One expert called it “an amazing rarity.” Local bar owners wait months — even years — for a single bottle, and enthusiasts line up at liquor stores by the hundreds for the remote chance they will take one home.
Now there is even less Pappy Van Winkle to go around after someone stole more than $26,000 worth of the bourbon from Buffalo Trace Distillery in an apparent inside job.
Sheriff Pat Melton said the distillery reported Tuesday that 65 three-bottle cases of the Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20 Year bourbon and nine bottles of the Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye have gone missing from the Frankfort distillery.
Melton said the bourbon was kept locked up at the distillery and the criminal activity appeared to have taken place over a couple of months.
“Right now we’re looking at it as an internal theft,” Melton said.
The 20-year-old Pappy Van Winkle is the top-rated bourbon whiskey in the world, with a 99 out of 100 rating by the World Spirits Championship, according to the Buffalo Trace website.
It retails for $130, but experts say the price more than doubles in the “secondary” or “black market.”
Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye is aged for 13 years and is worth about $25 a bottle.
There also is a 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle that retails for $200 or more.
“It’s a really big deal,” said Tom Fischer, founder of BourbonBlog.com. “Most bottles are spoken for the moment they come into a liquor store.”
Fischer has been writing about bourbon for more than eight years and he said owning a bottle of Pappy is a very special gift.
“It’s the equivalent of getting laid,” Fischer said, by phone from his home in southern Indiana.
Fischer said Pappy Van Winkle usually does an annual release in October or November.
He said he would guess the stolen Pappy was about to be released to market, only strengthening his belief that the thief must have been familiar with the schedule.
“They know this is when that bourbon comes up for distribution,” Fischer said. “It could have been a crime that had been thought through for a while.”
When the bourbon is released, people stand in line for hours just for a chance to get their hands on a bottle.
The Facebook group “Pappy Van Winkle Enthusiasts” has more than 800 members. In the group, members discuss the bourbon and share tips on where it can be found.
Members began spreading the word about the stolen bourbon Wednesday after The State Journal broke the story. Some even suggested boycotting the purchase of 20-year and rye Pappy until the criminal is caught.
Roger Leasor, director of community relations for Liquor Barn, said doing research ahead of time is often the only way fans can find a bottle of Pappy in stores.
“We will get it once or twice a year and it will be gone in an hour,” Leasor said.
Leasor said a Lexington liquor store where he was working was closed one year for Election Day. (The governor signed a law in April repealing the Prohibition-era ban on alcohol sales while the polls are open.)
Leasor said he sent out an alert on the social networking site Twitter when he noticed the store had just gotten a shipment of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon — a shipment they had to wait to sell because of the current laws.
“When we were allowed to open at 6 o’clock, the line went out the front door, over to the corner of the store,” Leasor said. “The line was three times as long as the little bit of Pappy we got.”
Leasor said this wasn’t a one-time occurrence. He said for every bottle of Pappy, there are multiple people willing to pay big money to get their hands on it.
“It’s become an icon for the whole state, but there’s not very much of it,” he said.
Local bar owners said the same thing.
Dragon Pub owner Fran Pinkston said they got a bottle of the 12-year in stock Wednesday — the first Pappy they’ve had in years.
“We’ve been on the waiting list to get some of the 20-year since last fall,” Pinkston said.
The theft at Buffalo Trace could mean an even longer wait.
A spokesperson with the distillery didn’t respond to phone calls and emails Wednesday.
“I think it’s going to be a tough case to solve,” Melton said. “You got about 50 employees that had access. It’s going to be a challenge but we’re going to do the best we can.”