Winkle Inflation: The Saga Of Price Tracking Hot Bourbons

Winkle Inflation: The Saga Of Price Tracking Hot Bourbons

By Guest Post / September 29, 2015

Editor’s Note: This guest post comes to us courtesy of Jonathan Reeve at Wine-Searcher.com, a partner site we often refer readers to in order to hunt down a bottle of whiskey for sale from a range of possible online retailers.

The Garden of Eden is an unlikely place to begin talking about Bourbon prices, but that pesky serpent – the one with the apple – has a lot to answer for. It knew full well that humans always want what they can’t have. Poor Eve didn’t stand a chance. Forbidden fruit, hidden treasure or rare whiskey, it makes no difference; the rarer or harder-to-get something is, the more we want it.

That’s why, when the limited edition Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and Rip Van Winkle Bourbons are released each fall, the American whiskey world goes crazy for a couple of months. Long lines of Bourbon fans form outside liquor stores, the most die-hard among them even camping overnight to reserve their place in queue. Online searches and secondary market prices go through the roof too, as confirmed by the red-hot servers at Wine-Searcher.com.

Van Winkle bottles

image via Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery

The driving force behind this obsessive behaviour has changed over time. Once upon a time, only committed Bourbon enthusiasts knew about old Pappy, and the Antique Collection. In the past few years, however, the fame and prestige of these élite whiskeys has spread, meaning that more and more people want to get their hands on a bottle. Everyone wants to be seen buying, selling or sipping these precious nectars. Like rocket fuel, this ‘conspicuous consumption’ propels prices to all-new highs, with a fresh injection each fall.

The Wine-Searcher team first observed this phenomenon in the fall of 2013. For no apparent reason, searches for the Pappy Van Winkles suddenly increased in mid-September, and carried on growing for weeks. Prices followed shortly after, inflating to impressive new heights – whence ‘Winkle Inflation’.

In case you’re not familiar with Wine-Searcher, it’s a vast search engine and database of wines, beers and spirits, with around 7.9 million prices from 55,000 wine and spirits merchants at last count.

Don’t let the name fool you into thinking it’s only about wine. More than 600 Bourbons from 30 U.S. states are now listed there, and in 2015 so far the search engine has processed more than a million Bourbon searches. The most popularly searched Bourbons are, unsurprisingly, the Van Winkles, Elmer T. Lee, A.H. Hirsch Reserve and the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.

Data and Graphs

The graphs below show two kinds of Winkle Inflation: micro and macro. ‘Micro’ is witnessed in the fall, during the flurry of acquisition as the new releases hit the market. The macro effect is the overall increase in the whiskeys’ average prices over the past few years.

Pappy Family Reserve23

Special Reserve Lot B

Handmade

Over the next couple of months, we’ll be tracking the searches and prices for the Pappy Van Winkle and Antique Collection Bourbons. If the past couple of years are anything to go by, we should see some pretty dramatic fluctuations. Assuming this prediction is correct, I’ll report in with a follow-up piece at the end of the year, to crunch the numbers on Winkle Inflation 2015.

Happy sipping folks.

NB: The data and anecdotal evidence in this piece are entirely genuine and serious, even if the overall tone is intentionally light-hearted – the title in particular. It just doesn’t pay to get all heavy and serious about something as ethereal and as good-quality Bourbon.