There’s not unanimous distiller support for House Bill 100, which would allow individuals to sell vintage spirits to licensed liquor dealers.
Sazerac supports the idea of a Kentucky Vintage Spirits Bill, but not the proposed law’s execution, a company spokesperson said, calling it “unenforceable.”
The bill passed House committee and is awaiting a floor vote. The proposed law says a vintage spirit is not distillery owned and not otherwise available for purchase from a licensed wholesaler within the Commonwealth. (Full law available here.)
However, Sazerac wants a more narrowly tailored vintage definition.
The parent company of Kentucky’s Glenmore, Buffalo Trace and 1792 Barton facilities, Sazerac said the bill’s legal language is “unenforceable and would legitimize an already counterfeit / black market for the sale of alcohol. We believe that if the state truly wants to create a bill of this nature, all bottles sold should be pre-metric bottle sizes, i.e., pints, quarts, fifths, which would guarantee they were produced before 1980.”
Sazerac said it made these issues known to legislators.
But Washington, D.C.-based Jack Rose Dining Saloon owner Bill Thomas, who is the country’s leading vintage whiskey seller, says Sazerac’s proposed date range prices people out of vintage whiskey, saying pre-1980 is “so expensive. My problem with [pre] 1980 is it cuts out 80% of everything we carry for the general public. Think about the brands we carry from 1980 to present: Birthday Bourbons, Stagg, Willetts, Single Barrels, masters collections, the Jim Beam masterpieces, Wild Turkey tribute, the last of the National Distillers stuff in the ‘80s. You lose what’s affordable to drink on the vintage market.”
The Kentucky Distillers’ Association, the state’s distillery trade organization of which Sazerac is not a member, supports the current bill as is. It first introduced the idea in 2015 state tourism hearings.
Sazerac and KDA, which represents 33 distilleries, often do not see eye-to-eye in state legislation efforts, and the “vintage” definition could have widespread implications for Sazerac, which sells the popular Pappy Van Winkle bourbon.
Pappy and other Sazerac products are already being sold in so-called secondary markets. Could the vintage spirits law could set up unwanted competition for newer products? Does it legitimize the black market?
I don’t know. Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t.
I just know as a long-time whiskey enthusiast I’ve never wanted a law to pass so badly. For the first time in my lifetime, we’re viewing whiskey as history, and every vintage bottle is a connection to a distiller of yesterday.
Fred Minnick is the author of Bourbon: The Rise, Fall & Rebirth of An American Whiskey