How To Track Down Rare Bourbon Bottles Like A Pro

If you've become enamored with the fascinating and delicious world of bourbon, it's only a matter of time before your interest is piqued by the prospect of starting a unique collection. However, finding the best rare bourbons can be more complicated and costly than you might think.

Bourbon can become rare and highly sought-after for a number of reasons. On one hand, you have bourbons that were bottled decades ago and hold value due to their scarcity. The quality of these might vary, but some collectors are looking to own a piece of history rather than a bottle they intend to drink. As bourbon has become more popular, some producers have run through older whiskey, making it harder to locate those with longer age statements. Distilleries also frequently release the most premium expressions of custom bourbon — small batch and single barrel bottles — in limited quantities and at set times throughout the year, so you need to be on the ball if you want a chance at securing one. While tracking down rare bourbon isn't a cheap or easy task, there are still ways you can improve your ability to locate what you're looking for.

Consider why you want rare bourbon

Before you start, it's important to think about your reasons for hunting down bottles of rare bourbon, as these will inform your approach and decision-making process. Are you searching for the best-tasting whiskeys? Do you see collecting as an investment? Or is tracking down rare bourbons simply a hobby?

If you hope to get the most flavorsome bourbons, remember that rarity and quality aren't synonymous. It's important to understand the factors that make bourbon taste great, including mash bills and aging, and to know your personal preferences. To avoid overspending on whiskey you won't enjoy, research distilleries and previous batches to get an idea of the quality and consistency of its releases. If you're tracking a bottle that's already on the market, check out tasting reviews to see what other connoisseurs think about that particular dram.

If you view rare bourbons as an investment, it's crucial to learn about the whiskey market and what influences a bottle's worth. It might be more prudent to try to predict which cheaper bourbons will become highly sought-after in the future rather than hope an already rare and expensive bottle will continue to appreciate in the long run.

Set a budget

Once you've got a clear idea of why you want to track down rare bourbons, the next step is setting yourself a budget. Once in a while, you might luck out and find a unique bottle tucked away in a liquor store that's being sold below its current value, but generally, rare bourbon is extremely expensive.

By setting yourself a budget, whether it's an overall amount you're willing to spend on whiskey or a set price for a particular bottle, you'll avoid putting yourself at a financial disadvantage for the sake of something that isn't worth doing so. Part of this includes doing enough research to get a clear idea of how much bourbon is worth and how the prices change over time. It's also important to remember that when we want something badly, we're more likely to move our own goalposts and stretch our budgets. Unless you've got unlimited funds to throw at collecting rare whiskeys, it's crucial to set yourself limits and practice discipline when sticking to them. No bourbon is worth putting yourself in a financial pickle, and you might get another shot at picking up a bottle for less in the future.

Join whiskey enthusiast groups

Like many things in life, sometimes going at it on your own isn't the best path to success. You're certainly not alone in your quest for rare bourbon, and joining like-minded communities is a great way to learn more about whiskey while increasing your chances of locating the bottles you want.

The easiest place to start is online, as there are countless web forums and social media groups dedicated to whiskey. By getting involved with these groups and networking, you're going to gain a huge amount of knowledge that will help you make informed purchasing decisions, as well as potential tips on when rare bourbons are being released or where certain bottles have been sighted. If you're lucky, you might even have a local whiskey club that meets in person, which is a superb way to build relationships with people you can trust and share and discuss exciting bourbons. If you feel an in-person meet is something your area is missing, then who knows? Maybe you could be the one to get a new club off the ground.

Sign up to mailing lists

As irritating as constant prompts to sign up for mailing lists can be, they're often the key to getting your hands on rare bourbon before anyone else. Distilleries, online retailers, and brick-and-mortar liquor stores all usually have mailing lists that will keep you up to date with their very latest news, including when limited-release items are due to launch.

In fact, sometimes a mailing list might be the only way you'll hear about a special bourbon launch in enough time to grab a bottle. Mailing lists also tend to come with a range of other advantages for whiskey lovers. Many retailers offer a sign-up discount for new customers, and regularly send out special offers and discounts, while some also offer loyalty schemes and reward systems that can save you money on repeat purchases from that particular store or distillery. It's also not unheard of for these programs to give priority purchasing for special releases to the most loyal customers.

Enter bourbon lotteries

Some distilleries and retailers operate a "first come, first served" model when they're releasing rare bourbons to the public, while others might use a loyalty scheme like we mentioned above. However, many opt for a classic lottery-style system.

Bourbon lotteries are a simple concept — you register your interest in buying a particular bottle of bourbon, entrants' names are drawn at random, and if you're lucky enough to get chosen, you get the opportunity to purchase the bourbon. To give yourself the best chance of winning, it's worth entering as many bourbon lotteries as possible. Even if you're not specifically seeking the bourbon that's up for grabs or it's out of your price range, just having the ability to buy it could help you in your search for special whiskeys. If you've managed to become part of a bourbon lovers network, you might have a contact who would love to buy that bottle through you, and they'll owe you a favor which might come in handy if they win a future lottery for a bottle you're eager to add to your collection.

Make a calendar

Being organized is one of the key skills necessary for sourcing limited-release bourbons. Once you start signing up to enough mailing lists and bourbon lotteries to give yourself a solid chance of success, you'll realize just how many dates and countdowns you'll need to keep track of.

To avoid letting key dates and buying opportunities slip past you, set up a whiskey calendar on your phone or computer that you can update with all new information the moment you get it. If you don't feel the need for a standalone calendar, make sure you're adding the dates to your current calendar with notifications. These will give you enough time to make sure you're free to get in line the moment specific releases go on sale. Even if you're not available at the right times due to other commitments — not everything is as important as bourbon, at least not to everyone — then having enough notice means you might be able to ask a friend, family member, or one of your whiskey group contacts to get in line on your behalf.

Check online marketplaces

After distillery and retailer websites, the next places you'll want to check out if you're tracking down rare bourbons are online marketplaces. However, the usual e-commerce spots, such as Facebook and eBay, won't do the trick as they have restrictions on the sale of alcohol.

Instead, you'll want to look into specialist marketplaces that are designed with spirit sales in mind. Websites like and are both tailored towards customers seeking harder-to-find bottles, with whiskeys being sold by both independent retailers and private sellers. Some of these sites also offer eBay-style auctions that allow you to bid on specific whiskeys, and you can even put your own bottles up for sale if you've got a spare or would rather sell one from your collection to put the proceeds towards a more desirable bourbon. There are a number of reputable marketplaces around, but exercise caution and make sure you're going through one that protects your payments and purchases, especially when buying from unfamiliar private sellers.

Set up Google Alerts

Launched way back in 2003, Google Alerts is a service that allows users to request email notifications when specific keywords or keyword phrases show up online. You can even tailor what kind of resources are scanned, including web pages, blogs, articles, or online stores.

While you won't want to set up notifications for broad search terms like "whiskey" or "bourbon" at the risk of being inundated with thousands of irrelevant alerts, it's an excellent tool for tracking down specific bottles. Even if an alert doesn't end up being a hot lead for locating your desired bourbon, it's still a great way to catch online updates the moment they happen, whether you're keeping an eye out for new releases or hoping an older bottle might spring up for sale. Google also allows you to set up price tracking, so if you've located a rare bourbon that doesn't fall within your current budget, you can request a notification if the price suddenly drops and becomes more palatable.

Attend whiskey events and industry trade shows

Some of the best places to network with whiskey experts and distillers and potentially get your hands on rarer bourbons are whiskey events. These can include awards events where the best distillers compete for accolades, as well as industry trade shows.

It's up to you whether you're prepared to travel to attend world-famous events such as the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown, considered to be the home of bourbon, or if you can make it to a tour date of Whisky Advocate's traveling WhiskyFest. Distilleries from across America will be showcasing the finest bourbons, and you might even get the chance to purchase some if you're lucky. If you can get yourself into an industry trade show, you'll probably get an even better chance to shake hands with distillery representatives and those with the best insider knowledge for tracking down rare bourbon whiskies. At the very least, you'll come away more knowledgeable and with new friends who share your hobby of collecting fine bourbon, and the stronger your network, the better your odds of sourcing what you're after.

Download a whiskey app

If you're serious about tracking down rare bourbon, you're going to want to download a few whiskey-focused apps to give yourself the best chance of finding what you need. It can take some trial and error to figure out which best suits your needs, but Distiller, Drizly, and Whizzky are all good places to start.

Distiller is a great app for logging your own tasting notes and discovering new reviews, and its premium version has excellent perks, including weekly giveaways. Drizly is an app that links you with local retailers, making it easier to search for specific local bottles and order them as soon as they become available. Whizzky is similar to Distiller in that it allows you to create a tasting log, but it also allows you to search for local events and the latest news updates that might give you access to rare bourbons, and you can search for new whiskeys based on specific taste profiles and budgets. Many apps also give you access to expert communities to aid in your hunt for elusive bourbon bottles.

Visit auction house websites

To locate the very rarest bourbons to add to your collection, especially those with a unique heritage that is unlikely to be found on the shelves of even the most dedicated whiskey retailers, you might need to turn to professional auction houses. Nowadays, even the most prestigious auction houses like Sotheby's and Christie's have online auctions for easier access to precious items.

These institutions auction off more than just art and jewelry, and you'll often find bottles of exceptionally rare wines and spirits, including bourbon, listed for sale. On occasion, you can buy items instantly, and they often host eBay-style auctions that allow you to bid over a longer time period. By looking at historic auctions, you can also determine the value of specific bottles, which will make it easier for you to avoid overpaying when you decide to make your own bids. Buying bourbon from these sources comes with a higher guarantee of quality, but don't expect to find huge discounts, as many of these bottles retail for thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of dollars.

Visit distilleries, whiskey bars, and independent retailers

There's no better place to find bourbon than at its very source — the distillery. Here, you'll enrich your whiskey knowledge and be able to meet experts who'll have unparalleled insights on how to track down rare bourbon bottles.

Distilleries almost always have shops, too, and frequently stock bourbons you won't find anywhere else. It's also a good idea to track down specialist whiskey bars that are likely to offer unique bourbons you've yet to try. Aside from being able to taste-test new bourbon before you decide to buy a bottle yourself, the staff in these locations might have access to bottles you wouldn't be able to find through regular retail channels. Independent retailers are another excellent resource for getting your hands on rare bourbon. Aside from supporting a small business, these outlets survive thanks to a passion for whiskey and by attracting customers with spirits they wouldn't find at a standard liquor store or chain retailer.

Check out the airport duty free shops

While we're not suggesting you book an international flight solely for the pursuit of whiskey, it's worth getting to the airport early next time you have a plane to catch to check out the duty-free shops. Often, these shops stock rare and expensive whiskeys for travelers with more expensive tastes.

The duty-free section might also end up netting you a bottle of bourbon you simply can't buy at home. Some distillers produce special edition whiskeys that are made solely for the international market or even just for sale in airports, meaning your only chance of buying one in the US is through a private seller who's sourced it from overseas. If you get the chance on your trip, it's worth seeking out specialist retailers who might be carrying a bourbon you won't find locally; however, if this isn't possible, duty-free is your next best option. The important thing to remember is that most countries have specific limits on the amount of alcohol you can bring in with you before you need to declare it and possibly pay import tax, so research these in advance to avoid breaking any customs regulations.

Be prepared to trade

One of the most effective ways to get your hands on rare bourbon is through trading with like-minded collectors. If you've done a good job of building your network of trusted whiskey enthusiasts, you should find no shortage of connoisseurs willing to make a worthwhile exchange.

To avoid sacrificing a bottle you're particularly fond of, especially if you've gone through a lot of effort to source it, your best bet is to double up on your purchases when you can. This won't always be possible, as some special releases and bourbon lotteries have strict one-per-person policies, but take the opportunity whenever you can afford to do so. In a worst-case scenario where you can't find anyone interested in taking a spare bottle off your hands, it just means you can save one for your collection and crack open the other to enjoy yourself. Bourbon is meant for drinking, after all.