Are Some Kentucky Bourbon Sellers Abusing the 2017 Vintage Spirits Law?

A groundbreaking law has some loopholes

A new law governing bourbon sales has had some...interesting interpretations.
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In 2017, the state of Kentucky adopted HB 100, a law that legalized vintage whiskey sales, with the intention of making the state even more of a whiskey destination than it was before. It allowed shops to purchase bottles from private buyers — meaning, in theory, that shops could offer more rare bottles for sale. That’s the good news; the bad news is that the passage of that law seems to have left the door open for abuses of the system — including a number of bottles that are far from decades-old.

That’s the biggest takeaway from a blockbuster investigation from Janet Patton at the Lexington Herald-Leader. As Patton points out in the article, the way the word “vintage” is defined in the law contains a massive loophole. If a bottle is “not otherwise available” from a wholesale seller in the state, it ostensibly qualifies as “vintage.”

In other words, under the law as it’s currently written, a 40-year-old bourbon that’s been in your basement for decades could qualify as vintage, but so might a limited-release bottle of bourbon purchased directly from a distillery last week. Patton points to two bourbon brands that have been especially popular in being resold under the new law: Weller and Blanton’s. The report cites 4,400 bottles of both that have been sold in the last five years under HB 100.

Those resales also come with markups. The article cites the example of Weller Special Reserve, which can be purchased directly at the distillery for $30 — and is often resold for a much higher amount.

Vintage Bourbon Shops Raided by Kentucky State Agency
It’s a high-profile raid in the vintage whiskey community

Certain questions linger, including whether or not these practices are in violation of the law. But at least one powerful figure in the industry is calling for reform. The article cites Sazerac CEO Mark Brown, who called for changing the law. “We want consumers to be able to buy our products at the manufacturers’ suggested retail price,” he told the Herald-Leader. The whole article is well worth a read — and it bears watching whether it leads to changes in the industry.


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