better bourbon buying
Morgan Weber wants to help a select group of Houstonians drink better bourbon. Towards that end, the proprietor of Eight Row Flint has established a whiskey locker program to share some of the bar’s most choice selections.
Most people are aware that bourbon and other whiskey categories have exploded in popularity. In particular, devotees covet rare and unusual bottles, such as those produced from a single barrel of whiskey. When a Facebook group such as the popular Houston Bourbon Society has over 11,000 members and a barrel only yields approximately 250 bottles, a lot of whiskey lovers are going to be left out.
For $75 a month, a person may rent one of Eight Row’s 48 available lockers. In exchange, they’ll get access to purchase bottles that Weber has personally selected as part of the bar’s barrel program.
Weber tells CultureMap he sees the program as a win-win. Selling bottles of whiskey to locker holders allows him to move through inventory more quickly —which makes distilleries and distributors happy — thus ensuring Eight Row’s continued ability to buy more barrels. Locker holders get access to highly coveted bottles of bourbon without either the hassle of hunting around multiple stores or the expense and risk of buying from unknown sellers on Facebook.
“The umbrella that’s above this entire story is I’m super frustrated with the secondary Facebook bourbon market that charges insanity prices,” he says. Later, he adds, “I think it’s crazy to spend that amount of money on four-to-six-year-old whiskey or even eight-year-old whiskey.”
For newcomers who are excited about exploring bourbon and starting their collections, paying $200 for a bottle that was only supposed to cost $60 inevitably leads to frustration and disappointment. Leasing a locker at Eight Row will ultimately be less expensive and more satisfying, Weber contends. Although it’s not quite as convenient as drinking at home, most people don’t make tacos or queso that are as good as Eight Row Flint’s.
“When you go to Eight Row and have a locker, you’re not being micromanaged. You can pour it and drink it. Go for it,” Weber says.
The bar’s upcoming barrel purchases are still being finalized, but Weber says he expects to have Sazerac Rye, Weller Full Proof, Buffalo Trace, Russell’s Reserve, and Whistlepig available to locker holders. Some other tempting choices may make an appearance, too.
“Once summer is over, we’ll start kicking out a newsletter every month to the bourbon locker holders to say we have opportunities to buy some super dope stuff that might not find its way to our back bar, but here’s the price,” he says. “If you want to bring it in for your locker, you can do that.”
What further distinguishes Eight Row’s locker program from the store picks that whiskey obsessives line up for comes down to Weber himself. He’s looking for examples that taste different than a distillery’s standard releases.
“A lot of these store picks are just distillery picks sent to the store with the store’s name on it,” he says. “That’s the way it goes . . . The way we do it is completely the opposite of that. At Willet, we just walk around and try barrels until we find something we like. It’s been difficult in 2021 getting that program lined up again, but we’re working with distilleries on getting things that don’t taste normal.”
For example, Weber once attempted to use Maker’s Mark’s custom stave program to recreate the flavor profile of a ’60s-era bottle of bourbon from the legendary Stitzel-Weller Distillery. A fresh barrel of that recipe will also be coming to Eight Row in time.
“I’m really trying to get our program back to really personalized picks, and then put that in the wild,” he says. “That’s the goal.”
So far, Eight Row has rented just 13 of the available lockers, but expect that to change soon as awareness of the program spreads and “allocation season” draws near. For whiskey lovers, leasing a locker might be the next best thing to becoming best friends with a liquor store owner.