Inside the Dying World of Facebook’s Whiskey Black Markets, the Best Place to Buy (and Sell) Rare Bourbon (2023)

There exists, on Facebook, a black market for expensive and rare whiskeys. It’s been around a while, but I learned about it a few months back, when I started hunting Pappy Van Winkle, one of the rarest bottles of bourbon out there, and someone told me about a group where bottles were bought and sold like hotcakes. I didn’t join the group until later, but now I wish I had right away. It would have helped find Pappy Van Winkle. It is a very interesting place. It might not be around much longer.

Inside the Dying World of Facebook’s Whiskey Black Markets, the Best Place to Buy (and Sell) Rare Bourbon (1)

The group I joined has more than 10,000 members. It is one of the largest of the current crop of secret Facebook black market bourbon groups, or as people online call them, “secondary markets,” of which there are quite a few. These are splinters of the previous largest group, BSM, or Bourbon Secondary Market, which was shut down by Facebook in June of 2019, just before 46 state attorneys general signed letters urging Facebook, eBay and Craigslist to crack down on illegal alcohol sales.

BSM had run for a handful of years and had upwards of 55,000 members when it was removed. It wasn’t the first secondary whiskey market. Before that, there was BX, which succeeded Bourbon Exchange, the first major Facebook whiskey buy/sell/trade group, which was created in 2013 and shut down in 2016. Before that, most whiskey buying, trading and selling was done on Craigslist, or eBay, before those markets were shut down, too. Before that, collectors posted classified ads in newspapers.

Inside the Dying World of Facebook’s Whiskey Black Markets, the Best Place to Buy (and Sell) Rare Bourbon (2)
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The factors behind today’s Facebook black market are basically the same as those that drove classifieds, but amplified. Massive FB groups were co-created by the rabid fans of the Bourbon Boom of the 2000s and early 2010s, who wanted more interesting or rare whiskeys than they could find at their local liquor stores; and by brands who build their prestige and profits by keeping production insanely low on their more intriguing releases; and by state and federal governments, who want to control the sale of such dangerous things as bottles of bourbon.

In this market, brands can serve as both enablers and narcs. In 2019, Buffalo Trace, whose Antique Collection, Pappy Van Winkle line and Weller series have extremely high demand and extremely low supply, and which therefore represent a sizeable percentage of the bottles bought and sold on these black market groups, released a statement alongside the release of its Pappy Van Winkle bottles. To paraphrase it: They asked retailers not to mark its price up (they still did), and threatened to sue the enthusiasts who bought and sold it illegally online (they still did it).

Yes, selling alcohol online is illegal. But I can’t find one example of someone being arrested for a crime in connection with the shutting down of a black market group.

The group I joined is private, but its moderators let me join even though my Facebook page identifies me as a freelance writer and a former editor at Gear Patrol. This lack of stringency isn’t surprising. Yes, selling alcohol online is illegal. But I can’t find one example of someone being arrested for a crime in connection with the shutting down of a black market group. Facebook simply deletes the group, and its members scurry to newer, more fragmented, still-operating groups. People do get arrested for illegal alcohol sales — for instance, a man who was caught by a STING operation in 2017 in my home state of Pennsylvania while trying to sell bottles on Craigslist. On Facebook, though, the general feeling among people I talked to was that participating in these groups was illicit enough to feel a little fun, but not to warrant time in the Big House. What were the feds gonna do — throw 10,000 blue-collar dads in jail?

Still, secrecy reigns. “The first rule of fight club is don’t talk about fight club,” said Fred Minnick, whiskey writer, community member and editor-in-chief of Bourbon+ magazine. “There’s still a lot of mystery in this world. A lot of it should probably stay that way.”

But many people who are in these groups talked to me, albeit anonymously. Almost everyone I spoke to imagined that, like the large groups before them, the current Facebook groups would probably soon be shut down. Against a pressure campaign from states, the federal government and Facebook, the remaining slices of the black market seem to be sitting ducks. Shortly after I joined the group, an excellent writer named Aaron Goldfarb published a piece in Esquire titled “You Can Thank Facebook for Bourbon. You Can Thank It For Ruining Bourbon, Too.” In it, Goldfarb lays out the history of secret online groups, and their important role in the Bourbon Boom of the 2000s and 2010s. The jig feels up.

Inside the Dying World of Facebook’s Whiskey Black Markets, the Best Place to Buy (and Sell) Rare Bourbon (3)
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There was an extensive set of rules regarding how business could be done in the group I joined, including the first and most apocryphal: NO ALCOHOL SALES! Users practiced some paper-thin jiggery-pokery to work around this golden rule; sometimes, for posts advertising the most exciting and expensive whiskeys, people ignored this rule and post about selling them directly. The group was extremely active — I counted upwards of 15 posts every day. People sold whiskeys, or they traded them, or they posted bottles they were looking to buy or trade for. These deals were done in a mixture of code and clever wordplay that was easy to parse after a few tries.

Members told me stories of someone trading a Corvette for 23 bottles of Pappy’s 23 Year Old, and of a group raising over $100,000 for the family of a beloved member who passed away from cancer.

Because the group is private, and because I don’t want to dime them out, and for my own safety — Goldfarb has received death threats for writing basic facts about certain groups’ methods — I won’t say too many specifics about the comings and goings there. It’s a shame, because the group had all the fascinating community drama of any blackmarketplace. People haggled over $5 or $10 in an $800 purchase, and wouldn’t budge an inch either way. Entire cases of bottles like Weller 12 posted at a reasonable price (say, $110 each) were snapped up in two minutes flat. I saw bottles listed for as cheap as $45 and as much as $12,000. Long debates and minor squabbles broke out over whose auction bid technically won a bottle, requiring CSI-like inspection of timestamps and a close reading of the group’s bylaws. Overpriced bottles elicited shaming in the form of crying laughing emojis, or worse, no comments at all — e-crickets.

There was almost none of the snark and sneering that goes on in the public bourbon groups, where selling is not allowed. The tone was professionally straightforward — most comments focused on haggling, clarifying or bidding. A bit like drunk antiques roadshow.

But keeping an eye on things for a couple weeks brought surprises. One post, about acquiring a specific special edition bottle to honor a premature baby’s birthday — eventually that tiny little girl will be 21 — turned into a minor charity cause, then a support group for the father, with parents of premature kids and far worse tragedies chiming in to say simply that it gets better.

“I’ve seen some wild drama, both good and bad,” said Goldfarb. Members told me stories of someone trading a Corvette for 23 bottles of Pappy’s 23 Year Old, and of a group raising over $100,000 for the family of a beloved member who passed away from cancer.

The commonest argument against the groups, though, is more broad and comes from within the world of whiskey fandom: that the Facebook groups have “ruined” whiskey by inspiring hordes of collectors to chase after the same rare bottles, and therefore have driven up price and sucked up all the good juice.

Then there is the bad stuff. At the top of most collectors’ minds are the cases of counterfeit or refilled bottles that were sold in the past, causing major controversy within the groups. “Every so often a fraud gets found — counterfeiting bottles, setting up a fake charity, lying about his premature daughter to get free bottles,” Goldfarb told me. The government’s case against such groups is that they could allow the sale of liquor that’s been tampered with, or that expensive bottles of rare whiskeys could be bought by minors.

(Notable: the self-policing that happens with these groups. After counterfeit and refilled bottles started showing up in recent years, a small crew started tracking all empty bottle sales on Craigslist and eBay, cross-checking those bottle numbers against “new” bottles being sold on the group, and subsequently outed at least one counterfeiter. Bans happen all the time for people who comment inappropriately or refuse to follow posting rules. Groups that do not allow sales and only focus on the value of bottles for reference have sprung up. “I noticed the prices were vastly different among groups,” wrote Pete Koma, the founder of one group, BSM — Value Reference Only. “The group is strictly meant to stand the test of time. When all the buy/sell/trade groups are shut down, the data will remain.”)

Inside the Dying World of Facebook’s Whiskey Black Markets, the Best Place to Buy (and Sell) Rare Bourbon (5)

The commonest argument against the groups, though, is more broad and comes from within the world of whiskey fandom: that the Facebook groups have “ruined” whiskey by inspiring hordes of collectors to chase after the same rare bottles, and therefore have driven up price and sucked up all the good juice.

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That is a double-edged sword. Yes, the Bourbon Boom has increased the price of bottles drastically. Prices of George T. Stagg, for instance, used to sell for around $150 in the first Bourbon Exchange Facebook group. In my group, they went for $400. But the same people collecting at more expensive rates are the heart and soul of the culture and passion that makes up whiskey-drinking and collecting culture today. Without them and their thirst for the good stuff, there would be far fewer whiskey bars, whiskey publications and blogs, or new rare and interesting releases (some of which are overpriced hype machinations, some of which are fantastic) today. Some people claim they miss the “good old days,” when the culture was smaller. There’s no going back now.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten emails about hipsters in flannel shirts stealing up Pappy,” Blake Riber, who created and runs the whiskey blog Bourbonr, told me. “I know the demographics. It’s not that.”

Where will things go from here? If Facebook continues to close the largest groups, the slow fragmentation and disintegration of the marketplace will continue. The power of the Facebook groups is drawn from the fact that everyone and their mother is on Facebook these days, all day. If Facebook shuts down whiskey-trading groups entirely, it’s reasonable the base that makes its way over to dedicated non-social-media websites will slim to a fraction of its former self. But illicit whiskey trading, like life, finds a way. Maybe it’s into even smaller micro-communities, living in group text messages, slack, or hipchat. Maybe this won’t change the culture much. Or maybe it will have a chilling effect on the bacchanal of bourbon and rare whiskey we live in today. Maybe it will be the beginning pop of the Bourbon Boom bubble.

Inside the Dying World of Facebook’s Whiskey Black Markets, the Best Place to Buy (and Sell) Rare Bourbon (6)

Or maybe, just maybe, the community could glom onto new legislation to go legit. In 2017, Kentucky passed a Vintage Spirits Law, which allows private collectors to circumvent the “three-tier system” (whiskey sold from distillers, to distributors, to retailers) and sell “vintage” spirits directly to a retailer, bar or another private collector. This seems to open up a legal secondary market for unopened “vintage” spirits, which simply must be something that is no longer for sale on the three-tier market. (This type of qausi-market already exists for selling beer.) At least one dedicated off-Facebook marketplace based in Kentucky seems to be in the works. It’s unclear what it will look like, and what kind of whiskey culture it will create.

Fred Minnick already talks about the Facebook secondary markets in past tense. They’re not the same as they once were, he says. When he looks back on them, he says, “they showed a passion, a side of people in American whiskey that the distillers could never, ever understand. Whiskey is much bigger than the brands, than Facebook. It’s big. It’s not about the bottles. It’s about the culture, the people gathering. These groups — they were our community where we huddled.”

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In the meantime, the fascinating cultural heart of rare whiskey will continue to beat on in their thinly veiled illicit Facebook pages, where people like me can learn about little-known bottles like Cream of Kentucky, I.W. Harper 15 Year, or “dusty” vintage bottles of A.H. Hirsch, and can build their own collections, make online friends who share their passion or just watch with fascination as it all goes down.

I wish I could keep lurking until the very end. After I reached out over Facebook chat to the admins of the secret group I’d joined, I received a polite response. “Hi Chris not exactly sure what you mean,” they wrote. “It’s against FB policy to sell alcohol and we don’t allow that on our page.” Then I was banned.

FAQs

How to sell my rare bourbon? ›

If you have a collection of rare bourbons or an extremely valuable single bottle of bourbon, you should use a licensed broker to sell them. If you're looking to sell vintage miniature liquor bottles on eBay and want to add some vintage flair, consider selling sealed bottles with wax or tax stamps.

What is a bourbon razzle? ›

People pay for a 1 in 10 chance to win those bourbons based on powerball numbers. So now people are buying bourbons at or below secondary, but above secondary and listing them on those pages. They then often either call a spot for themselves or give their friends a head up that they're starting the razzle.

What is the bourbon secondary market? ›

The secondary bourbon market is a market for bourbon enthusiasts to buy and sell bottles of bourbon that are no longer being produced or that are difficult to find. This market has grown in recent years as the popularity of bourbon has increased.

What whiskeys are worth money? ›

Most collectible bottles are over 10 years old and value usually increases with the age of the whisky. Whisky over 30 years old is the most sought after as it is the rarest. Any whisky bottled at over 50 years old is highly desirable and a very limited number of distilleries have released whisky over 50 years old.

Can I sell a bottle of bourbon online? ›

Private owners can sell individual bottles or collections of rare bourbons legally. However, you must sell them through a licensed broker. These specialty brokers have the appropriate licenses and even access to a massive network of buyers.

Can you make money buying and selling whiskey? ›

Returns on Investment

The average annual return on whiskey is about 10% for private investors. However, an exceptional, rare bottle can fetch much greater returns. For example: 2016 The Macallan 18-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky increased from $463 in 2020 to $1,209 in 2022, a 161% jump.

Can you sell whiskey on Amazon? ›

Reminder: all listings and products must comply with all applicable laws and regulations. Alcoholic beverages like beer, wine or hard liquors, provided they are sold only to people aged 18 years or over and you have sufficient procedures in place to verify that the customer is aged 18 years or over.

Why do people drink bourbon on the rocks? ›

While bourbon stands great on its own, some prefer to add ice. Bourbon or any spirit served over ice is referred to as "on the rocks." If you're new to the bourbon game, this can help tame it down and make it easier to acclimate yourself to drinking this spirit.

Which US state produces 95% of the world's bourbon? ›

Whiskey may be made everywhere from Brooklyn to Scotland but in 1964, Congress declared bourbon “America's Native Spirit.” That means to be called bourbon, it must be made in the U.S. But really, everyone knows that means Kentucky—95 percent of the world's bourbon is made in Kentucky.

What state has the best bourbon selection? ›

Kentucky is the ground zero of the bourbon market. It's the state where the majority of bourbon is made and therefore has the shortest shipping distance.

Are old bottles of bourbon worth anything? ›

Their value depends on condition, who distilled and bottled the whiskey inside, the brand name itself, and other factors. Most medicinal whiskey pints sell within the hundreds depending on condition, over $1000 for rarer bottles, and even more for very sought after editions.

How do I sell unopened bottles of alcohol? ›

Effective January 1, 2022, licensees must notify the Department of their intent to sell nonmanufacturer-sealed to-go alcoholic beverages. Licensees must use the Alcohol To-Go Notification Tool to submit their notice of intent prior to exercising the privilege.

Can you get 50 year old whisky? ›

50-year-old whisky is almost the holy grail in spirits terms. Very few casks of whisky will reach 50 years old and still be drinkable, representing a tiny, tiny fraction of a percent.

Can you keep whiskey for 20 years? ›

While whiskey doesn't necessarily expire, it does start to lose flavor and elements after it is opened. An unopened bottle of whiskey will last indefinitely if stored in proper condition. After opening a bottle of whiskey, you have as long as two years or as few as six months or less to drink it before it goes bad.

What is the number 1 selling whiskey in the world? ›

Global whiskey market: leading brands based on sales volume 2021. In 2021, some 30.1 million 9 liter cases of McDowell's No. 1 whiskey were sold worldwide. Imperial Blue was number two that year, selling about 24.1 million cases.

What is the number 1 whisky in the world? ›

What is considered the best whisky? The Glenmorangie Signet is considered the best whisky in the world, thanks to its use of high roast chocolate malt barley with a blend of Glenmorangie's rarest whiskies matured in bespoke casks.

Can I sell alcohol on Facebook? ›

Alcohol: We allow ads that promote alcohol, subject to certain restrictions. We don't allow the sale of alcohol on our commerce channels.

Can you make money on Bourbon? ›

Yes, you can make money by buying and selling bourbon whiskey. However, you must invest in the right bourbons to make a higher profit. Special and limited edition bourbon bottles can be worth more than their original price.

How much do hand models for bourbon make a year? ›

Hand Model Salary in Bourbon, IN. How much does a Hand Model make in Bourbon, IN? The salary range for a Hand Model job is from $45,986 to $72,531 per year in Bourbon, IN.

Is bourbon an investment? ›

Bourbon Values Hold Strong

A barrel that cost less than $1000 as new fill Bourbon or Rye whiskey is today worth more than $2500 as 2 Yo and at least $4000 as 4 year old. For Investors this represents a solid appreciating asset class that is delivering 4 year IROI of well over 100%.

Is buying bottles of whiskey a good investment? ›

As it stands, whisky is one of the most stable physical assets on the market, with Bloomberg going as far as to call it “liquid gold”. On average, the annual return on a cask of fine whisky is 12%. This staggering number means it only takes 5 years to come back to the invested price and 6 years to make a profit.

Is whiskey a better investment than gold? ›

Lucy Shaw explores whether these old drops are a good long-term investment, or if the bubble might be about to burst. When it comes to liquid assets, whisky is currently a more solid investment than wine, oil, and even gold.

Do you need a license to sell on Amazon? ›

Can you Sell on Amazon Without a License? No, selling products on Amazon UAE without an e-commerce license is not permitted. You must apply for an e-commerce license, which we can provide you with at Meydan Free Zone.

Can I sell rare alcohol on eBay? ›

Because the sale and shipping of alcohol is highly regulated in the United States, we generally don't allow sellers to list these products.

Can you sell alcohol on Amazon US? ›

Alcohol purchased on Amazon Business may not be resold and may only be used for a Customer's internal consumption. Individuals must be at least 21 years of age to purchase alcohol, or use any site functionality related to alcohol.

What does a drop of water do to bourbon? ›

Montgomerie explains that adding a few drops of water to any whiskey is a common and helpful practice for a few reasons. “For one, adding water will change the aromas and the flavors of the spirit and really tends to open the whiskey up,” he says. “The other half of it is dilution.

Does bourbon need to be kept in the dark? ›

Takeaways. Your bourbon is a precious commodity. You have to store it properly in order to preserve its freshness, flavor, and quality. Be sure you are keeping all bottles of bourbon away from direct sunlight, where UV rays can cause chemical changes that diminish the flavor of your whiskey.

How many times can you use one new barrel for making bourbon? ›

A bourbon barrel spends the first two-plus years of its life imparting rich flavor and color to the bourbon aging inside its charred oaken staves. By law, a barrel can be used just one time to distill bourbon in the US, despite the fact that these well-crafted barrels have a “lifespan” of up to 60 years.

What is the Holy Grail of bourbon? ›

Pappy is the holy grail of bourbons and very difficult to find.

What happens when you drink bourbon every day? ›

Potential Risks of Whiskey

Heavy alcohol use can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease. While low amounts may support brain health, in excess, studies show alcohol can disrupt how memories form. Over time, this can lead to cognitive decline.

What does bourbon do to your body? ›

According to a medical study, the health benefits of bourbon may include helping prevent the onset of dementia, potentially helping the memory work a little better in the process. If you're on a low-carb diet, there's good news: bourbon contains zero dietary sugar.

Why do people add water to bourbon? ›

More precisely: a recent study by chemists at the University of Sweden showed that adding water to whiskey boosts the concentration of flavour compounds at the surface of the drink, bringing more of those rich aromatics to the nose as we sip.

Which state sells the most bourbon? ›

In 2021, Kentucky had the highest per capita consumption of straight whiskey at over 293 9-liter cases per one thousand adults.

Where does Costco get their bourbon from? ›

Where is Kirkland Bourbon Made? Kirkland Signature Bourbon comes from Barton 1792 Distillery, located in the heart of Kentucky, owned by Sazerac. The distillery was named in 1792 in honor of the year Kentucky joined the United States.

Who is the Bourbon Capital of the world? ›

Kentucky is known for its bourbon, and probably nowhere in the state is there more of it than in Bardstown, the self-described Bourbon Capital of the World. There are 11 bourbon distilleries within 16 miles of downtown Bardstown, located about 55 miles southwest of Frankfort, the capital.

What is the number one bourbon in the United States? ›

Our top pick is the Henry Mckenna Single Barrel because it has a smooth and structured flavor profile and a reasonable price. With origins in Bourbon County, Kentucky, the production of bourbon has since expanded across numerous states with bottles of various flavors and price points available.

Is Blanton's hard to find in Kentucky? ›

Why is Blanton Hard to Find? Recently, Kentucky bourbons have been increasingly scarce. Aside from Blanton's bourbons, other varieties such as Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare 10, Colonel E.H. Taylor bourbons also reported that their bottles have been running out.

How to sell expensive bourbon? ›

Individual bottles or collections of rare bourbon can be sold legally for personal use by private owners. In order to sell them, you must be able to do so with the assistance of an accredited broker. Specialty brokers are well-known for their licenses and access to a large network of buyers.

Do people buy empty bourbon bottles? ›

Empty bottles of premium brands of whiskey such as Pappy Van Winkle, Old Fitzgerald and Macallan are selling for hundreds of dollars on sites such as eBay, according to a report from the New York Times.

Is Rare whiskey a good investment? ›

According to the most recent Knight Frank Index, the value of rare whisky has risen by 540% during the last decade; faster than any other collectable luxury asset, such as watches, art or classic cars.

Does Rare whiskey appreciate in value? ›

Property adviser Knight Frank's “The Wealth Report 2022” shows that, as of the last quarter, rare whisky is by far its highest-performing luxury investment class, showing a 428 per cent growth over the last 10 years, even more so than cars (164 per cent), wine (137 per cent) and watches (108 per cent).

Can you sell bourbon on eBay? ›

We require sellers and buyers to follow all federal and state laws and regulations when using eBay. Because the sale and shipping of alcohol is highly regulated in the United States, we generally don't allow sellers to list these products.

Do bourbon barrels increase in value? ›

Since 2010, prices for bourbon casks have appreciated on average 13.85% per year on average, depending on the distillery and age. In comparison to other asset classes, bourbon has outpaced nearly every other category.

Does unopened whiskey get better with age? ›

Some alcohol, like wine, gets better in the bottle over time, but this isn't true for all types of booze, including whiskey. Unopened whiskey can last indefinitely, but a bottle that has been opened will eventually expire due to oxidation.

How long will whisky last unopened? ›

An unopened bottle of whiskey will last indefinitely if stored in proper condition. After opening a bottle of whiskey, you have as long as two years or as few as six months or less to drink it before it goes bad.

How much is a barrel of bourbon worth? ›

Depending on the distillery, the age of the bourbon and several other factors, the average cost of a barrel of bourbon or whiskey ranges between $8,000-$15,000. They can even go up to $20,000 or higher. How Do You Get Your Bourbon Bottled?

Can you drink 30 year old bourbon? ›

The shelf life of bourbon isn't much different from the shelf life of whiskey, as a whole. Unopened, a bottle of bourbon won't go bad. You can store it for decades.

How long can you store unopened bourbon? ›

In fact, an unopened bottle of whiskey lasts up to 10 years or more as long as you store them properly. When it comes to opened bottles of whiskey, it can last for up to two years if it's half full. However, if it's less than a quarter full, it can potentially last for up to six months.

Can you age bourbon too long? ›

While some aging is desirable to achieve the best flavor profile, too much aging can actually cause the Bourbon to lose flavor. A great distiller can find the sweet spot in the aging process where the youngest whiskey no longer has its sharp, unfinished taste but hasn't succumbed to flavor loss from over-aging.

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