Thanks to the cumulative explosion of products over the last 40 years and how easy it is to reach a larger market through the internet nowadays, no matter what you’re into, it’s hard not to get drawn into the collectible side of a hobby. I certainly did.
People no longer just buy a product to open and enjoy. Now every item can be a potential collector's item, a shelf trophy, or an investment. So many people fall for the idea that they will be able to “sit on” or “flip” it, and make untold riches.
The reality is, some do, but most don’t. That is particularly true with bourbon, as it's still (for the most part) illegal to resell bottles, unlike it is with other products. Think about your whiskey collection, what percentage of it is sealed? What is the reason you’re keeping bottles sealed? Do you hope they go up in value? Maybe you have too many bottles open already. Or are you saving bottles to open for a special occasion?
I asked myself all of these questions over the last few weeks. The idea of opening your sealed bottles is more prevalent than ever as COVID-19 has changed so much of our lives recently. It might not be the end of times, but it can be a major wake up call forcing whiskey drinkers to rethink the unthinkable: is it time to open up our sealed bottles? We all live life expecting there will be a tomorrow, but when that ideal is spun on its head, is it time to rethink just what our plans are regarding our whiskey collections?
This could mean different things for different people. For some, it’s popping the corks on all of their sealed bottles, others may sell bottles because they lost their job and need the money, and for others, it could mean a reevaluation of certain bottles in their collection. I broke down four categories that people seem to segment their collections into, and why each one justifies opening up your bottles.
First, the bottles held for quick flipping.
The reality is, few bourbons command top dollar in the short term. If you can purchase Buffalo Trace Antique Collection bottles at MSRP, then you can make a decent buck. Other limited releases might net you a few hundred dollars soon after release, but the majority will not. It’s very likely secondary market bourbon prices will fall in 2020, and could take some time to recover. If you lose your job and need money, that’s one thing. If not, is it really worth selling a sought after limited release bottle to make $50? Then there’s volume. Unless you have cases of a particular high-value bourbon, reselling a particular bottle is only going to net you a very short-term monetary gain. During these trying times, a bottle you planned on selling is probably going to taste even better open than at any other time.
Second, the bottles held for special occasions.
We all save sealed bourbons to open when the time is right. It might be to commemorate an anniversary, birthday, job promotion, a last hoorah before a friend moves away, or seeing a friend after a prolonged period of time. Whatever the reason, there’s nothing better than blowing off the dust on that special bottle and finally opening it. Can you think of a better time than right now to finally open one of your special occasion bottles? You might not be able to share it with someone in person, but mailing them a sample and doing a virtual tasting could create a lasting memory during this current health crisis.
Third, the bottles held for retirement.
Many of us have bottles in our collections that we plan on cracking open when we retire. We finally reach that watershed moment when every bottle is up for opening. I can imagine it's an exhilarating experience. Anyone that follows the now-retired whiskey writer John Hansell’s twitter account can see the fun he has doing exactly this. Have you ever thought about exactly how many bottles you plan on saving for retirement? What if during this scary time you took one of those bottles and said to yourself, “What if there isn’t a tomorrow, what should I open tonight?” What bottle would you open?
Fourth, the bottles held for investment.
If you’re a serious investor buying cases of particular products that's one thing, but if you’re casually saving a few bottles here and there in hopes of selling them in 20 or 30 years, how much money do you really think you’re going to make? No one will turn down a few extra thousand dollars, and even if you reach five figures that’s impressive, but think about how much money you actually have to tie up in a product that may or may not appreciate in value for a 30 year time period? There’s better odds that you would have made more investing in other ways, because the reality is, very few bourbons will command top dollar and it's not like you can buy unlimited amounts for investment purposes anyways. With that perspective, maybe it's time to divvy up some of your investment bottles into the categories above and even crack a few open.
This revelation came to me as I proudly looked at my collection one day and overheard the current healthcare crisis on TV. I’ve never been shy about opening a rare bottle to share with important people in my life, but I noticed just how many sealed bottles I own and wonder just what I was planning on doing with them. I was lucky enough to get into bourbon before the bourbon boom, so I have some particularly special bottles that I’ve held onto in hopes of striking it rich one day. Now I look at them and feel how silly that mentality was. There’s nothing wrong with keeping bottles sealed for a rainy day, but it’s amazing how extremely thrilling it is to grab an old bottle you’ve been saving and suddenly crack it open.
A lot of work often goes into obtaining the special bottles we own, and it seems disheartening to throw it in a box and send it off to someone you don’t know. Bourbon drinkers often get attached to the bottles they worked so hard to hunt down and claim their own. To give it all away for a few extra bucks with the hope the delivery company doesn’t accidentally smash it, seems like a fool’s errand.
When the COVID-19 crisis is behind us this revaluation may seem emotional-fueled, but sometimes events like this can help put things into a different perspective.
All I know is life is short. I plan on opening some of my sealed bottles and drinking my good stuff sooner rather than later.