Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: The Thrill of the Hunt - Dusty Hunting

One of the primary sports of which whiskey fans partake is the dusty hunt. Don't worry, it doesn't involve hounds or horses or bugles of any sort. The dusty hunt is the practice of looking in liquor stores for old dusty bottles that have been on the shelf for many years. You can find rare, out of production whiskeys, usually marked at their original price, if you are willing to do some hunting, well quite a bit of hunting.

Now, I'm an amateur dusty hunter, and while I've found a few out of production whiskies, I can't say I've struck whiskey gold with a real rarity. One key to being a good dusty hunter is having a knowledge of whiskey history, knowing what brands have been discontinued and being able to recognize the various elements on a bottle that indicate its age. This could include the numbering on the bottom of the bottle, the presence of a tax stamp, the distillery address information, the use of metric measurements as opposed to the previous non-metric (i.e. ml vs. quart or fifth) and proof v. abv. For more advice on all of this technical stuff, check out the great series on dusty hunting over at Bourbon Dork.

The other crucial element to dusty hunting is having a sense of where to look for old bottles. You won't find dusties at a specialty spirits store. Your best bet is an old corner market with low turnover on most items, but any old liquor store can be a source of dusties. Keep in mind, though, that nine times out of ten, or maybe 99 out of 100, you won't find anything worthwhile.

The largest cache of dusties I've found so far is at Jubilee Liquors, a Koreatown shop at Third and Hobart. When I walked in, I noticed that in the far corner, there was a whole set of tax stamped dusties: Old Crow from its pre-Beam National Distillers days when it was actually a drinkable Bourbon, Old Taylor and Old Overholt rye also from the pre-Beam National Distillers, Old Forester, and Old Charter from the old Bernheim Distillery. All of these looked to be from the late '70s and early '80s. None of these were from prized distilleries like Michter's or Stitzel-Weller, but they were old Bourbons I hadn't sampled, so I picked up one of each.

The counter guy viewed me with a sort of mix of curiosity and disgust. No one ever buys those, he told me. They are really old. Lucky for me, as is often the case with dusties, I don't think they had updated the price tags, so I paid $7 to $15 for these old whiskeys from closed distilleries.

Over the next few months, I may post reviews for some of these dusty bottles. Meanwhile, if you want to try some, stop by. At my last visit, there were still bottles of all of these except the Overholt at Jubilee, along with lots of really old crap (schnapps, brandy, blended whiskey, etc.).

Happy Hunting!


Chuck Cowdery said...

Nicely played, my friend. That's exactly how it's done, even down to confusing/amusing the proprietor. Not that many people can say they've done it and bagged anything so good. It's an odd pastime, I agree, but perhaps someday it will be an Olympic sport.

sku said...

Thanks Chuck. This was certainly the best I've done, but I keep reading about all of those people who find SW Old Fitz BIBs by the caseload and other amazing treasures. Maybe one day I'll stumble onto something like.

And as for the Olympics, maybe if they have them in Bardstown someday they'll add the event. I guess we should all keep up our training just in case.

AdamH said...

"But Sku, you're giving away all our best tricks!!!"

sku said...

Ha! I wouldn't worry too much Adam. While I like to think of my blog as having somewhat of a reach, I'm not thinking it will inspire thousands of dusty hunters to scour the liquor stores of LA.

Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

Greg said...

Sku - Just saw your post on your dusty hunting. Nicely done. All those bottles in the pic contain good juice, especially the Old Forester. Thanks for the plug to BourbonDork. I'll raise a glass of something dusty to you this evening. Cheers.

sku said...

Thanks for your comments Greg. Yeah, the Old Forester was gooood.

Adair said...

I recently secured a few bottles of Old Charter 8 year, almost impossible to find in New Jersey. Incredible! My wife and I did a little bourbon tasting, and Old Charter beat out Buffalo Trace, J.W. Dant, Blanton, and Old Grand Dad (80 proof). The Old Grand Dad tasted like rot gut Cowboy whisky, but Old Charter 8 year also beat the other finer, more expensive bourbons for full flavor and complexity. J.W. Dant, also cheap, came in second place. Old Charter is an amazing bourbon. How can it be less popular and less marketed than Buffalo Trace (which came in third) or Blanton? Are contemporary tastes crazy or what?