What Are “Dusty Hunters” and How Do They Get All the Great Vintage Whiskey?

Inside the world of these avid booze collectors

Dusty booze bottles
Interested in hunting for old whiskey? Better hop to it.
Urs Flueeler / EyeEm / Getty

The wine and booze collection of the late director and film producer Cecil B. DeMille (The Ten Commandments, King of Kings) was just sold for five figures, a major score for a growing legion of booze “dusty hunters.”

The New York Times describes dusty hunters as people searching for “still-sealed bottles of vintage alcohol, usually American whiskey.” DeMille’s stash was hunted down by filmmaker Kevin Langdon Ackerman, who took up his collectible whiskey hobby back in 2012, searching nearby liquor stores for overlooked bottles of Ancient Age, Old Charter, Wild Turkey and Old Grand-Dad.

DeMille’s bunker included bottles of Old Overholt Rye barreled in 1936, 1930s Belmont Bottled in Bond, Kentucky Tavern, J.W. Dant and Old Taylor bourbons, 1930s Jameson Irish whiskey, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne from 1929, Green River Straight Bourbon Whiskey from 1936 and a signed and dated (empty) bottle of De Goñi sherry.

director and producer Cecil B. DeMille
Filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille (left).
Photo: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

As this boozy hunting hobby has grown nationwide, it’s become more difficult to procure vintage tipples. At the same time, prices for collectors have skyrocketed. As Ackerman tells the Times: “Six years ago or so, people started to realize that buying old bottles is building an investment portfolio in a sense … They will appreciate in a similar way to pork bellies, silver or gold. Bottles that cost me $20 became worth $800 and to me that’s a lot more fun than buying a muni bond for the Los Angeles water department. I’d much rather hound liquor stores.”

These collectors will often visit liquor stores in remote areas or in “neighborhoods that are essentially considered war zones,” as one dusty hunter notes.

If you’re looking to get into dusty hunting from afar, you may want to follow the exploits of Eric Witz; his Instagram @aphonik (see above) goes into minute detail about each of his discoveries. Or you could check out — if and when it’s safe — bars that showcase their owner’s extensive collections, be it Canon in Seattle or the Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, D.C. (though they’ve been selling their collection off). Or head to Kentucky or North Carolina, where it’s now legal to buy and sell vintage spirits.


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