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If You Can’t Get The Bourbon You Love, Love The One You Can Get

Sometimes interviews unexpectedly yield the best off-topic chats, and that happened recently with Sylvia Holden, private barrel specialist at Heaven Hill Distilleries. The topic was single barrels, but the discussion veered onto people’s anger over not being able to get their favorite bourbons anymore. She said:

“Bourbon is like falling in love. You have to find someone you can actually get and someone you can afford.”

After 30 seconds of gut busting laughter, she continued with the analogy:

Old Forester Signature 100
Old Forester Signature 100 (image via Brown-Forman)

“And when it’s over, you can be bitter about all that heartbreak, but what’s that going to get you? When that bottle becomes unattainable, you gotta say to yourself, ‘I’m exhausted. I’m not chasing after that one anymore.’

“So, just stop going crazy and acting out because that broke your heart. Go find something else to enjoy—and something you can afford.”

Holden’s bourbon heart was broken over the virtual disappearance of the once-affordable and deliciously spicy Weller Antique 107 .

“I was so upset when the price got crazy and I couldn’t find it anymore,” she said. “But I knew there were other awesome bourbons out there and I found some.”

There’s a whole lot of life advice in her words, don’t you think? It’s a rare person who isn’t stricken with deep passion for something that tastes amazing or drives like it’s on rails or looks like a glimpse of heaven when framed and hung over the sofa or cuts fish cleaner than the sword of Damocles.

Sadly, that affection for (fill in the blank) is rarely permanent—or at least worth being permanent unless tied to a wonderful human. The more I drink spirits, the more I know there is no holy grail. But I’ve learned that the quest for something different is a lot of fun. The hunt, frankly, is sometimes better than the capture.

Unfortunately, we’re built to crave new things, yet we’re wise to resist some of those urges. King Solomon wrote correctly in the Book of Ecclesiastes that most desires and pursuits are “a meaningless chasing after the wind.” Satisfaction with stuff comes for a time—a season or three if one is lucky—before the fancy fades and we’re off and saddling another hobby horse.

I’ve written many times that Old Forester 100 proof “Signature” bourbon is the best dollar-for-dollar bargain in American whiskey. I’ve found countless others who agree with me (except for the swells at Brown-Forman who prefer Woodford Reserve, which is, if you didn’t know, made from triple-distilled Old Forester distillate), and yet those same folks will say, “But have you tried this? Stuff is great, man!” They know Old Fo’ would suffice as their “desert island” drink, but they’re excited to be on to something hot and new and, hopefully, something they can afford.

I’m right there with them: excited when I find a novelty, happy to share it, but bummed out when its surging popularity dries up its availability and increases its price. When it officially fades from attainability, I can hear Roger Daltry’s words in “Magic Bus,” in my head … I want it, I want it, I want it.

When you hit that point, it’s time to go all Sylvia Holden and say, “I’m not chasing after that one anymore.” It’s also time to quit griping about the bottle braggarts “getting all the good stuff and keeping it” because sometimes that’s just how it works. (Believe me, I’m preaching to myself here as I fight the urge to hope that they get cirrhosis.)

Thirty-five years ago, a girl I dated for two years kicked me to the curb, and I was heartbroken and angry about the fact that I had zero control over the situation. There was no letting go because I was 86’ed and she was gone.

When I saw her 18 years later, I was far wiser and told her, “The best thing you ever did for us was dump me,” and I meant it. I didn’t deserve her poise and maturity and she didn’t deserve my immature antics. But like most everyone who’s ever been there, suffered that, I went on, dated others who were available and who were in my league. Five years after that heartbreak, I met the one who’d become my wife, and after 27 years of happy imperfection, she’s still the one. Not surprisingly, I can’t say the same for bourbon or cars or art or pricey kitchen knives.

The best whiskey you may ever drink may still be out there. And you might not even be searching for it had that distiller, retailer or secondary market hoarder put it beyond what you could reach or afford. Symbolically at least, they kicked you to the curb, so now you’re searching again for a replacement brand—or perhaps something different altogether. There’s always Scotch, rum, tequila, Armagnac, brandy and more. So just take Holden’s advice on the matter: Don’t get mad, just keep on looking until you find something you can have and afford.

Steve Coomes

Steve Coomes is an award-winning journalist and book author specializing in whiskey and food. In his 30-year career, he has edited and written for national trade and consumer publications including USA Today, Southern Living, Delta Sky Magazine, Nation’s Restaurant News, Pizza Today, Restaurant Business, Bourbon + and American Whiskey magazine. In 2013, he authored “Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke,” and in 2020, he authored "The Rebirth of Bourbon: Building a Tourism Economy in Small-Town USA." When not writing about food and drink, he leads large-scale, intimate and virtual food and spirits pairings.

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