Bourbon as a whole has become a big player on the liquor scene in recent years, but part of the special appeal of cult bourbons — on top of their craft quality, of course — is their exclusivity. Cult bourbons aren’t made in huge quantities, so some of the pleasure is in the hunt. Not surprisingly, that hunt comes at a cost; these bourbons often run two, three or many times more the price of more common bottles.
When it comes to the hunt for Pappy Van Winkle, it may surprise you to know who is among the people unhappy about the long lines and waitlists: Julian Van Winkle III.
“We hate to disappoint people,” he says simply.
Van Winkle, whose family has been generations in the bourbon business, points out that today’s 23-year-old batch was based on demand levels of the late ’90s. The company is making more now, though they won’t say how much more.
Larger producers also are looking to capitalize on this trend. Maker’s Mark has its Maker’s 46 bourbon, aged longer inside barrels containing seared French oak staves. And Diageo, the big spirits company, has its Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Co. in Tennessee, which has released two limited-edition bourbons, Blowhard Whiskey and Barterhouse Whiskey. A third, Rhetoric, is planned.
Orphan barrels are just what they sound like, barrels scattered in various warehouses that were intended to go into a particular blend but for one reason or another didn’t. The oldest barrel, Old Blowhard, is 26 years old. The Orphan Barrel project is not limited to bourbon; a team also is scouting warehouses in Scotland and Ireland for likely candidates.
“We’ve found some amazing whiskey out there and more to come, as well,” says Ewan Morgan, Diageo’s master of whiskey in charge of the orphan barrel program.