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Tasting Notes On Bourbon Whiskeys That Sell For A Huge Markup

If you took Econ 101, you learned all about the effects of supply and demand. In the simplest terms, if there’s demand for a product without much supply, the price will be driven up. This is true in sneakers and it’s definitely true in the world of bourbon. If a well-known distillery releases a much-coveted expression of high-quality whiskey but it only makes a few thousand bottles available, demand will push the price well past the MSRP.

The boom of whiskey’s secondary market only exacerbates this situation and has led to what whiskey aficionados refer to as “unicorn” bottles — those dream drams that never make it onto the shelves of local liquor stores. The kind of bottles that you can only purchase (at cost) if you are friends with someone at the company or (well above cost) on the secondary market. Or… in this case, you might score a tiny taster because you write about whiskey and the distilleries want you to taste their best stuff so that you cover it, thereby keeping the whole supply-hype-demand-markup machine running.

Below, you’ll find tasting notes on ten bourbons that sell for a giant markup. These are all amazing, high-quality, sometimes life-changing sips, but they often cost an absolute ton more than they should. We do our best to help you parse that below.

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon

Old Forester

ABV: 49%

Price: MSRP $130 (secondary $900)

The Story:

Old Forester has been releasing its beloved Birthday Bourbon for twenty years. It’s made to celebrate the birthday of its founder George Garvin Brown. The ten-year-old barrels picked for the bottling are chosen for their unique and exceptional quality. Its price is driven up by the fact that it’s produced in extremely small quantities as the total is supposed to be the equivalent of one day of production at the distillery.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find aromas of dried orange peels, buttery caramel, and charred oak. The first sip yields hints of coconut cream, brown sugar, sweet treacle, and subtle cinnamon. The last sip is long, very dry, and ends with a nice kick of spicy cinnamon sugar.

Bottom Line:

This aptly named bourbon is the perfect birthday gift for a friend, family member, or, better yet, yourself… if you can pay somewhere in the $300 range (still a ton!).

What I would pay right now: $300

Michter’s 10 Year Single Barrel

Michter

ABV: 47.2%

Price: MSRP $130 (secondary $300)

The Story:

Michter’s is a big name in the whiskey world. Its most sought-after bottle is its 10-Year Single Barrel Bourbon. Aged for ten years in fire-charred, new American oak barrels, this single barrel, very limited expression fetches much more than its $130 price tag on the open market.

Tasting Notes:

Take a whiff of this very special expression and your olfactories will be met with essences of brown sugar, toasted oak, and subtle cinnamon spice. On the palate, you’ll be greeted with flavors of toasted marshmallows, maple candy, buttery caramel, and allspice. The last gulp is long, lingering, and ends with a nice combination of charred oak and caramel candy.

Bottom Line:

You might be confused as to why a ten-year-old bourbon is so expensive, but after one taste you’ll agree that this is so good that even the markup price isn’t terrible.

What I would pay right now: $200

W.L. Weller 12

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 45%

Price: MSRP $40 (secondary $300)

The Story:

Buffalo Trace is the name when it comes to bourbon. Even its flagship $20 Buffalo Trace Bourbon is memorable. But the brand’s W.L. Weller 12 is one of its most beloved and also most expensive bourbon whiskeys on the secondary market. The 12 year age statement is longer than most wheated bourbons. The result is a luxuriously mellow, velvety smooth sipping experience.

Tasting Notes:

If you take time to nose this expression, you’ll find aromas of caramel corn, toasted vanilla beans, and a nice nutty sweetness. Take one sip and you’ll be well aware that this is one of the best wheated whiskeys on the market — with its rich, dark oak, buttery caramel, sweet almond cookie, and subtle cinnamon flavors. The finish is long, full of warming heat, and ends with a nice kick of caramelized sugar.

Bottom Line:

If you find yourself with a bottle of this rare offering, don’t even consider mixing it with anything. In fact, we suggest drinking it without ice to really take in all of the nuanced flavors. And while the markup here is huge… you’re probably going to be stuck with it for a while. This was never destined to be a $40 bottle.

What I would pay right now: $150

E.H. Taylor, Jr. Small Batch

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 50%

Price: MSRP $40 (secondary $150)

The Story:

Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. is known as the “Father of the Modern Bourbon Industry” because of his legendary impact and innovations in the industry. In his honor, Buffalo Trace makes E.H. Taylor, Jr. Small Batch. Its age isn’t disclosed, but since it’s Bottled in Bond, it’s at least four years old.

Tasting Notes:

Take a moment to breathe in the elegant aromas of dried cherries, caramelized sugar, and charred oak. On the palate, you’ll find sweet cinnamon, buttery caramel, molasses, and toasted vanilla beans. The last sip is long, has a nice bit of warmth, and ends with a nice mix of brown sugar and subtle spicy pepper.

Bottom Line:

When it comes to hard-to-find bottles, this is one of the easier to get your hands on. Sure it’s listed for around $40, but you can easily find a bottle for around $200 — that might be enticing enough for you to grab, depending on your bankroll.

What I would pay right now: $100

Old Fitzgerald 15 Bottled-In-Bond

Heaven Hill

ABV: 50%

Price: MSRP $150 (secondary $500)

The Story:

Even before you know what’s inside it, you’ll probably be struck by the bottle itself. Old Fitzgerald 15 Bottled-In-Bond is packaged in a container that’s also a beautifully designed decanter. Inside is a complex, high-wheat bourbon that’s worth its mighty price.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find charred oak, cocoa powder, vanilla beans, and an underlying nutty sweetness. Take a sip and find yourself immersed in notes of pipe tobacco, caramelized sugar, and buttercream. That’s all rounded out with a subtle, cracked pepper finish.

Bottom Line:

Old Fitzgerald 15 is a showcase bottle. If you can get your hands on one, put it front and center in the middle of your collection. It’s bold, sleek in design, and delicious. At $400, you could think of it as paying $300 for the juice and $100 for the decanter.

What I would pay right now: $300

Baker’s Single Barrel 13

Jim Beam

ABV: 53.5%

Price: MSRP $100 (secondary $500)

The Story:

If you’re a bourbon drinker, you’ve probably tried Baker’s 7-year-old offering from the brand’s small-batch expressions. But perhaps you haven’t tried Baker’s Single Barrel 13 — it’s damn hard to find. As with so many of these drams, demand has driven the price through the roof.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll smell the musty scents of the rickhouse itself as well as vanilla beans, charred oak, and sweet treacle. Take a drink and you’ll be met with flavors of barrel char, dried leather, buttery caramel, and cooking spices. On the finish, you’ll find lingering hints of butterscotch and cinnamon.

Bottom Line:

If you already own a bottle of two of the original Baker’s Bourbon, find a bottle of this gem (cross your fingers to nab it at closer to $300) and compare the two.

What I would pay right now: $250

Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 45%

Price: MSRP $40 (secondary $300)

The Story:

Like many well-known bourbons, this rare bottle was named after a legend — former Buffalo Trace Master Distiller Elmer T. Lee. Made up of hand-picked barrels that were chosen to be a nice balance between sweet and spicy, the mash bill here isn’t listed but it’s assumed that there’s a higher-than-normal rye content (between 12-15%).

Tasting Notes:

Take a whiff and you’ll find clean, sweet aromas of toasted marshmallows, vanilla, and dried leather. On the palate, you’ll pick up clover honey, dried fruits, creamy vanilla, and just a hint of peppery rye spice. The finish is fairly long, filled with pleasing heat, and ends with a nice mix of charred oak and pipe tobacco.

Bottom Line:

Start a collection of bourbon pioneers and make this bottle your first addition. It’s a well-balanced expression perfectly suited for slow sipping while you think about the history of whiskey in America. However, we like it a lot better for around four times its MSRP.

What I would pay right now: $150

Van Winkle Special Reserve 12

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 45.2%

Price: MSRP $79.99 (secondary $1,000)

The Story:

When it comes to hard-to-find bottles, the name Van Winkle always comes up. We could fill this whole list with bottles from the Van Winkle family. But we chose Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 because of the low suggested price and the difficulty in finding it. Aged for 12 years, this whiskey is known for its sweet, rich, mellow, easy-drinking nature.

Tasting Notes:

Take a moment to breathe in the aromas (for god’s sake, take your time with this) and you’ll be treated to the scents of wood char, brown sugar, and vanilla beans. When you take a sip, you’ll find velvety waves of sticky toffee pudding, allspice, buttery caramel, sweet vanilla, and a subtle nutty, almond cookie finish.

Bottom Line:

Old Rip Van Winkle 10 and Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 are both bottles in the Van Winkle family that retail for less than $100. But good luck finding either for anywhere close to that number.

Zach Johnston said in his Van Winkle brand ranking that he’d pay $80 for this. I think it’s a value at way more than that — but we’re agreed that a grand is out of reach.

What I would pay right now: $500

William Larue Weller

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 67.25%

Price: MSRP $99 (secondary $1,500)

The Story:

It should come as no surprise that there’s yet another Buffalo Trace expression on this list. William Larue Weller is aged for over 12 years and bottled at an extremely potent 134.5 proof. It’s well known for its mellow, soft flavor due to the liberal use of wheat instead of rye in the mash bill.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find hints of dried fruits, charred oak, pipe tobacco, and fragrant caramel candy. On the palate, you’ll find flavors of toasted marshmallows, maple candy, creamy vanilla, and subtle cinnamon spice. The finish is medium, mellow, and ends with a final flourish of buttery caramelized sugar.

Bottom Line:

This creamy, buttery, mellow whiskey is perfectly suited for slow sipping neat or on the rocks while you try not to think about the crazy amount of money you spent to get a bottle.

What I would pay right now: $300

George T. Stagg

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 65.2%

Price: MSRP $99 (secondary $600)

The Story:

*DJ Khaled voice* “And another one!”

Another whiskey named after a bourbon pioneer, George T. Stagg — this one is uncut, unfiltered, and, while we don’t know the make-up of the mash bill, we do know this expression was aged for over fifteen years. The result is a high-proof bourbon that still manages to be extremely smooth and sippable.

Tasting Notes:

Give this whiskey a proper nosing and you’ll find aromas of cocoa powder, toasted vanilla beans, sugar cane juice, and wood char. Take a sip and enjoy the flavors of pipe tobacco, dried leather, sweet raisins, creamy butterscotch, brown sugar. It all ends in a nice mix of mint and buttery caramel.

Bottom Line:

If you’re starting a collection, George T. Stagg is a great bottle to begin your journey with. It’s potent, rich, and perfect for sipping on a cold evening.

What I would pay right now: $250

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