The 2019 batch of Van Winkle Whiskeys, including Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 23 Year Old, is on its way to the public this fall. But for many reasons, most people will never even see a bottle. Here’s a brief explainer about why Pappy is so coveted, why it’s so hard to find, and why it might be tough to get your hands on a bottle.
Why Everyone Wants a Bottle
The Van Winkle bourbons have acquired many accolades since the brand’s creation, but the whiskeys we know today were catapulted to the top in 1996 when the 20-year-old bourbon received an unprecedented 99 points from the Beverage Tasting Institute. That score is credited by some as the single greatest reason for Pappy fever. In the years since, the whiskey has been lauded by chefs, celebrities, and bartenders the world over—many of whom are willing to pay exorbitant prices to guarantee they’ll always have some in stock.
Why There Isn’t a Lot to Go Around
Demand has radically outpaced supply—it had to. 1996 was just 23 years ago, and even if the Van Winkles had quadrupled production at the time, only now would some of that whiskey be of age for their oldest bottling. Today, fewer than 100,000 bottles are made of all six whiskeys in the portfolio together, with the 23-year-old representing a significantly smaller share of that number.
You Can Expect Prices to Skyrocket
It’s highly unlikely you’ll ever be able to walk into a store, see a bottle on a shelf, and pay retail price for this bourbon. Retailers don’t sell this bourbon that way anymore. The ones who are forced to sell it at retail price (for instance, the ones in control states) either distribute the bottles in a lottery system, or hold them for their best customers, rather than displaying them for the public.
Meanwhile, retailers who aren’t held to suggested prices frequently inflate the suggested tag five fold or more. For context, this is the official MSRP list the brand provided for the complete line of Van Winkle bourbons and rye (not all of them bear the name “Pappy”):
- $69.99 – Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 10 Year Old 107 Proof
- $79.99 – Old Rip Van Winkle Special Reserve Bourbon 12 Year Old
- $119.99 – Old Rip Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye 13 Year Old
- $119.99 – Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 15 Year Old
- $199.99 – Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 20 Year Old
- $299.90 – Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 23 Year Old
What you’ll see instead is a range that puts the most affordable bottle at $400 or so, with the top bottles near $2,000 each.
The Van Winkle Family Can’t Do Much About It
The Van Winkles are, for their part, at a loss to change this. “Unfortunately we cannot control the price retailers charge, so some retailers mark it up beyond our MSRP, even though we ask them not to,” said Julian Van Winkle, president, Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, in a press release. “We are committed to releasing a quality product and hope retailers will honor what we suggest as a fair retail price.” Once the bottles leave the distillery, it’s really out of their hands how they’re marketed and sold.
Some Bottles End Up Sold on Illegal Secondary Markets
But liquor stores aren’t the only culprit. Unfortunately, illegal markets are where you have the best chance to get your hands on a bottle. Facebook and Craigslist are rife with secondary offers, some of which are likely counterfeits. Yes, fake bottles of booze do exist.
The same press release from the Van Winkles cautioned/threatened consumers against buying or selling bottles on the internet, as well. “Trading and selling bourbon online is an unlicensed and illegal sale,” added Kris Comstock, senior marketing director at Buffalo Trace Distillery. “Purchasing bourbon online from unlicensed parties is dangerous. The product may be counterfeit and unsafe. If you are not a licensed retailer and you are selling Van Winkle products, we are prepared to take action to curtail the activity.”
Those threats may be moot, however, as Facebook spent the summer deleting whiskey buy-sell groups that violated their terms of service, leaving casual and serious collectors scrambling to find new platforms for their activities.
Your Best Option to Try Van Winkle Whiskey Is to Head to a Bar
The easiest way to try any of these whiskeys is to head somewhere like Kentucky, where many bars will have them stocked year round, and order a glass. You’ll still pay a premium, but the 23-year bourbon can usually be found for around $165 an ounce—pricey, but significantly cheaper than buying a whole bottle. And the bar’s bottles are far less likely to be counterfeits. The only other option is to spend the next 11 months befriending your local liquor store’s manager, and hope for the best.