Late last year, the Ohio Department of Commerce launched an online inventory system that consumers can use to find specific products at the state's liquor stores.
Some savvy shoppers, especially bourbon lovers, say the site is useful, but they more often track down hard to find spirits by word of mouth, fortunate timing and perseverance.
The website OHLQ.com went live in December. It tracks sales and deliveries at Ohio liquor stores and provides an update on their inventory every morning, letting prospective customers check out a shop's stock in nearly real time. The site doesn't tell you exactly how many bottles are left, but uses images of full, half full and empty liquor bottles to give users an idea of how much of a certain product is available.
The site was a way to increase transparency, said Lindsey LeBerth, brand manager for the commerce department's Division of Liquor Control.
"This is very much a brand new venture for us," LeBerth said. "We wanted folks to see what was out there."
Liquor enthusiasts say the site is not always accurate.
"It's good for the middle stuff," said Rob Beach, 42, of Columbus. "Things that aren't on every shelf in every town, but not things that there would be long lines for."
Grant Dunlap, who manages a Facebook page for bourbon lovers in Ohio, said he's shown up at stores looking for rare spirits listed online only to find the store had sold out.
"It happens all the time," Dunlap said.
Some customers use the inventory to find a rare brand, and then arrive shortly after it is listed so they can buy a store's entire stock, he said.
Some bourbon seekers also are known to visit liquor stores right after they restock to snatch sought-after items before they're even listed, Dunlap said.
"We always encourage consumers to call ahead of time" to make sure stores still have uncommon items listed on the website, LeBerth said.
She encouraged anyone who experiences problems to call the Division of Liquor Control's help line at 887-812-0013, or send an email to email@example.com.
The state holds a lottery for the rarest brands, and that's still the best way to find the most prized items, Beach said.
"Anything that's really rare, anything that's extra limited, they have live lotteries and raffles," he said.
Liquor Control also occasionally offers discounts on limited offerings that didn't sell out or seasonal items that outlive their season, LeBerth said. A Giant Eagle on Neil Avenue in Columbus is one of three stores in the state to stock those items.
The other stores are a Kroger in Cincinnati and Glass City Beverage in Toledo.
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