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  • Writer's pictureThe Grand Crew

Pappy Van Winkle: the good, the bad, and the ugly

If you're lucky enough to have ever laid your grubby little hands (or tastebuds) on a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle and felt inclined to enjoy drinking it as opposed to trying to pawn it at some crazy price, you know what we're talking about. Some describe the experience as akin to Nirvana with the added perk of a mellow buzz and the hangover of a much lighter wallet (or net worth) the next day...

If on the other hand you're in your 40s, still living with your parents, and consummately saving up to buy your first bottle, you may take comfort in the fact that, even if you could afford it right this second, you likely wouldn't find one for sale anyway...

Either way, we're here to serve up some of the more obscure, lesser-known facts about this Epic Bourbon...

Pappy Van Winkle label
Julian Van Winkle, featured on the label of the 23y old

1. Contrary to popular belief, mainly for those of you who have been living under a rock, Pappy Van Winkle was a real person; Julian P. Van Winkle started in the bourbon production business in 1893, at the age of 18, though I am sure that given the life expectancy in those times meant that if there even was a legal drinking age, it would have been 8.

2. The largest amount of Pappy Van Winkle bottles ever stolen was an inside job

Between 2008 and 2013, some $100,000 worth of barrels of Bourbon were stolen at the Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey distilleries.

The most bizarre fact about the heist known as PappyGate, remains that the theft was organized by a “syndicate” made up of 9 individuals from a local softball team that included employees at both distilleries... Softball and Bourbon; go figure.

3. Pappy Van Winkle does not distill its own Bourbon

That's right! All Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon is distilled by the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Buffalo Trace is to Bourbon what Jerry Leiber was to Elvis (yes, I know... that story belongs in Tennessee... moving on!)

These Buffalo Trace cool cats also produce their own Bourbon of course, although much more reasonably priced... a measly twenty bucks!

Buffalo Trace Distillery
The Buffalo Trace Distillery

4. The secondary market markup on a bottle of Pappy exceeds that of a diamond

You read that correctly; the value of a diamond will increase by an average of 800% from the time it is found to the time it hits the jewelry store and lands on your wife's finger (or the grill in your mouth if you're that famous rapper I won't bother to mention). By contrast, a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle, longest aged nectar, their 23 years old, retailed at $269.99 in 2017 and is currently being sold for anywhere between $3,500 and $15,000 for an original green glass edition from 1998 and none of it landed in the pockets of the Pappy family...

If you think the markup is a bit steep, let's not be silly; consider Beluga Caviar which will be marked up in excess of 100,000% between the moment it is harvested and the time it hits a restaurant table in New York. There... feel better now?

5. Old Bourbons generally suck unless they're Pappy Van Winkle (among a very few distinguished others). Generally speaking Bourbon is a tough spirit to age well and while none of the Van Winkles, all the way back to Julian, were actually distillers (let alone knowledgeable ones), they did drink plenty of it and knew all too well what made an excellent tasting one, and how to market to a consumer-base. They used wheat instead of Rye, which became one of the key distinguishing, flavor-forward ingredient in their Bourbons...

6. Demand is not the key driver behind the Pappy price craze.

While it is undeniable that high demand, somewhat secretive and informal celebrity endorsements by none other than Anthony Bourdain have doubtless contributed to the astronomical rise of the price of the Pappy Van Winkle brand, the simple fact remains that it's also a very expensive product to produce.

Think about it: it takes longer for the Pappy brand to bring out a single drop of their stuff than it takes for most people to go from being in diapers to graduating from college! Not only that, but during that time, most of the actual bourbon evaporates out of the wooden barrels in which it resides, helping countless angels (and a few birds) get high on Pappy fumes... Hence the term "Angel's share" funnily enough...

All this to say that by the end of the aging process, very little liquid is actually left to profit from. Some 95% of the Bourbon in a barrel will have legitimately disappeared over the time it took to make it into a Pappy Van Winkle 23y. That's a rate most producers couldn't stomach, once again, truly setting Pappy apart from the rest.



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