Justin Dixon’s best bourbon-hunting find came quite by accident. Dixon, a bartender at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse downtown, was driving around town one day when he saw kids selling lemonade and stopped to make a purchase. The youngsters weren’t exactly selling bourbon. But their dad, who was having a yard sale, was. Dixon scored a bottle of Old Fitzgerald 13, from Heaven Hill’s Bottled-in-Bond series, for $148, which he says is just a third of what it’s worth.
While Dixon recommends checking websites for retailers such as the Liquor Barn to find out when their deliveries come in, he says true bourbon hunting involves looking for any opportunity to find what you’re after.
“The moral of the story,” he says, “is that when you see a lemonade sale stand, you need to
There are websites and Facebook groups dedicated to bourbon hunting, and when you see chairs lined up outside liquor stores on Friday nights, you know there must be a limited release coming in on Saturday morning.
Liquor Barn sends out emails to people who subscribe to their newsletter to find exclusive offers and release dates. If it is a big release, the store has lotteries so at least some of its customers are sure to go home happy.
Customer Mark Hawkins, who was shopping this summer at the Beaumont Centre Parkway store, doesn’t consider himself that much of a rare whiskey seeker.
“I’ve got a shirt that’s got an outline of Kentucky and it says, ‘Got Bourbon?’ on there, so when I go out of state, it’s always real popular,” says Hawkins, who lives in Frankfort and worked in Lexington for 37 years. “I’m not that hard-core, but I do look for good bourbon. I don’t drink the rotten kind.”
Sometimes he finds rarer bourbons in other states when he travels, he says, in places where “they don’t know good from bad.” And if he’s desperate for a good Buffalo Trace, he’ll drive to the distillery that’s close to his house and see what they have in the gift shop.
When the tourism marketers at VisitLex thought about how to capitalize on the bourbon-hunting culture, to their creative agency, Cornett, helped them come up with a hit: bourbon hunter camouflage.
They designed three patterns of limited-edition T-shirts (Kroger Aisle 7, Liquor Barn, and Rite
Aid) with shelves of bourbon on them to make a bourbon aficionado wearing it blend in with
not-so-rare bottles of liquor on the shelves.
It was a marketing hit, even getting attention in Adweek, because of its creative, tongue-in- cheek way of drumming up tourism.
It was a good way to break through the clutter of traditional advertising, says Gathan Borden, vice president of marketing for VisitLEX. But it didn’t help Borden, something of a hunter himself,
score any rare bottles.
“I wish I had a secret,” he says. “Now it’s gotten so saturated with bourbon hunters, it’s a full-
The Stave & Thief Society, a bourbon-certification program originally designed to train front- line hospitality, restaurant and retail staff about bourbon, takes a brand-neutral approach to educating people about the spirit.
The organization offers training to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association and to destinations and sponsors of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
When it comes to recommending where to buy bourbon, it points to the organization’s establishment members. In Lexington, that includes places such as Justins’ House of Bourbon.
“We make these recommendations because the staff of said locations sought education as a
way to up their bourbon game, and we are fans of that approach,” says Christin Head, the
Brian Booth, manager of Justins’ House of Bourbon, says they offer the largest, diverse bourbon
collection for sale in the world, from pre-prohibition through today.
“We’ve got bottles from around $11 on up,” he says. “Our customer is ranging from the novice to the connoisseur that wants to taste things that they’ve never tasted before to collectors for that investment item. We accommodate the spectrum, from the novice to the expert.”
The shop has a tasting bar, a showroom of vintage bottles and a private speakeasy room for people who want to be educated on how to sip, taste and experience bourbon.
“That’s what we do,” Booth says. “We create a customized bourbon experience for our clients. We welcome anybody in here who wants to learn and get educated on bourbon.”
PRO TIP: Watch for Bourbon Deliveries and Stop at Lemonade Stands!
If there are tricks to finding that rare vintage spirit, Justin Dixon, the bartender who found his prized bottle because he stopped at a lemonade stand, just might hear about it from his own regulars at the outdoor bar at Jeff Ruby’s.
His patron the night of the interview for this story, who went by “Anonymous Ed,” says you just need to know where to go to get in line when the delivery trucks come in.
If he can’t stand the waiting for deliveries, Dixon will keep stopping at those lemonade stands, just in case!
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