I know it’s a bit of a detour from my usual fair, but bourbon is something that I feel every bit as passionate about as the state of world affairs. While I do like a dram or two of scotch on occasion, there is something about bourbon that I just find much more appealing. Even more so, I like finding a good, cheap, under-appreciated bottle that the snobs walk right past without a second look.
Drinking bourbon is not so much on my mind as much as procuring it is though. I peruse forums and of course the r/bourbon subreddit, and I see all the humble bragging that goes on when someone snags a limited run bottle, or what is otherwise known as a unicorn. There is even a pejorative for those who spend inordinate amounts of time and energy chasing unicorns, and that term is “tater”. These are people who seek bourbon, not because they are experts that know what they are doing. Quite the opposite in fact. They mostly acquire rare-ish bottles of bourbon because they want to pose next to them in a selfie and post it to instagram. I’m not sure why or how that name came about, but I’ve seen these taters in action first hand. First though, imma throw out a bit of personal history for context.
I came of age in the early 90’s. It was an age when nobody was out there calling themselves bourbon aficionados, Fred Minnick was still in high school, and the recent renaissance in bourbon was yet to begin in full. I was a Jack & Coke guy from the start, and while I dabbled in the clearer liquors every so often, and even (shudder) a phase where I only drank long island ice teas, I always came back to whiskey. Everyone who knew me, knew that I drank Jack & Coke and that I rarely departed from it. I’d had a few other whiskeys over the years, most of them cheap and bottom shelf, but always as a shots and never for the taste or for sipping neat.
Then, around six or seven years ago when bourbon sales were just starting to surpass rum and vodka, I had what was to be my third kidney stone. It was a particularly rough one, and it was much too large to pass on my own without surgical intervention. It was determined after analyzing the stone that my consumption of Coke, or more to the point the cola nut that Coke is made out of was the main culprit. From that point forward, I cut out Coke from my diet (and all soda entirely after my fourth stone), and found myself needing a new go-to drink. Around this time I had discovered Bulliet, and began trying other cocktails like manhattans and old fashioned’s. I quickly discovered that I had a taste for bourbon and rye, and more specifically, I discovered that I was enjoying it more and more neat.
It was a few years more before I got my first taste of Pappy’s, and after that I found myself chasing that experience again and again. To my dismay though, I learned that not only was it incredibly expensive even at retail prices, but it was more likely that I would win the mega millions before ever laying hands on a bottle of Pappy’s for myself. Without really knowing what it was, or what it meant, I was on track to become one of these infamous taters that are so maligned amongst bourbon enthusiasts. But then I encountered them in person, and it was an eye opening experience.
It started on a Wednesday morning, and I was making a stop at my local liquor store at the Kroger down the street, because that is the day of the week that they receive new stock. I had been doing that for some weeks, and usually not finding anything rare that I was looking for, but that week the store clerk had asked if I was looking for anything in particular. I rattled off a couple that I’ve never personally seen on the store shelves, Blanton’s being one of them, when he informed me that they would have Blanton’s in the next morning. I said, “see you tomorrow morning”, and planned on showing up the next day when the liquor store opened at 9:00 AM.
Fast-forward to the next day, I cruise in to the Kroger parking lot around a quarter to 9:00 AM. Thinking that I was too early, I foolishly sat in the car and listened to the radio for about five to ten minutes. When I finally exited my vehicle and walked in to the store, I saw a line had already formed at the entryway to the liquor store. I was about ninth or tenth in line, so I thought my chances surely must be good for snagging a bottle. When the liquor store finally opened though, I was soon to be disappointed.
They had six fucking bottles of Blanton’s! Six! I found this out only after the sixth person in line had purchased the last one. All the while, the taters, who were waiting who knows how long before I got there at the front of the line, were discussing the god damned bottle tops, and how they already had the particular one’s that they had just purchased. Clearly they already had a collection of Blanton’s sitting at home, and were merely trying to round out their stupid bottle top collection. Meanwhile, I just wanted a bottle to drink, and these assholes were lamenting that the bottle tops were already in their collection. I wanted to punch those fuckers in the balls, take their undeserved bottles of delicious bourbon, and make a run for the parking lot.
Now it’s not as if I’ve never had Blanton’s, because there are bars and restaurants around me that have it for around $10 to $12 a pour. It is a good bourbon, though at $60 a bottle retail, it’s hard to justify those prices for a mere pour. Snagging a bottle to enjoy at home therefore would be the most economical way to go. However, just seeing these douchebags who spend all their time buying and hoarding overly hyped bottles of bourbon was enough to turn me off to it. I walked out once that sixth bottle was sold, and resolved to never spend another moment waiting in line behind those fucking taters again.
Eventually (I hope) the craze will settle down, especially after supply finally catches up to meet demand and the aforementioned taters move on to some other equally douchey endeavor and allow stock to accumulate where it belongs; on the store shelves. Given that it takes around four to seven years from distillation to bottling for most bourbons, patience is definitely a virtue and I think I may be able to wait the taters out. For now though, I’m quite content to try out as many bourbons as I can. So far I’ve found many readily available bottles, all $60 and below, that are just as good if not better. They may not have fancy, collectible bottle tops or require a sleepover in front of the liquor store to obtain, but that is quite alright by me. I prefer to enjoy bourbon and rye, not hunt bottles down like they are a Babe Ruth rookie card.
The only other option, and it’s a rather appealing one, is to take a road trip and go directly to the source. Hailing as I do from the Buckeye state, a short jaunt across the state line into Kentucky bourbon trail country is entirely doable for a weekend. Not only are there some bourbons that are only sold within the borders of Kentucky, it’s also a chance to get out of town for a change of scenery with my wife and friends in tow. After all, what good is a bottle of bourbon if I can’t just sit back and enjoy it with the people I care about most in life. Fuck you taters, see ya in hell!