65 Cases Of Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Go Missing


Sixty-five cases of some of the most sought after bourbon in the United States has gone missing:

FRANKFORT, Ky. — America’s decade-old romance with Kentucky bourbon, a drink formerly as plebeian as a Chevrolet, has come to this: high-end bar chefs and foodies everywhere have been abuzz since 65 cases of Pappy Van Winkle, one of the nation’s most expensive and sought-after bourbons, disappeared from a warehouse here.

The release of small batches of Pappy Van Winkle to bars and retailers each autumn is tracked by connoisseurs who snatch it up as soon as it hits shelves. “We get phone calls from people asking, ‘Do you have Pappy in stock?’ ” said Bill Thomas, owner of the Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, where a two-ounce shot of 20-year-old Pappy Van Winkle costs $65, and the even rarer 23-year-old is $75. “It’s the Christmas toy that’s been hot now for multiple Christmases.”

The disappearance, considered a theft by Sheriff Pat Melton of Franklin County, was reported Tuesday, the sheriff said. He suspects an inside job that took place in the past month or two, after the white-oak barrels, aging on the cooler lower floor of a warehouse, were debunged and the amber bourbon bottled and labeled before the annual deliveries.

Sheriff Melton said the culprit stole 195 bottles in three-bottle cases of Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year, which has a suggested retail price of $130 a bottle, and nine cases of 13-year-old Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye, with a suggested price of $69. The thief had an obvious motive: the secondary market for the scarce whiskey is hot. A single bottle of 20-year-old Pappy, as aficionados know it, sold at Bonham’s auction in New York on Sunday for $1,190.

“It’s the most complex bourbon you’ve ever tasted, but it’s smooth as silk,” said Sean Brock, the owner of Husk Restaurants in Nashville and Charleston, S.C. “That’s why people go crazy for it.”

The day the theft was reported, Mr. Brock’s e-mail and Twitter feed pinged constantly with chatter and speculation about who might have been responsible. He has a theory of his own: “I’m pretty sure it was George Clooney and the boys from ‘Ocean’s 11.’ ”

The sheriff said the theft occurred from a locked area in one of the 13 warehouses at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, which makes the Van Winkle brand in partnership with the original family owners. He suspects the thief or thieves smuggled it out a case or two at a time. “I don’t think anyone could walk out with 74 cases of bourbon,” he said, citing security at the 119-acre distillery.

Who knew there was an underground bourbon market?

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Ron Beasley says:

    After aging for 20 or more years nearly any bourbon would be “smooth as silk”.

  2. Tran says:

    Almost as bad as the maple syrup being stolen in Canada.

  3. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Authorities have named Chris Matthews as a “person of interest.”

  4. Neil Hudelson says:

    Call me a snob, but while Pappys is a phenomenal whiskey, a lot if it’s price and demand comes from a reputation that was built when true top shelf bourbon was an unknown. Nowadays you can find $30 to $60 bourbons that are just as amazing.

    When I worked in a liquor store we would have whiskey noobs with too much money demand we find them Pappys. Nothing else would do. When you would ask them what type of bourbon they prefer as an alternative–spicy, sweeter, one with bite, smooth, etc–they ha no idea.

    It was the same with champagne drinkers. “To hell with your 98 point extra brut from California. It costs $40 so it’s clearly crap! Hand me that cristal…”

  5. Grumpy Realist says:

    If I’m going to pay that much for a bottle of booze it had better be single southern malt or nothin’.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @Neil Hudelson: I became a bourbon drinker too late to be able to locate, much less afford, Pappy. I’m a huge fan of the Old Weller Antique, a fantastic wheated which I understand is similar in taste and obtainable for under $40 for a 1.5 liter bottle.

  7. socraticsilence says:

    @Neil Hudelson: This, I like a hotter Bourbon- a Booker’s or Stagg which isn’t cheap but not crazy ass Pappy prices, more like 50-60 a bottle.

  8. James Joyner says:

    @socraticsilence: I’m a big fan of the Booker’s as well. It’s usually $60 in these parts, although I’ve picked it up for $55. At 126ish proof, though, it goes down slower.

  9. Keith Boyea says:

    Pappy is very, very good bourbon. I’ve been lucky enough to own and drink several bottles. I’ve even made the mistake of passing up bottles in liquor stores because I felt like I had enough on hand already. That was a mistake in hindsight.

    It simply isn’t available at a reasonable price. Even high quality products have a price point in which they are no longer worth it.

    There is a huge and active secondary market for bourbon. It isn’t “underground” it’s on facebook. They’ve somewhat limited the access to it now, but you should be able to confirm the existence of a group called “Bourbon Exchange.” The buying and selling market is very active there; including many, many noobs who are paying insane prices for formerly easily available bottles. One guy was essentially buying bottles for his liquor store near the financial district in Manhattan. Price wasn’t so much of a consideration for the guys on Wall Street and he took advantage of the secondary market to connect with those buyers. More power to him I guess.

    As far as moving 65 cases–it’s tougher, but the most recent rumor is that the theif took a few bottles at a time. That’s a lot easier to deal with. Honestly, it would be very easy to find 3 buyers on craigslist in one evening, particularly when it’s 100% profit. Pack it well in a USPS box and it would be hard to trace.

    My advice for whiskey drinkers: Try all the versions of Old Weller and Four Roses. After you try them, try all the rest. Decide what you like. Then drink it. Don’t chase Pappy.

  10. James Joyner says:

    @Keith Boyea:

    My advice for whiskey drinkers: Try all the versions of Old Weller and Four Roses. After you try them, try all the rest. Decide what you like. Then drink it. Don’t chase Pappy.

    At this point, my go-tos at Old Weller Antique, Four Roses Single Barrel, and Booker’s. And Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond for when I’m feeling cheap.