How to Get Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon
I’m a huge bourbon guy. I’m not into bourbon because it is cool or trendy, I was here years before the hipsters. I’m into bourbon because I love the stories. I love sharing stories about the bourbon we are enjoying, and I love trading stories with friends while enjoying a pour.
This video by Buffalo Trace legend Freddie Johnson explains exactly how I feel about bourbon:
While I love the bourbon; I love to hunt for bourbon almost as much as I like to drink it. Hunting for Pappy is one of my favorite pastimes.
You can get Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon several ways. You can order it in select bars. If you are well-connected, you can purchase through select liquor stores. If you are willing to pay for it, you can buy it online at a premium. You can win a bottle in a lottery. Finally, you can acquire it on the secondary market.
Why is Pappy Van Winkle So Hard to Find?
The answer to this is simple – low supply and high demand.
Pappy is rumored to produce only 84,000 bottles each year of each vintage. It is only released once a year in the late fall. This day is affectionately known as Pappy Day.
For an entire country that is crazy about the stuff, that isn’t nearly enough. They could produce 3x that amount and still have an insane demand.
That said, when the bourbon was barreled, the demand wasn’t like it is now. Remember that Pappy 23 was barreled in 1997. The bourbon craze didn’t really kick into hyperdrive until around 2010 or so. That means that it will take years for supply to catch up with demand.
The high demand is a more complicated story. In 1996, a Pappy sales rep submitted 20 year Pappy to the Prestigious Beverage Testing Institute. The bourbon received an unprecedented score of 99. That is what started the Pappy craze.
That craze reached another level when the famous, such as celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, started endorsing Pappy.
The craze reached still another level when Pappy was given as a gift to the Pope. The Pope declared that Pappy was, “very good bourbon.”
I have been fortunate to acquire more than my fair share of bottles. Here is how I’ve done it.
How to Find Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon
Bars and Restaurants
You can find Pappy at certain bars or restaurants. There are numerous sites dedicated to listing which bars and restaurants carry Pappy. You will pay an insane mark-up for the privilege though. That said, I highly recommend you do this if you just want to try it.
Sure, you are going to pay $50 or more for a pour depending on the vintage. That is cheap compared to the price of a full bottle, especially if you are just looking to try it. That makes a lot more sense than blowing a bunch of money on a bottle that you may or may not like (as blasphemous as that sounds).
Random Liquor Stores
This is the equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack. While very difficult, it isn’t impossible.
Chances are if you do find it in a store, it will be insanely overpriced. For many store owners it is more important to have it on the shelf than to actually sell it. If you find it in a store at a reasonable price, you will be very fortunate.
I have had this experience only once. I was in a hole-in-the-wall liquor store in Rhode Island. I saw a bottle of Old Rip hiding behind the cash register. It was priced at secondary levels, but wasn’t outrageous. I was happy for the opportunity make the purchase.
Liquor Store Hookup
The distributors control who gets Pappy and how much. Stores that sell a significant amount of Sazarac product (owners of Buffalo Trace who produces Pappy) get a more significant allocation.
The bottles that make it to these stores don’t make it to the shelves. You need to be on the inside to get a bottle.
To get on the inside, you need to be a good customer to the store. You can’t expect a store owner to sell you the good stuff when you don’t consistently support his business.
I became a good customer at a really random store. I purchase a lot of bourbon from him, and I’m rewarded by being on his list. When Pappy Day nears, I send a text to ask what he has available. And I always get hooked up.
If you are committed to the bourbon game, and dedicated in your quest to find Pappy, this will be one of your more successful endeavors.
States that have state-controlled liquor stores commonly have a lottery for the privilege to purchase Pappy. Thousands will apply, and a handful will win. This is a long-shot at best, but costs nothing to get involved.
Be aware of the rules when you sign up. Some require you to live in the state or county of the lottery. Others don’t care. Apply for as many lotteries as you can.
In addition, get your non-bourbon people to apply on your behalf. I register my Mom and Dad every year, and they know if they get a random call about bourbon it is for me.
Online Liquor Stores
You can buy liquor online. You will pay a significant premium, and you won’t find deals. That said, you can get what you want.
This used to be the #1 way to find Pappy before Facebook shut it down recently. I am sure certain groups still exist and are an avenue to find / trade for Pappy. However, those groups are harder and harder to find.
This has been the best way for me to find Pappy recently.
I take a picture of my collection, post it and say I am looking to trade. I will get a bunch of responses from hunters like myself.
The thing is every hunter has something they want, and every hunter has a honey-hole to get desirable bourbon. The math works in such a way that this is a win-win for everyone.
For example – let’s say I want a bottle of Old Rip. For easy conversation, let’s say the secondary price is $500. I will need to trade $500 of bourbon to make this an equitable trade.
I am able to get Blanton’s at retail price of $60. I have a honey-hole, and can get a pretty good supply of it. It’s secondary price is about twice that. In my example, I am able to trade four bottles of Blanton’s for one bottle of Pappy.
I’m tickled with this, because four bottles only cost me $240. The seller is tickled, because he can’t find Blanton’s and probably has a hook-up to get Pappy at the retail price of $60. Everyone wins in this trade.
After a while, you will create a group that you frequently trade with. Finding what you want will now be a quick text away.
You are probably thinking – damn that is a lot of effort to overpay for a bottle of booze. If you think this, you are 100% correct.
Like I mentioned above, I love the hunt. I think it is a lot of fun to collect something that is so desirable.
I also love to share Pappy. It has reached mythical status, and when you open a bottle for your friends you are showing how much their friendship means to you. This helps create special memories, and special friendships. After all, that is what it is all about right?
Finally, don’t ever be afraid to pay for quality. I bet if I looked in your liquor cabinet, you will have several bottles of cheap bourbon that have been there forever. It would have been a much better purchase one bottle that you will be proud to share, as opposed to a bunch that will collect dust.