Undrowned Sorrows

Richard Connor

WE ALL SUFFER, in ways large and small, from COVID-driven shortages. The global supply chain has been disrupted, affecting automobiles, furniture, building supplies and much more.

But the impact really hit home last month when my brother-in-law called and told me he couldn’t find his favorite bourbon. He lives in central North Carolina, where liquor sales are limited to state-owned stores. He had to go to three stores to find his backup brand, Maker’s Mark.

His favorite—and apparently many other bourbon fans’ first choice—is Eagle Rare. It’s aptly named. It has been very hard to find for the last year or more. Prices have gone up accordingly.

Eagle Rare is made by Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. The distillery also makes the eponymous Buffalo Trace, which is a fine, mid-priced “everyday” bourbon. It’s in short supply, too.

I searched my region for Eagle Rare. After calling 11 stores, I found one outside Atlantic City, New Jersey, that had five bottles. I was so excited to find it, I asked them to put all five aside and said I would be right over. When I got there, they had them in a box at the counter, waiting for me. After I paid, I realized that—in my excitement—I had neglected to ask the price.

It was $69.99 per bottle, a significant premium over the prices listed for Eagle Rare at most local stores. Of course, my local stores didn’t have any in stock, and couldn’t guarantee when they would have some. I paid the inflated price without complaint. But on my way out, I checked the price of comparable bourbons. Their prices were in line with what I expected. Had the Eagle Rare price gone up following my phone call?

According to industry sources and others, there are problems at nearly every step of the alcohol supply chain. This includes sourcing glass bottles, increasing international shipping costs and a shortage of truck drivers. This creates a compounding effect, one that’s worsened the situation over the course of the pandemic.

Buffalo Trace is undertaking a $1.2 billion facility upgrade, but it will be years until its supply capability will catch up to current demand. I wonder if Eagle Rare will still have the same cachet then, or if some new brand will be the latest rave?

Whenever I find myself getting caught up in a buying frenzy, I think about behavioral economics and try to figure out what tenets I might be violating. I’m sure I’m guilty of breaking several in my chase for Eagle Rare. It’s obviously a fungible good. For a substitute, I’m partial to Angel’s Envy, which I can usually find at a $20 discount to Eagle Rare.

My story has a happy ending. I brought the Eagle Rare to our annual Thanksgiving week family reunion. My brother-in-law was very happy—and, equally important, happy to share.

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