Do you like Bourbon and Whisky? New Auction Site Makes Buying Easier (Too Easy According to My Credit Card Statement!) | by Hunter Walk | October 2022

My hobbies are largely consumer: coffee and whiskey (the first excessively and the second more modestly). Whiskey, especially bourbon, scratches a whole lot of itch for me: a love of American history, a community of people to share in the fun, and a deep rabbit hole of bottles to taste. During the initial lockdown, much of that excitement shifted from bars and IRL dating to the best option available: socially distant together, whether it’s zoom happy hours and online groups. Around the same time, a new Chicago-based business opened, Unicorn Auctions, which quickly began to grow from a few hundred bottles to be won once a month to thousands with sales sometimes bi-monthly.

Unicorn has taken the previously more niche and collectible liquor/spirits auctions here in the US and made them mainstream. There are no entry fees, you can pay for your prizes with a credit card, and they can make it easy to ship your winnings locally. As for what’s listed – well, that’s it, from daily drinkers to a pre-ban dusty rare. I wanted to know a little more about this website capturing my time and money, so I asked co-founder Cody Modeer to answer a few questions for me.

Hunter Walk: Tell me a little story about the founding of Unicorn Auctions. Something you’ve been thinking about for a while or more from a “let’s just try this and see what happens” side project?

Cody Modeer: Prior to launching Unicorn, I had worked in the hospitality industry for about a decade. I opened a cocktail bar (Ward Eight) in 2012, and it was quite successful. My co-founder AJ had also been in the business for years, so when we got together, we ended up talking about business ideas and gaps in the industry that we had noticed, just working on them day in and day out. . We started to focus on the auction industry, it looked like we could bring a new approach by focusing on spirits. It just felt like the time had come for Unicorn.

HW: Whiskey has really grown in popularity over the past decade, but the pandemic seemed to take it to a whole new level. Mix of closed bars/restaurants, people drinking at home, and maybe even the general spike in prices for collectibles, crypto, stimmy checks, etc. Were you surprised by the evolution of prices on the secondary market?

CM: Absolutely. Fortunately surprised. In February 2020 we officially launched our first auction with bottles from our own personal collections, and in March we had to close my bar for COVID safety, and the place where AJ worked also closed. As a result, we had a lot more time to devote to Unicorn. And yes, we have seen dramatic price increases in this first year. People were stuck in their homes doing nothing and they had extra money because they weren’t going out or traveling. The timing kind of worked out well. One door closed and another open.

a real “dusty” listed in the October auction

HW: Tell me more about offering this activity to you. Is it about listing a few big whales on Unicorn or is there a long line of vendors bringing you all a handful of bottles? Are truly rare items from collectors or someone who had an old decanter their grandfather gave them and before Unicorn, limited legal options on how to sell it?

CM: We’ve always wanted Unicorn to be more inclusive than traditional auction houses. If someone gets a bottle for $50 and can sell it for $80, that profit can be significant for them. Traditional auction houses usually have minimums and focus more on conservation, but this can exclude many people from participation. There are good reasons why the industry is the way it is, but AJ and I both thought that if we could find a way to increase participation using technology while providing a bit of hospitality, a personal touch, we’d be in a good place. And it’s not just on the sell side, there are a lot of frustrated buyers out there who are tired of playing all the retail games and driving around for hours trying to find a particular bottle to get their hands on. empty.

But, to answer your question, we get everything from 1 bottle to over 3,000 collectible bottles. Some are long-term collectors looking to retire, some need the cash to finish home renovations, and some just need a little extra income to pay the bills. Many are what you might call dabbling, people who buy and resell a few bottles here and there. We welcome all kinds.

HW: Sometimes you’ll hear about counterfeits — you know, buying an empty Pappy bottle, refilling it. It’s pretty rare and I think the community is good at policing themselves, but do you also have a hand in authenticating what’s being sold on the site?

CM: Unicorn Auctions is a trusted platform. We process every bottle that passes through our auctions. We know the product and we stand behind every bottle. By state law, we are required to take possession of every bottle we auction, and our team does an excellent job of inspecting and flagging anything that may appear damaged or unsalable for any reason. This is our only business and we take the issue of authenticity and provenance very seriously.

In the case of very rare and high-end bottles, we work alongside other auction houses as well as other experts in the field to help us verify and ensure what we have. If we don’t feel confident for any reason about a particular bottle, we will return it.

HW: So it’s probably stupid of me to try to bring more people into the auction — I mean, I’m just creating more competition for what I’m trying to win 🙂 — but if someone who reads this will jump in the next auction in octoberwhat advice would you give them?

CM: My approach is to go through an auction lot by lot and click on the star to “watch” any lot that interests me. With larger bids, I’ll use search to search for keywords like “Stitzel-Weller” or “Wild Turkey” to narrow it down. Then I will follow my watched lots throughout the auction and ignore what I am not interested in. If an opportunity arises to buy one of my favorite lots at a good price, I will jump on it. There is a bit of the thrill of the chase in the whole process. But the best advice I can give anyone new to auctions is to buy what you like and have fun.

Thanks Cody! I liked shopping on Unicorn, from versions that aren’t available locally in the Bay Area, to older bottles that predate my entry into the hobby. If you’re a whiskey lover or just curious about bourbon, I recommend giving them a try. During this exchange, Cody offered to send me stuff he liked, which was very generous, but didn’t impact my questions or any other consideration. .

Dream Bottle Listed in Upcoming October Auction