How to Start a Bourbon Collection

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Starting a bourbon collection can be either exciting and thrilling… or intimidating and daunting. Walk into any bottle shop and you are immediately presented with two to three rows of colorful labels and funny shaped bottles to choose from. It can be completely overwhelming if you’re new to bourbon.  

Where do you start?

Do you go after the brand names? Bargain buys? Do you invest your life savings hunting for Unicorns off the secondary market? And once you’ve made your purchase, do you open them and start drinking? Or, do you buy them to sit pretty on a shelf like trophies so you can brag about them to all of your friends? Whatever your motivation, the age-old question is: How do I get started?

I always advise my members to build their collections from the bottom up. Start purchasing affordable bottles, bottles that get consistently great reviews, and then as your palette becomes more sophisticated; build up from there. I started collecting two years ago with what is now considered to be cult-favorites. Old Grand Dad 114, Old Forester 1820, Wild Turkey 101, Makers Mark, and Buffalo Trace were some of the first bourbons I purchased. They were super affordable and could easily be sipped neat or thrown into a cocktail. The more I began to educate myself on bourbon, the more I started to shape the direction of my collection. I discovered that I really love high proof bourbons and only purchased bottles that were 110 proof and higher. I fell in love with Single Barrels and Barrel Proof bourbons so I started hunting for more bourbons that fit that description. With each purchase, there came a story. Where I was, how long it took me to hunt it down, who was with me, etc. I specifically remember finding a bottle of Little Book in a small shop in West LA. Although I had not planned on spending $75 on whiskey that day, it was the only one on the shelf. I was so excited to see it (because bourbon allocation in California can be tricky) I ran over to the counter and immediately purchased it! 
 
I personally think bourbon is to be collected and consumed. My personal collection is full of half-empty whiskey bottles – about 60 of them that are all reasonably priced. My most expensive bottles are typically gifted to me, but I have no ‘unicorns’ in my collection -- yet. The majority of my bottles are somewhere between $19.99 and $45 and can be drank as daily sippers. For the record, I don't drink bourbon everyday. I have kids and two businesses. Most days, I survive solely on coffee, cheese and salami!  

But I digress…

My more fancier bottles I drink on days that I deem to be a special occasion. I frequently drink Elijah Craig on a regular day but I only pull out Koval when cooking a special dinner with my boyfriend. When the day is long and my kids have defeated me with their screams and tantrums, I pull out Russell’s Reserve 10-Year. It’s an instant mood changer and keeps me from having my own meltdown (yes, moms have meltdowns too!). Either way, my collection is well loved and continues to grow because… life. 
 
Drink one bottle, buy two more. The collection continues to expand...

Published July 1, 2018 in Bourbon Zeppelin Newsletter.