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RARE SPIRITS

South Boston News
Waiting to be one of the lucky buyers in Virginia ABC’s limited release bourbon sale were Patricia Porter, Jerry Billingsley, Tom Thomas, Christopher McSwain, and Michael Turner.
SoVaNow.com / November 11, 2020
More than a dozen people stood in line for hours — two of them overnight — waiting for the chance to purchase limited availability bourbons when the ABC package store on Virginia Avenue in Clarksville opened at noon on Tuesday.

The first six lucky purchasers took home the highly sought spirits, with a one bottle limit: E.H. Taylor Jr. Barrel Proof Bourbon, E.H. Taylor Jr. Single Barrel Bourbon, Elijah Craig 18-Year Bourbon and Weller Full Proof Bourbon, which went on sale at ABC retail stores across Virginia during a limited special release. Three more buyers in line also hoped to walk away with one of the coveted bottles, although for them supplies were not guaranteed.

As time approached for the store to open, the line of expectant bourbon buyers grew to more than 15. Customers came from Mecklenburg and Halifax counties and northern border counties in North Carolina.

The Clarksville liquor store, like other stores in Virginia, had no more than nine bottles of the prized bourbons to sell during the Virginia ABC Collectible Bourbon Release.

Immediately prior to the store’s opening, store managers were told to distribute between six and nine numbered tickets (depending on the number of bottles available) to the first six to nine customers in line. Bottles were then sold on a first-come, first-serve basis by these numbers, one per customer.

While most people standing in line Tuesday morning said they were bourbon connoisseurs, one man said he was a collector, and another said he was waiting in line for his brother-in-law.

Bourbon lovers and collectors learned of the sale by subscribing to Virginia Alcohol Control Authority’s (ABC) online newsletter, or through the Spirited Virginia e-newsletter or Spirited Virginia page on Facebook.

On its website ahead of the sale, the ABC advised, “due to issues with our current lottery system, we have had to temporarily curtail lotteries. This has enabled us to build sufficient inventory to distribute several lottery products to retail stores. In order to make these products available to our customers, the following products will be available for sale at your local Virginia ABC store on November 10:

» Elijah Craig 18 Year Bourbon

» Weller Full Proof Bourbon

» E.H. Taylor Jr. Barrel Proof Bourbon

» E.H. Taylor Jr. Single Barrel Bourbon

According to Patricia Porter, one of the nine people waiting for the Clarksville ABC store to open, not every store would receive the same number or types of bourbon. It was her understanding that the Clarksville store was in line to receive the Elijah Craig and the Weller, but neither of the E.H. Taylor bourbons.

Elijah Craig 18 Year Bourbon sells online, if it can be found, for more than $340 per bottle. Similarly, a bottle of Weller Full Proof Bourbon sells online, when available, for between $344 and $600. Those waiting in line to purchase the bourbon expected it to sell at the store for between $30 and $50.

While both small-batch bourbons are very popular, Weller is slightly different. It is a so-called wheated bourbon, since it is made with corn, barley and wheat instead of the more standard rye. It is said to have a softer, smoother taste.

E.H. Taylor Jr. Barrel Proof Bourbon sells online for between $680 and $900 and the brand’s Single Barrel Bourbon sells online for around $345.

Bourbon, which has been called the Great American Spirit, has risen in popularity in the past few years. To be classified as bourbon, the whiskey must be made in the U.S., and its grain bill must include at least 51 percent corn. It must be produced at not more than 80 percent alcohol (160 proof) and stored in charred new oak containers at no more than 62.5 percent (125 proof).

Elijah Craig bourbons, distilled at Heaven Hill Distillery in Kentucky, are named for Rev. Elijah Craig, a bourbon pioneer who is credited as the first distiller to age his whiskey in charred oak barrels. It repeatedly makes industry top 10 lists of the best bourbons.

Weller Bourbon is named for William Larue Weller, an early distiller in Kentucky. He is said to have produced the first straight bourbon using wheat instead of rye in the mashbill. His wheated bourbon was first produced in 1849. Weller Bourbon is distilled at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Ky.

E.H. Taylor Jr. is a small batch hand-made bourbon also distilled at Buffalo Trace Distillery. The bourbon is named for President Zachary Taylor’s grandson, Edmund Haynes Taylor Jr., a bourbon pioneer, mayor and state representative who started and owned seven different distilleries in Kentucky during his life.

Throughout the year, Virginia ABC offers special releases of products, including highly sought bourbons, whiskies and other small-batch spirits offerings. These products are distributed for purchase in stores as well as by lottery. Customers and licensees can sign up for the Spirited Virginia e-newsletter and follow Spirited Virginia on Facebook for up-to-date information about these offerings.

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