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.).