If you’ve been sentient for the last year or two, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard the term “NFT.” Non-fungible tokens have upended the digital art world, for better or worse, and have begun seeping into almost every aspect of our culture. It turns out, whiskey is no different.
In fact, you can bid on an ultra-rare, first-of-its-kind, six-liter bottle of bourbon whiskey from Buffalo Trace right now. The only catch? It’s also an NFT, with a digital representation of the bottle (and a VIP tour thrown in too). Yes, bourbon has gone NFT.
But there’s more to this digital and physical NFT than just a jpeg and bottle of booze. Buffalo Trace is attempting to leverage the hype around NFTs and their very rare bourbons to raise money for charities. Instead of simply releasing a rare one-off whiskey, creating an insane buzz, and adding the profit to the pile at the bank, Buffalo Trace is funneling all the money to various non-profit charitable groups.
To that end, we caught up with Buffalo Trace’s VP of Bourbon, Sara Saunders, to talk about their foray into the world of NFTs and how charity is reshaping the industry. Saunders was kind enough to jump on a call and walk us through Buffalo Trace’s current plan to release 2022 rare bottles to charity this year, and why they decided to release their rarest release as an NFT. It’s an illuminating conversation, about a bourbon company trying to push the culture in new directions.
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Why is it important for a whiskey company to donate to charity?
In the past couple of years, we have been doing things that have raised multiple millions of dollars and we wanted to up our game even further this year. In terms of why, I mean, we’ve seen more and more needs, more and more causes pop up, which has made us basically hungry for more people, more agencies, and more causes. We want to see what else we can do as a company. But we’ve also seen more consumers seeking to understand what a company is and what they stand for. We believe that it’s important for a company like ours to take a stance and show up when consumers need us. That’s one of the key reasons why we quickly acted after the tornadoes and will continue to do things like that locally. And now that we’ve started doing more of that outreach with this program, hopefully, that help can spread globally.
Your company’s in a very lucky position in that you have very good name recognition with your brands — Pappy and Weller alone are pretty renowned brands even outside of whiskey circles. Obviously, there’s always a diminishing stock while at the same time those bottles are catnip for raising money. What’s the process when it comes to deciding where those bottles go and who you support?
Obviously, every situation is different, but I’ll just talk about last year’s tornado, specifically. We immediately saw it and knew we needed to do something. We went through our inventory and asked, “what do we have?” and “what can we contribute that we believe is going to auction for the most dollar value to give back to the cause?” Then we work with that partner to make sure that we drive awareness to that auction so that we’re able to elevate the amounts that charity receives.
So Buffalo Trace has set aside 2022 bottles that any non-profit charity group can sign up for. Is there going to be any selection process? Is it first come first serve? How does that work?
It’s really going to be a case-by-case basis. So there’s really no catch. We’re asking that all of the charities and non-profits enter by March 31st. And at that point, we’re going to take a look at our inventory and really try to match it with things that are happening with those charities.
As an example, around Earth Day, we’re probably going to want to do something with our Single Oak expression — which we’re releasing 300 bottles of — to really harken back to the spirit of that day. And we’re probably going to want to do it with a partner that has a good footing in that space. We try to ask ourselves, “How do we match the non-profits with the supply that we have and the offerings that we have to really make the most impact,” and that’ll vary.
So let’s talk a little bit about the NFT, I believe this is going to be the first official NFT in whiskey. But it’s more than just the token. There’s a physical aspect to it in this six-liter bottle of very rare whiskey, a 1982 O.F.C. Of course, NFTs are on the tip of everyone’s tongue right now. What was the thought behind adding that layer to this large-format bottle release?
We’ve been watching the NFT scene and I think one of the things that was really important to us is that it results in a physical bottle and a physical experience. So you’ll see that as part of our launch, we wanted to do something that was unique for us and that we had a limited quantity of. That’s really why we connected it with a six-liter bottle. Six liters will be able to hopefully generate more dollars for the non-profits that we’re going to select for this and create a lot of talk value as really one of the firsts of its kind.
The other piece of the NFT is we’re really hoping to reach a new audience. If you look at who, right now, is participating in NFTs, there’s a different audience, a more global audience, and a little bit more diverse than we usually see. So we’re hoping to drive both awareness of our brand and our product, but also of the non-profits that we’ll be serving.
So there’s the physical aspect to this NFT, the six-liter bottle, but what will the person receive as the actual NFT or the digital aspect?
So there’s going to be a digital, unique rendering of the actual pack. Then, we are planning on having an exclusive experience connected as well. So, whoever ends up winning the auction, they’ll get the digital rendering, the physical bottle, and they will get an experience that is extremely VIP and rare here at Buffalo Trace.
So it’s sort of like you’re winning three times…
That’s right. Exactly. So you get the NFT, and you can destroy the NFT if you want. But then you still get the bottle and then you also get this really rare experience.
Yeah, that’s something I think a lot of people are going to be chasing. Let’s talk a little bit wider about charity in general. Because I feel with the alcohol industry, charity is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you pull a bottle of Buffalo Trace Bourbon off the shelf. How important is charity to the whiskey community, but also to a company like Buffalo Trace?
I think from a consumer standpoint or an employee standpoint that when we take action for good, I think it says a lot about the company and gives people that are working for us, with us, around us, or consuming our product an additional belief in us and reason to buy. It helps folks understand who we are at the company and what we stand for based on who we are supporting. And I think that’s really important nowadays, for companies to put their money where their mouth is and really back these critical needs that we see both domestically and abroad.
With the NFT auction dropping and this March 31st deadline coming up, it feels like you’re front-loading for the charitable year. What’s your plan for year-round charitable situations that might pop?
When things pop up, we are going to be reactive. And luckily for us, we do have enough inventory when needed and we will not be allocating all of the bottles as of March 31st. So we’ll kind of spread this out, get the first batch going, and then move from there. We encourage non-profits to enter throughout the year when new non-profits pop up or when different causes pop up. Certainly, we’re encouraging them to come into our database and we will be communicating regularly when there are opportunities.
We want to make sure that we’re fostering that environment. So this is a long game for us. It isn’t just a six-month kind of thing. We do want to encourage it now so that we can get more proactive. But over time, we’re just going to keep building up our reach and hopefully see more and more non-profits enter our database so that we can proactively give away some amazing products and raise some incredible dollars behind them.