Before this gets started, yes, this article IS about whiskey and bourbon, just stay with me please.
Other than whiskey and bourbon, my favorite hobby is fishing. Specifically kayak fishing. With a kayak, you can get way into the backwaters of any body of water, places that a bass boat, john boat, or even a canoe can’t get. It dramatically opens up your options for where to fish.
Getting into those backwaters often leads to what fishermen call a honey hole, a location that presents the ideal conditions for catching fish. In order to be a honey hole, the spot CAN NOT be someplace that is common knowledge. If it’s a common knowledge location, it’s not a honey hole because more people fish it, and it no longer presents ideal conditions. SO, fishermen protect their honey holes like crazy.
Of course, whiskey enthusiasts have our own honey holes. I see signs of them on Social Media all the time. “Anyone know where I can get a bottle of Blanton’s for less than $100?” Someone typically replies, “Just sent a DM, check it out.” That’s helpful, you’re sharing your honey hole, but on a very limited basis.
I get it, I promise I do. We have our honey holes, and are worried that if they become more well known, our access to the whiskey and bourbon we love will be even harder to find, and at an even less fair price.
“It’s not about the whiskey. It’s about the lives you touch and the people you meet. The whiskey is the byproduct of a good relationship.” Freddie Johnson, Buffalo Trace Distillery, from the movie Neat.
BUT, here’s the thing. Fishing and buying whiskey are NOT the same thing. With fish, you can’t have a conversation. You can’t build a relationship with the fish to improve your chances of catching one.
With buying bourbon, you CAN and SHOULD build that relationship with the retailers.
The most prized bottles of whiskey I’ve ever owned did NOT come from a shelf. They weren’t bottles that I stumbled upon. They were bottles that I got a phone call from someone at the liquor store and when I answered the phone, the voice on the other side said, “Hey Dan, distributor just came in and dropped off a bottle of x. I’ll sell it to you for $x. If you want it, let me know and I’ll hold on to it for you.”
“You’re never going to replicate what someone else does even if they give you the exact mash bill, the same yeast strain, etc. Stills are different, water is different, distillers are different, and your mood is different.” Alan Bishop, Spirits of French Lick, online chat with St. Louis Bourbon Society
What Mr Bishop says above is equally true for buying whiskey as it is for making whiskey. All money is not the same. My $150 in your honey hole isn’t going to go nearly as far as your $150 at your honey hole. I’m likely to buy different things with my $150 than you do with your $150. The clerks you love might annoy me. I’m saying, there are differences, and when it comes to the relationship, they matter.
If you’ve built a relationship with the folks at your honey hole, the chances of me getting dibs on a bottle you want are very very slim, because I’M NOT YOU. They know you, they like your personality, they know what you’re looking for, and you’ve been giving them business for a long time.
And sure, over time, maybe I do start to build my own relationship at your honey hole, but chances are high that store owner is going to remember that you’re the reason I came into that store in the first place.
So, let’s help each other out. Let’s share more information about our honey holes. It’ll be better for all of us enthusiasts, it will be better for the owner that are doing the right thing, and it will be better for the whiskey and bourbon community at large.
And yes, in my opinion, even when it comes to buying whiskey, that phenomenal quote from Freddie Johnson applies, “The whiskey is the byproduct of a good relationship.”