FRANKFORT (AP) — Here’s a topic for barroom chats: Are today’s whiskeys better than old-time spirits? Kentucky lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that could stir those conversations.
The legislation sent to Gov. Matt Bevin by the state Senate would allow vintage bottles of spirits to be put back into circulation in the state known as the world’s bourbon capital.
The measure would allow people who possess unopened, out-of-circulation bottles of spirits to sell them to bars, restaurants or liquor stores.
Supporters see it as another way to boost the booming bourbon tourism industry.
If the bill becomes law, it would tap into pent-up demand among people willing to sell their old bottles and whiskey fans longing to sample rare spirits, supporters said.
Kentucky bars and restaurants could seek out hard-to-get bottles to put on their shelves and pour out as shots or mixed in cocktails. The trend has become popular in cities in some other states.
“The most common question we get at the bar is, ‘What do you have that I can’t get at home?’” said Matthew Landan, owner of Haymarket Whiskey Bar in Louisville.
The goal is to allow Kentucky bars, restaurants and package stores to put together the world’s best bourbon and spirits collections, attracting more tourists and whiskey connoisseurs, said Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.
Landan’s bar stocks nearly 400 whiskeys, but he hopes that inventory grows to include out-of-stock bottles that appeal to connoisseurs and bourbon tourists. His personal collection includes a bottle of whiskey distilled a century ago. He planned to share it with friends to celebrate his birthday. Now, he may sell it as shots to customers if the bill becomes law.
Bill Thomas, owner of Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, D.C., known for its massive collection of vintage spirits, said the legislation in the hub of whiskey production could “unlock a lot of hidden treasures” now collecting dust on shelves or packed away in basements.
“This bill will solidify Kentucky not only as the distilling mecca of the United States, but the bottle mecca as well,” he said.
The market could be lucrative for people holding on to old bottles, which could fetch hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
“I can’t tell you how many times people have called me to say they found a bottle in their grandpa’s basement. They’re like, ‘What can we do with this?’” said Fred Minnick, a bourbon historian and author of “Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey.”
The bill’s lead sponsor, Republican state Rep. Chad McCoy of Bardstown, has said many of his constituents have vintage bourbon collections. Bardstown bills itself as the epicenter of Kentucky’s bourbon industry. McCoy’s bill passed the state House last month.
The whiskeys could range from decades-old products from now-defunct distilleries to limited editions rolled out in recent years that are out of circulation and unavailable from wholesalers.
The bill could let consumers gauge how today’s whiskeys stand up to old-time products.
So when a distillery claims “they’ve been doing the same thing, the same way since 19-whatever, consumers can now call them out,” Minnick said. “They can say, ‘No you’re not. This is better than it was back then.’ Or they can say, ‘yes, you’re right.’”