions and have been widely praised as a collector’s item. Buffalo Trace only releases 84,000 bottles annually. Because getting a bottle is so rare and the brand so prestigious, those lucky enough to get their hands on one can sell it on the second-hand market for three times the price or more. Currently, wine-searcher.com has a 23-Year-Old Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve’ priced at $6987, which is 2336% over the suggested retail price.

Could the bourbon boom come to an end? It’s not likely; The Kentucky Bourbon Trail reported a rapid increase in 2021 attendance. “Visitors accounted for more than 1.5 million tours at KBT and KBT Craft Tour distilleries last year, compared to a total of only 587,000 stops during the pandemic in 2020, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association announced. That’s off only 13% from the attendance record of 1.7 million set in 2019,” said Eric Gregory, president of The Kentucky Distiller’s Association.

Labels like Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey, or Woodford Reserve are less expensive bourbons with great flavor and will not break the bank.

Happy Hunting

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