We all know alcohol tastes best when other people covet what you’re drinking. Unfortunately, the days of tracking down Pappy Van Winkle, George T. Stagg, or any top-level bourbon at MSRP prices is long gone, with people “flipping” bottles on the black market as fast as they can nab them. Likewise, craft beer has been red-hot for at least a decade, with limited-release IPAs, stouts, and sours quickly snapped up to be traded amongst strangers, or sold to your muling buddies. At this point, sadly, you have no real chance to become a beer, bourbon, Scotch, or even Japanese whiskey prospector since all the premium bottles have already exploded into serious assets.
So, which intoxicants should you be buying “low” at the moment? In other words, which bottles might be the next prized “get” amongst boozehounds with too much time and money on their hands? And which tipples might nerds start standing in lines for—or trying to win lotteries to buy—just so they can have a bottle to cellar?
Besides offering odds on what booze will most likely will be hoarded to the same degree as bourbon and beer currently are, I’ll also name a potential “Pappy” for each. Not necessarily the rarest, priciest, nor best—but the bottle I’m predicting will rise in price, and leave people who missed out kicking themselves for not loading up.
Why now: Most people think, “How can something that I usually drink while wearing a tank top and sitting at a beach bar be something worth shelling out major ducats for?” Here’s the deal: There are plenty of great rums—unique, complex, and aged for many years, just like the best bourbons and Scotches around. (Hey, some even come in handsome boxes!) Yet there they all are, still collecting dust at your local liquor store, hovering at a reasonable $40-$50 price range. But the tide is starting to turn, as great bars like Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco and Brandy Library in New York attempt do for rum what has already been done for whiskey—offering massive menus with hundreds of unique offerings, with some rare pours topping out at more than $100 an ounce. Cutting-edge craft upstarts like Lost Spirits in California are showing Americans that rum isn’t just something you pay an extra dollar to float on top a Painkiller. (Photo: El Dorado Rum)
The potential “Pappy”: El Dorado 12 Year Old ($35)
Made from raw sugar cane from Guyana, then aged in American oak casks, this rum is smoky yet sweet—a melding of both bananas and coconuts, tobacco and cedar. Talk to top craft-cocktail mixologists and they’ll tell you they love working with El Dorado 12. If trustworthy bar-keeps are quietly stocking up on something, that means it’s time to pay attention.
Why now: With the whiskeys of America, Scotland, and Japan having completely peaked in popularity—I think, oh God I really hope—it only makes sense we should explore some lesser examined whiskey types and see if they might likewise ever see such a boom. Canadian whiskey is obviously out unless some sort of weird purple bag shortage occurs in North America. So that leaves us with Irish whiskey, something people have slept on for way too long. Perhaps similar to rum, most everyone is just stuck on the thinking that this whole genre is about shots of Jameson or Powers—and then regretting your life the next day. Of course that’s absurdly wrong, as Irish drams from Redbreast, Connemara, and, yes, Jameson are just as sophisticated at the high-end as those from any whiskey region. (Photo: Grace Wine)
The potential “Pappy”: Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve ($250)
It would probably make the most sense to include a long-aged Redbreast here, and I do adore their 12, 15, and even 21 Year Old offerings (I expect all of them to become more and more coveted as the years go on). But it’s this Jameson, this disrespected Jameson, that people will one day kick themselves for not grabbing all those times they spied it on the liquor store’s top shelf. (Go check, I bet it’s still there.) It really doesn’t matter how expensive it is; the fact that the most complex Irish whiskey ever made is still widely available is a complete consumer mistake.
Why now: Mezcal seems so obviously poised to start getting hoarded by certain consumers. Why? Because so many people currently hate it. Not spirits geeks, of course, who have gladly trumpeted the last half-decade surge of the spirit at top cocktail bars. But regular Joes, who often think of the spirit as combining the most brutal aspects of both smoky Scotch and harsh tequila. That’s why so much of this niche spirit is still fairly easy to find on store shelves. (It’s also kinda pricy.) At the present, most American liquor stores get plenty of fantastic offerings from Del Maguey, Pierde Almas, Fidencio, and especially Ilegal, whose wax-dipped bottles seem perfect for storing aside—that is, until they’ve tripled in value once those Average Joes finally “get it.” (Photo: Ilegal Mezcal)
The potential “Pappy”: Ilegal Mezcal Añejo ($120)
I’m sure there’s some super-rare single village Del Maguey bottling that the uber-geeks will tell me is better and of more interest to them. But Ilegal’s Añejo is damn near perfect in its own right—like wood-charred liquidized pineapple—and its slick bottling and high price point makes it feel just as special as those elite bourbons you can no longer acquire. This one you still can, for the time being.
Why now: Slightly less obvious prospecting bait than mezcal would be its more popular agave cousin. Tequila has been huge in the American market for seemingly decades—mainly to employ for a painful shot or an easy cocktail that comes out of a Slurpee machine—so why would things change all of the sudden? Because tequila has seriously upped its game of late, and I’m not just talking about Turtle helping take Avión public. There’s countless high-end tequilas in the market now, ones that not even the douchiest of those club-bangin’ douches know about—Añejos and Extra Añejos (that means aged in oak over three years) like Don Julio 1942, José Cuervo Anejo Reserva de la Familia, and Casa Noble Single Barrel. All have such a richness and woodiness, you’d swear they were a top-level Scotch. (Photo: Quality Liquor Store)
The potential “Pappy”: Herradura Seleccion Suprema ($400)
This is an insanely expensive bottle, but that’s a good thing because you can still find it on shelves gathering dust. I don’t exactly know what occurs during the 49 months Seleccion Suprema is in small oak casks, but it comes out tasting like a 100% agave Highland Scotch. Does it taste $300 better than the tequilas I mention above? Of course not. But if you have the loot, I’m certain this is the one of all those that will actually sell on the secondary market one day.
Why now: I know what you’re thinking: Mead is what dweebs who LARP drink. And where would a normal person even find this so-called honey wine anyway? Yes, there are still only like 60 meaderies in all of America, but more are on their way, and lots of top breweries like Kuhnhenn and Cigar City have recently gotten into the mead game too. Places like Schramm’s in Michigan and Superstition in Arizona are making world-class meads that are trading and selling on the secondary market as avidly as any “white whale” beers out there. So, yes, it’s mainly beer geeks driving this current craze—but we also know when beer geeks are into something, the stakes only get bigger. (Photo: Facebook/Schramm’s Mead)
The potential “Pappy”: Schramm’s The Heart of Darkness ($100)
Ken Schramm has long been considered the king of America mead and The Heart of Darkness is his masterpiece. Made with tons of hand-harvested Schaarbeek cherries—that’s one reason the price point is so high—this extremely labor-intensive mead only sees a few hundred 375 mL bottles released per year. You can nab it, though, as many locals can’t get over the sticker shock. They will eventually, and by then, bottles will be scarce.
Why now: I have to say I am actually pretty bullish on a would-be cider explosion. No, not the crap that your misogynistic friend assumes your wife wants a pint of every time you go to a beer bar. I’m instead talking about the more high-end stuff poised to soon be mainstream in America—ambitious ciders from emerging spots like Virtue in Michigan, Millstone in Maryland, and Aaron Burr in New York. More importantly, there’s long been a grand cider tradition in Europe. Certain hotspots in Spain and France make plenty of world-class offerings, the former of which taste like funky gueuzes, the latter which often reach the complexity of fine white wines. The fact many ciders come in corked-and-caged champagne bottles that are perfect for laying down for awhile make prospecting these still somewhat easy-to-find gems an even savvier move. (Photo: Magnum Wines)
The potential “Pappy”: Cidre Dupont Réserve ($25)
Simply put, this is unquestionably the best cider in the world—and you can easily find it for a mere $25 too! How many “best ____ in the world” can you possibly say that about? Funky but with a sweet aftertaste owing to the Calvados barrels it’s finished in, this cider is unlike anything you’ve ever drank before. So go to your nearest Whole Foods, or that weirdo artisanal cheese store down the block, and buy as many bottles as they currently have. Just like with Cantillon in the early-2000s, drinking geeks will one day wonder why they passed on something they knew was great so many damn times.
Why now: I love gin. It’s an absolutely fantastic spirit that works great on its own, in basic mixed drinks, or even in more advanced cocktails. And distilleries both major and minor have started getting way creative with the spirit of late, adding all sorts of interesting botanicals, berries, and even dipping their toes into the wild world of barrel-aging. Yet I just can’t conceive of gin ever becoming the kind of spirit that is hoarded by geeks, stocked up on by nerds, and thrown into the back of a closet to one day rip off some less savvy dude for massive profit. That actually makes me happy and, in a certain sense, makes gin the most perfect spirit. You can enjoy it now and never worry about depleting your rare and pricy cache. So drink up! (Photo: Facebook/Bluecoat American Dry Gin)
The potential “Pappy”: Bluecoat Barrel Reserve ($35)
I’m of the belief that no booze is worth prospecting unless it’s barrel-aged—and for a fairly long time too. Luckily, the modern gin world is finally figuring that out, and Bluecoat’s Barrel Reserve is the best of the pioneering bunch. Exploding with botanicals, yet with the color and finish of a young American whiskey (and more importantly limited), I see no way this gin is still selling at this price a few years from now.
Why now: Contrarian thinking, but hear me out. In the ’70s and ’80s hardly anyone drank bourbon, with lighter libations like vodka more the spirit of the time. Of course, things quickly flip-flopped and now brown, over-proof spirits rule the roost. Is yet another 180-degree reverse about to occur? In 30 years will people be saying, “Wow, remember back in the aughts and 2010s when everyone drank bourbon and no one had any interest in all that cotton candy vodka on the shelves? What were we thinking?!” A stretch…but perhaps. (Photo: Facebook/Pinnacle Vodka)
The potential “Pappy”: Get real.