Booze | January 2, 2020 6:19 am

How Facebook’s Black Markets Changed the World of Bourbon

Did social media change the way we buy and sell whiskey?

Buffalo Trace barrels
The growth of a number of Facebook groups dedicated to selling bourbon may have made it harder to buy a number of varieties of whiskey.
Acdixon/Creative Commons

Facebook abounds with groups dedicated to things that their members love. In some cases, that might be specific: a sports team or a type of food or a local music scene that’s long since gone dormant. At their best, these groups allow people to connect (and sometimes reconnect) over the things they’re most enthusiastic about.

But the story of social media over the last decade isn’t just about relentless positivity and the upside of human connection. It’s also about how technology can change certain dynamics for the worst. And at Esquire, Aaron Goldfarb makes a convincing case that Facebook has transformed the bourbon scene in unsettling ways.

Specifically, it’s transformed it via the existence of groups where people can trade in rare bottles of bourbon. These have been the subject of controversy for some time — in 2016, journalist Fred Minnick discussed Facebook’s brief shutdown of various bourbon groups, only to reinstate them a short time later.

At the time, Minnick noted that the Facebook black market was a hub for bourbon enthusiasts, but also involved the presence of some counterfeiters — something Goldfarb also wrote about in 2016. These groups allowed bourbon fans to buy and sell rare bottles, which isn’t terribly unexpected on its own.

But the perspective of a decade leads Goldfarb to some intriguing conclusions about these groups’ effect on the larger whiskey market. Goldfarb cites the existence of this online markets as one of the reasons Pappy Van Winkle is increasingly difficult to purchase. But it’s not just there that Goldfarb sees their influence:

…when bottles of George T. Stagg, Pappy Van Winkle, and others became impossible to find at retail stores, consumers were forced to greedily snatch up bottles that had once been cheap and readily available on lower shelves. Soon, Buffalo Trace’s most quotidian products like Weller and Eagle Rare became difficult to find in stores. So did Henry McKenna.

It’s a sobering (no pun intended) explanation for some of the changes in the spirits world over the last few years. And it’s something that’s likely to influence the bourbon world as it enters a new decade.

Subscribe here for our free daily newsletter.