Behind the Bar
So You Want to Sell Limited Edition Alcohol? Here’s How.
Here's the inside scoop on getting the hard-to-find bottles that everybody covets.
Spotted Cow beer, per the brewery’s choice, is only sold in Wisconsin. Bars and restaurants outside the state carrying the alcohol can actually be fined for selling the product to customers. This beer is far from the only exclusive alcohol product sold in the world, though. High-end spirits often come from limited-edition batches and small craft runs—although not usually limited to a particular state. So how do establishments get their hands on these bottles?
According to Kristine Sherred, the marketing and communications manager for BC Merchants in Chicago, it mostly starts with an allocation process. Producers decide how much of their product is available to go to each state, and then the wholesalers and distributors in each state decide who gets what.
From there, as with mostly everything in life, getting exclusive booze into your bar or restaurant is all about connections.
“It’s about who you know and what your spending power is,” said Neil O’Mara, general manager at the Randolph Tavern in Chicago, where he carries limited-edition Boss Hog whiskey. He said that if you’ve been in the business for a long time and know the distillers and distributors, they tend to come to you with suggestions or when they have a special bottle. And vice versa, if there’s something you want, you can take advantage of a good relationship to get it.
With that in mind, here are some of our favorite obscure or limited-availability spirits we think you should stock—if you can.
For $1,500 a bottle, guests at your bar or restaurant can enjoy this limited edition rum, specifically created for the Brugal family. The price reflects its rarity: blends overall have only been available to the public twice, and the U.S. only received 97 of 1,000 worldwide bottles. The 2015 edition is named Alegria, which means “joy,” and hails from the Brugal family home in the Dominican Republic. And if you cater to women, note that this blend was the first ever created for the family by a female Master Blender, Jassil Villanueva Quintana.
Patrón’s oldest spirit ever produced, this extra-aged tequila was created on accident. About 30 barrels of the brand’s ultra-premium tequila were set in the aging room to sit for a year—but then they were lost in the shuffle and discovered seven years later. And so came to life the first limited edition ever sold by Patrón, with less than 700 cases available worldwide. Master Distiller Francisco Alcaraz thinks this particular taste will never again be achieved. He compares it to rare 50-year-old scotch.
This Finnish vodka is part of a long tradition of distilling on the west coast of Finland. The barley-based beverage is enjoyed in cocktails or on the rocks, and it has come to embody part of what it means to be a Finn, joining the ranks of rye bread and saunas. Koskenkorva is notoriously hard to get in the United States. Trade regulations between the U.S. and Finland require enough interest on a state-by-state basis to even think of importing it. It’s available for purchase by the bottle online year-round, and near the end of the year, you may still be able to find a bottle in person—but it will likely be the last available in the state.
With more than a 200-year history to back it, this rye whiskey is made in the reconstructed Mount Vernon distillery, the exact location where George Washington himself started creating and selling the spirit in 1797. And it’s crafted to the same recipe, too: 60 percent rye, 35 percent corn, and 5 percent malted barley, enjoyed unaged. The distillery has recently started selling a two-year barrel-aged version as well, but good luck getting either—the whiskeys are only for sale on-site, they don’t ship, production quantity is always different, and you have to sign up for their mailing list for updates. Plus, the bottles sell out pretty quick.
According to the website, even the distiller of this single-grain rye whiskey can’t find any more bottles available from the last run. The spirit has been available for only two years, and comes from just 24 12.5-year aged barrels. It’s 100 percent rye, 134 proof, and intensely rich and smooth. If you have a connection who can find this whiskey for you, get it while you can. And general consumers, you may be out of luck. The website’s locator button (supposedly updated in July this year) is out of commission.
Keep in mind though, getting these limited bottles probably won’t make or break your business—and it’s up to you to make sure they sell.
“It’s about education more than anything,” O’Mara says. “If the staff knows it and believes in it, then they’re going to sell it.”
If there’s no effort put into it, and the bottle just sits on the back bar like a trophy, it’s more than likely not going to be profitable.
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