As bourbon becomes more and more popular in the U.S., finding that new special release has become more of a hunt than ever. Forget about relationships with store owners, knowing someone that works for a distributor or checking every store in your town when a hot new release comes out. The majority of the time none of that matters because geography is the single biggest factor that decides if you’re getting that new limited edition bottle. Simply, some have it easier than others because it’s not a level playing field out there.
The U.S. government basically leaves it up to the states to decide how they manage their alcohol sales. Besides the federal overarching 3-tier system of distillery/distributor/store, 50 states means an almost endless amount of different laws that govern how consumers can buy their booze. All of these different laws can affect things like when a state gets shipments, how much they get, how soon they approve them for sale, and bottom-line consumer cost based on how much tax is levied.
Is there a true “best state to buy bourbon in?” Do some bourbon drinker have so many cards stacked against them that owning a bottle of BTAC or even a new release like I.W. Harper, Woodford Rye, or Blade & Bow is nothing more than a pipe dream?
A few of the main factors that determine if a state is favorable to bourbon buyers are timely releases, breadth of selection, how much the price deviates from MSRP, and the amount of limited releases that make it to a state.
It’s difficult to find many data points on these factors, so this is where the bourbon community will come in. Over the course of this living article we hope to track, adjust, and in the end make some general conclusions on which the best (and worst) states are to buy bourbon in.
In our initial research we have found one clear and obvious answer to our question, but we also realize how much more information is needed to present a clear understanding of the entire landscape. We have broken down the main factors below, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Community feedback is essential to understanding the true scope of the buying diversity in this country.
You read on our Bourbon Release Calendar that a distillery is releasing a new product. You go down to your local store and inquire about the new product. The store owner/manager then inquires with their distributor about it. The majority of the time they have no idea when the new product will make it to their state, but they’ll do what they can to (eventually) get the product in their stores and in your hands. Days, weeks, or even months go by without a peep from your local store and anxiety sets in. It seems like every other state in the country has already been shipped the bottle and you’re going to miss out. You then take to online trading groups and scour as many online liquor stores as you can in hopes of finding this bottle.
The sad thing is, we’re not just talking about limited releases. For many states it takes many months for even a simply new product to reach the shelves. In other industries this just isn’t the case. Country-wide release days are the norm. Imagine if the newest album, video game, or book release was scattered at different times throughout the country. What if the newest summer blockbuster that was out in other parts of the country didn’t make it to your state until October?
For the “Timely Releases” factor in determining what state receives bourbon releases the quickest, we’ll focus on five recent releases. We tracked down some info on what states have received these bottles so far, but more community input is needed. You can rate your state’s timely releases in our quick survey at the end of this article.
Recent Release Distribution:
E.H. Taylor Cured Oak: KY, OH, TN, PA, TX; Unconfirmed: MA, KS, FL, NYC
I.W. Harper: KY, MA, MN, CO, FL, CT, NY, IN, NC, Wash DC
I.W. Harper 15 Year: KY, MT, UT
Blade & Bow: KY
Blade & Bow 22 Year: KY
Of course getting Pappy and BTAC in a timely manner can also be seen as a positive factor on the overall ranking of a state. Using Bourbonr.com’s 2014 Pappy and BTAC tracking maps there are a few clear “winners” and “losers” for this data point.
Pappy Release Date by State:
ND, IA, WV, - 10/23
MD - 10/24
NC, IL - 10/30
TX, ID - 11/1
KY, AK, KA - 11/4
NY - 12/15
UT - 12/23
OK, NV - ? (Very Late)
BTAC Release Date by State:
MD - 9/19
WI - 9/23
KA - 9/24
IL - 9/26
MI, WV - 9/30
MA - 10/4
KY - 10/7
NB, CA - 10/8
NC, IA - 10/9
NY - 12/31
OK - ?
This factor is a little harder to pin down. When you shop around town, do you feel your state provides you with a wealth of bourbon options? For this data point, we’re EXCLUDING limited releases. This is EVERYDAY selection. You often hear people online complaining that their small state or state west of the Mississippi doesn’t have the selection that many bigger states or states closer to Kentucky have. Eighteen states in this country have state-controlled liquor sales. We often hear from people in those states that their everyday selection pales in comparison to neighboring non-government-run states. You can rate your state’s everyday selection in our survey at the end of this article.
AL, ID, IA, ME, MD, MI, MS, MT, NH, NC, OH, OR, PA, UT, VT, VA, WV, WY
If there is one thing that varies greatly from state to state it’s price. When we post our reviews, listing a bottle’s MSRP is usually one of the last things we add because it is one of the most time consuming parts. If we can’t get it from the distillery, tracking it down can’t be quite a pain. Cost of living is different in every state, so store markups can vary. We estimate a 30% markup to be the average rate, but compare prices in Washington D.C. to Louisville, Kentucky or New York City to upstate New York. All of a sudden MSRP is truly a suggested price.
One of the biggest factors that affects price is state tax on alcohol. According to TaxFoundation.org (and our own experience in the state), Washington State has the highest tax on alcohol at $14.27 per gallon. The lowest: New Hampshire and Wyoming with no tax.
Be sure to rate your state’s price points in our survey at the end of this article.
Every bourbon lover has a love-hate relationship with limited edition releases. It wasn’t long ago Pappy would sit on the shelves in Liquor Barn in Louisville for relatively long periods during the year. Now anything that is considered even slightly “limited” is gobbled up. Sometimes this is true simply because a particular state just doesn’t get many limited edition releases. All of a sudden that slightly limited edition bottle is all that more appealing. To make a state a great one to buy bourbon in, getting those limited edition bottles means a lot to most bourbon enthusiasts. Besides getting to taste some great bourbon, having that special bottle on your shelf adds that much more pride and clout when you’re sharing it with friends.
This is another difficult factor to find a data point for. Kentucky is the clear winner as it’s ground zero of the bourbon market. The state is where the majority of bourbon is made and therefore a large amount of bourbon drinkers, lots of press focus, and the shortest shipping distance. Kentucky also takes the top billing for wine taxes, adding an additional $3.56 per gallon to the price of wine which may play a role in making wine a little less appealing, and bourbon a little more.
Be sure to rate the breadth of limited releases that make it to your state in our survey at the end of this article.
In the initial edition of this living article we tried to establish some basic factors that affect bourbon purchasing in certain states and the reasons behind them. With the data points we listed and our own experience with certain states, it’s still hard to present the big picture at this time. That is why we need you, the bourbon community, to help us form a more detailed scope of bourbon buying landscape. You are in the bourbon trenches, the front-line when it comes to searching out America’s native spirit.
Filling out the short survey below will provide an interesting big picture of how “easy” some bourbon lovers have it when making a purchase, while others have to move mountains to achieve the same thing.
It should at least be clear now that it is not a level playing field out there. Yes the Internet has helped even some of the peaks and valleys, but many people still live in “no-ship states,” shipping costs can make you second guess a purchase, and waiting a week for it to be delivered can take some of the fun out of it. If in the end we have a clear picture of the best and worst states to buy bourbon will that truly change anything? Maybe not, but it certainly could be interesting to find out.
Written by Eric - 05/2015