Shortly before Whisky Advocate managing editor Lew Bryson finished the first draft of his Tasting Whiskey book—sometime around August, 2013—we had a conversation about what might go into the chapter on rare whiskey collecting and auctions. Ahead of the curve, I promised him that American whiskies were going to be huge. At the time, most bourbons at auction were shabby-looking Prohibition bottles peppering the numerous pages of single malts in the Bonhams catalog.
It was written in the stars: accumulated years of over-subscribed releases of limited-edition bourbons were being received by a world waking up to the fact that bourbon was a thing again. Then it became the thing: the Pappy Van Winkle craze threw gasoline on the fire of American collectible whiskey. There’s no way anyone can put that back in the box now.
Bourbon is enjoying enormous growth, especially in the super-premium segment. When demand outstrips supply, people figure out another way to get their quarry. One way was eBay, but when a policy change ended that hoopla, whiskey collectors were driven deeper into the web: deals were made in whispers using secret codes on clandestine forums.
Fortunately, Dustybid offers hope to the bourbon collector. Lifelong bourbon fan and attorney Matt Rueff helped a friend acquire a decanter of antique Old Rip Van Winkle at short notice for a client. His friend was deeply impressed. “At that point, I was convinced there was market demand for a one-stop shop for the bourbon connoisseur in search of hard-to-find or ‘dusty’ artifacts,” says Matt.
He took his idea to entrepreneurs in the bourbon community: Justin Sloan, Dan Donoghue, and Seth Thompson. Dan and Justin were already running BottleBlueBook.com, a laudable attempt at tracking trading activity in rare bourbon dependent on voluntary declarations of re-selling. Collaboratively, Dustybid was devised with the goal of delivering a reliable, consistent marketplace for bourbon collectibles. With its smart logo, free listings, and easy navigable website, the new marketplace went live on August 1st, 2015.
Matt admits there is a gray area when it comes to selling bottles that may contain alcohol, “The ambiguity lies in the fact that the value flows from their antiquity,” he maintains, “not from the liquid inside. Our customers are passionate collectors and utilize our site to access a reliable marketplace to bolster their collections, not simply to buy a drink.” Dustybid’s partners are not auctioneers, never take title to any products, and all parties must agree that they are purchasing bottles in compliance with all applicable laws in their jurisdiction. Sensibly, an adult must sign for products on delivery.
The site has cultivated a passionate audience who, like the founders, are obsessed with American whiskies. Here is the place to find earlier editions of Parker’s Heritage Collection, aged Elijah Craig, Pappy’s, Jack Daniel’s curios, squat bottles of Elmer T. Lee, and sealed bottles of George T. Stagg from way back when. Heck, even the odd bottle of scotch pops up for sale from time to time!
The distinguishing feature of Dustybid, aside from the combined expertise on bourbon, has been the dedication, behind-the-scenes, to both parties in the transaction: that might involve making personal phone calls to verify identities, for example. That integrity gives users the reassurance that someone from Dustybid is supervising each transaction, not just leaving it to automated webservers.
Run by whiskey fans for whiskey fans, the enthusiasm around Dustybid is reminiscent of the early days of Scotch Whisky Auctions in Glasgow, which started as on offshoot to a liquor shop and grew to become the market leader. It’s bringing new opportunities to the American whiskey collector and helping to shape the landscape for rare bourbon. See Lew, my prediction came true!
Top sales in the first two months of Dustybid
- Full set of Pappy Van Winkle (6 bottles) $6,825
- Old Rip Van Winkle 1977 Decanter – $6,025
- Full set of Van Winkle (6 bottles) – $5,000
- Pappy Van Winkle 2014 vertical (5 bottles) – $4,500
- Old Rip Van Winkle 67/78 – $4,000
- Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (7 bottles from 2007-2009) – $2,800
- Pappy Van Winkle 20 year old & 23 year old – $2,050
- Pappy Van Winkle 23 year old gold wax – $1,875
- Pappy Van Winkle 23 year old 2013 – $1,775
- Pappy Van Winkle 20 year old pre-2006 – $1,700