The basics of buying bourbon online

The Good Life: Steve Palec on Bourbon

Steve Palec

Civilization has survived the introduction of radio, movies, television and even the internet, which many thought would bring our demise.

Then there was virtual reality. While the nascent vision Mark Zuckerberg had of us all putting on VR goggles, never leaving the house and living in a fantasy world (hey, that actually sounds pretty good!) hasn’t materialized, the innovation of using high tech devices to shop has, in fact, changed many things.

While I still enjoy stopping at a liquor store to look for a bourbon I’d like to try, I have definitely used the internet to track down those hard-to-find bourbons that I really want.

Buying bourbon online can work really well. But there are some tips you should follow.

First and foremost, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. I saw a bottle of Double Eagle Very Rare pop up on one of my feeds for the low, low price of $159. Yeah right! I’ve seen that unicorn bottle sell for up to $20,000. I wasn’t falling for it.

It reminded me of my single dating days, when I read that Jennifer Aniston was frustrated by the men she was meeting and hired a Los Angeles matchmaker. I tracked down the matchmaker and was ecstatic when my phone rang, and I saw their caller ID. Turns out they wanted me to hire them for their services. Instead of dating Rachel Green, I was to pay an exorbitant amount of money to potentially date the Incredible Hulk’s not-incredible green cousin.

You also have to be wary of counterfeit bottles of bourbon. There is a reason people sell empty bottles of Pappy Van Winkle on eBay for $100. Someone just as nasty is buying that bottle, filling it with something else and turning around to sell it for an exorbitant price. Both ends of that transaction are like high school kids topping off bottles with water, but the responsible parents in this case are the potential purchasers who spoil the scheme.

That is not to say that there are not reputable online bourbon sellers out there. There are many.

Generally, you will be paying high prices on the secondary market for unicorn bourbons. And there are a lot of online sellers, including some liquor stores, that have them. You can also find great regional bourbons at reasonable prices. A good rule of thumb is to look at a lot of sites, look for sellers that have both regular items and the hard-to-get finds, then compare all the prices. If you are using a credit card, you have some comfort if things go wrong.

Obviously, you have to be wary about individuals you don’t know. I once bought some bourbon out of someone’s trunk in a mall parking lot… but in that case a trusted friend had introduced me to the seller.

While you won’t find liquor on Amazon, Facebook does allow links to advertising sites. I mentioned Zuckerberg earlier, and there used to be a Facebook black market for bourbon. Lots of rip offs. In October 2019, 46 state attorneys general sent him a letter asking him to stop the practice. Wisconsin’s attorney general was one of the letter’s signers, and you have to wonder about the four other AGs who didn’t want to get involved.

By the way, nationally there are several reputable organizations that let you order online and will deliver bourbon to your door. That practice is illegal in Wisconsin, but there is pending legislation that would allow it, against the wishes of the powerful Tavern League.

Home delivery even by UPS, FedEx or the U.S. mail requires the signature of an adult who is 21 or older. Here’s another tip: If you are sitting around with your VR goggles and headphones on, you’ll miss them ringing your doorbell and they won’t leave your order.

Another interesting online option is to build your own bottle, choosing your preferred strength, finish and infusion, and even puting your name on the label. It’s expensive but I’ve done it.

And there are subscription memberships that will send you various bourbons to sample. That I have not tried, since I’m like Groucho Marx, and the only club I’ve ever joined was Sam’s Club.

Some distillers run online sweepstakes. Old Forester produces a birthday edition which costs $129.99 to start and sells later for up to $1,200, proving that belated birthday greetings are just as good, if not better. Also, I’ve had a lot of luck reading somewhere about a unique bourbon, going to the company’s website and ordering it online at MSR prices, albeit in protective packaging that has me personally responsible for depleting the rain forest.

While I realize that some of my tips are not that much better than a wildlife official’s brilliant advice to yell at a wolf or coyote before they attack your little pet, I hope one of these ideas lets you enjoy a pour you might otherwise have missed.

Steve Palec is chief marketing officer of Wauwatosa-based commercial real estate development firm Irgens. ‘The Good Life: Steve Palec on Bourbon’ lifestyle feature appears regularly at

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