Utah’s first drawing for hard-to-get liquors officially launched Tuesday, with the state offering bottles of Elmer T. Lee single barrel bourbon for $37.99.
This award-winning whiskey is practically a steal. A 750 milliliter bottle is listed for as much as $300 online. It’s one instance when the state’s mandatory 88% markup on spirits favors consumers.
Utahns now have seven days to visit the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control website — https://abc.utah.gov — to register for a chance to buy one of the 108 bottles the state received this year from the famed Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky.
The company website says the whiskey, named for the master distiller who helped revive the bourbon industry in the 1980s, has notes of “clove, vanilla, and old leather” and a “long and warm finish."
DABC Deputy Director Cade Meier officially announced the selection during Tuesday’s monthly meeting of the state liquor commission.
The agency believes, he said, “this is a fair and consistent way to offer these products to the public."
To participate in this — and future drawings — consumers 21 and older must first create a personal profile on the DABC website that includes an email, birthdate and the last four digits of either their Utah driver license, passport, military or work ID.
Consumers will have to show the identification when they go to buy the bottle at the state-run liquor store they listed at the time of registration, Meier explained.
Only Utahns and those in the active military in the state can put their name in the drawing. DABC employees may not participate; neither can restaurants, bars or other businesses with state liquor licenses.
The names for this first drawing will be picked randomly by computer after July 1. Those selected will be notified by email. Only one bottle can be purchased per address, and reselling the product is prohibited.
This is the first of three drawings to be held during a 90-day trial period, being mandated by the Utah attorney general’s office while the agency writes administrative rules for managing the drawing process.
“If the trial period is successful and rules are written," spokesman Terry Wood said in a news release, "it is likely the DABC will be granted approval to continue the program.”
The drawing is not considered a lottery — those are illegal in Utah— because customers are not being asked to pay money to participate, Wood said. It is simply “an opportunity to purchase a retail product.”
It’s being compared to the hunting permit drawings offered through the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
Spirits that are selected for DABC drawings will be announced during liquor commission meetings — typically held the last Tuesday of each month — and on the agency website.
The DABC announced last month that it would start holding random drawings to distribute all rare, high-demand liquor products — like Pappy Van Winkle and Old Forester bourbons — so that interested consumers get a fair chance to buy the products.
The DABC started the online drawings using Elmer T. Lee, a lesser-known spirit, so it could test the new system and work out any bugs before November — when the bourbons with the highest interest are released.
The process has been used by several other states, including neighboring Idaho.
The DABC has been criticized in recent years for the way it handles these “unicorn” products, which are released only once a year in limited quantities and, at least in Utah, at “bargain” prices.
Each year, for example, the Pappy Van Winkle distillery releases 7,000 cases — with three bottles each — to liquor outlets around the country. Two years ago, Utah’s allotment was around 100 bottles.
With such limited distribution, the bourbon has a huge markup and sells for $270 to $300 a bottle in other states.
However, with Utah’s legislatively set markup at 88%, consumers in the Beehive State were able to nab bottles for about half that much.
The arrangement has created high demand in the state, and many customers complained of not getting a fair chance at buying them.