Rare 'Boozicorns' Are Plentiful Across PA And Data-Driven Journalism Can Help You Find Them

Jun 7, 2016

Jacob Sanders uses his boozicorns website to track rare bottles of liquor and wine for sale in Pennsylvania's state-run liquor stores.
Credit Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board

Why do certain bottles of liquor end up in just one of Pennsylvania’s more than 600 wine and spirit stores? Attempting to find an answer to the question led Jacob Quinn Sanders to develop Boozicorns — a map listing those difficult-to-find bottles of alcohol that exist in only one location within the state.

It all started when a friend of Sanders  found a bottle of Croatian wine in Washington, D.C. Sanders said he didn’t expect to find it in Pennsylvania, but he did.

“It was in one store in Indiana County, 60 miles from Pittsburgh,” Sanders said. “And I thought, ‘How does that happen?’”

He mentioned it to an editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where Sanders worked at the time, who saw the story as a journey. Sanders drove out to Indiana with a friend, and they followed the bottle's origins to figure out how it ended up in the Indiana County store. He said the experience led him to wonder how many other "boozicorns" were in existence.

“If I didn’t know what I was looking for, but was just looking for something that existed like this in Pennsylvania, where would I find it? How would I find it?” Sanders asked. “It didn’t exist.”

Pennsylvania’s status as a control state — a state in which the government holds a monopoly on the sale of wine and spirits — allowed Sanders to access the data needed to create the Boozicorn map. He combined his journalistic background with recently acquired coding skills to make it a reality.

“I’m a big supporter of people who want to use public data for whimsy as well as education,” Sanders said.

The existence of boozicorns raises questions about large variations within the centrally-controlled liquor board system. Sanders attributes some of this to chance.

“Some of it is just the product of distribution and logistics,” Sanders said. “There’s always going to be something that's about to run out across the entire state that happens to only be in one place.”

But with around 2,000 unique bottles across the state on any given day, Sanders said he was surprised by the extent of the disparity.

Others seem to be intrigued as well. Sanders said the response to Boozicorns has exceeded his expectations, with people in other states contacting him, wanting to reproduce the app in their state.

“It’s been a week today (Tuesday) since it went public,” Sanders said. “It’s been a little bit overwhelming, and a little bit great.”

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