Aspirational Water - A Story in The Guardian that Cites The Ice Book
New Drink Books For Spring, Summer, and Fall 2024

Review: Dusty Booze by Aaron Goldfarb

This story first appeared on


Dusty boozeDusty Booze: In Search of Vintage Spirits (Abrams Press, March 5, 2024) is the first book devoted to a specific phenomenon within the liquor industry. Dusty hunters chase after bottles from bygone brands or old formulations that are no longer available.

When I first learned about dusty hunters, they were of the tequila variety. The spirit category had and still has a large amount of variation in quality over the years, even within one brand. Brands move between distilleries, are made on new or different equipment, are distilled from agave from different places, or new owners cut corners in a way that impacts the quality. The tequila superfans notice, and stockpile.

Looking For Old Tequila & More

I heard tales of agave afficionados scoping out dumpy or distressed liquor stores for old inventory, hunting for specific brands of tequila down to the batch number on the bottles. Some of these dusty hunters did so for the love of the category; some for the thrill of the hunt; others for the love of the resale value of special bottles. I heard of people printing out maps of every liquor store within a certain region and visiting them one-by-one; sometimes scoring cases of unsold spirit at rock bottom prices. I also heard about the resale market and the piles of money some people were able to make by flipping bottles. One person said he sold his top finds to hoteliers in Las Vegas where they were given as gifts to high rollers.

This was about fifteen years ago. Since then, I’ve always fantasized about certain vintage spirits I’d love to try such as pre-phylloxera cognac, the 17 year old Jamaican rum used in the first Mai Tai, Chartreuse from the 1800s. They’re not in my budget, but I like to dream about them, and occasionally consider ordering one from a vintage spirits menu at a bar.

In Dusty Booze: In Search of Vintage Spirits spirits writer Aaron Goldfarb introduces us to the world of the dusty hunters as well as their dusty prey – the collectible or resellable special spirits of old. In the book he zigzags through history, as every spirit category that people now collect had a different glory period when the category was particularly good, or else a glut period when pretty good liquor was particularly cheap (and still findable); before an ownership change or a legal one, or even just before changing consumer preferences rendered existing inventories irrelevant and unsellable. There was a time when the only way to unload bourbon was to put it into hokey collectable novelty containers – and today those containers are collectable only for their contents.

We meet plenty of dusty hunters in the book but I wouldn’t say we meet the dusty hunting “community,” because it turns out a lot of these guys are competitive, secretive loners who mostly know each other online as they bid at auction for undervalued treasures up for sale. In this field there are paranoid hoarders and rumored caches from collectors of old. One thread throughout the book is tracking down one specific collection from legendary Hollywood mogul – from rumor to auction to where it wound up and where you can go drink it.

A Question Of Value

Dusty Booze inspires reflection on the nature of what makes things valuable- time and proximity to fame, quality and rarity, age and beauty, and whether to taste a moment in time or keep time in a bottle forever. With stamp or coin collecting we don’t encounter the temptation to actually stick the stamp on an envelope and mail it nor to spend the currency, but with dusty booze for some collectors the opportunity to taste history is too good to pass up. Those are my people.

The book lightly covers a lot of ground so that you’re never lost in the minutiae but introduced to a wide variety of topics including why some categories are valuable, whether older stuff was better tasting, and how counterfeiting works. Goldfarb doesn’t spend a ton of words on telling readers what to collect but does identify key vintage finds in different spirit categories including rum and liqueurs. It’s not a blue book, it is a book about a cultural phenomenon.

Whether you’ve had a little window into the world of dusty hunting already as I have with tequila, or seen vintage spirits on bar menus and wondered how those came to be, or you’re just hearing about it for the first time and intrigued at all, I think you’ll enjoy Dusty Booze. And unlike the bottle of scotch distilled in your birth year, you can probably still afford to pick up a copy.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)