What It Really Means For Your Bourbon To Be Allocated

In the world of spirits, expressions are found in a large range of quantities. From ubiquitous labels at convenience stores to local small-batch producers and esteemed rare exemplars, bottles have varying availability. In the world of bourbon, hard-to-find distillations are known as allocated bottles.

Encompassing limited editions, extensively aged renditions, and other collectibles, these bottles possess a special status — in the fact that orders are usually restricted — with distributors. In the U.S., there's a regulated alcohol sales system with distillers selling to such distributing bodies, who then disperse the spirits to points of sale. In the case of these sought-after batches of booze, distributors select who (think bars, stores, eateries, and more) gets what amount of these sparsely available cases to favor sales.

As a result, allocated bottles are only available in limited quantities at select stores. The exact specifics depend on the region and bottle involved. And while rare, it doesn't necessarily mean they are the tastiest — although there's likely a reason the bottles are so in demand. So, what's the best way to purchase one?

Allocated bourbons are seasonally sold in limited quantities

Bourbons can go in and out of allocation, with production and recipe changes heavily impacting availability. Moreover, getting ahold of an allocated bourbon really depends on a specific time and place. Oftentimes, distillers release such limited bottles seasonally, especially towards the end of the year. Keep an eye out on beloved distillers for schedules.

Then, try your luck at the local liquor store or at a chain, as the latter is likely to get more cases shipped. Befriend an employee and sign up for a shop's mailing list; sometimes, the sale is conducted by word of mouth. Other times, stores may simply put their hard-to-find bottles on the shelf, a hidden gem ready to be discovered. And others may mark up the price, reflecting how much the bourbon would resell for.

It can also pay to try and skip the distribution system entirely to track down these gems. Head to the distillery to get ahold of a limited bottle or attend a convention to chat with representatives. As with other collectibles, the search may be just as satisfying as the result. You never know what esteemed bourbons you'll stumble upon in the wild!