Last Christmas, my girlfriend’s father poured me a glass of bourbon I wasn’t familiar with. The label on the bottle read, “Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve, 20 Years Old.” I had drunk plenty of good bourbon before I met Pappy, but I’ll be damned if I remembered any of them after that moment. I had to have more.
Shortly after the holiday, I walked into my neighborhood liquor store looking for a bottle of Pappy. It was nowhere to be found, so I asked the clerk if it was hidden behind the counter. He just laughed, informing me that Pappy Van Winkle is one of the rarest bourbons there is. I decided then and there I’d acquire a bottle, by any means necessary.
After much research, I learned just how hard my task would be. The Van Winkle family of bourbons were typically allocated twice a year. Due to an extremely limited supply, it was decided in 2013 that only one allocation would be distributed, and not until mid-November. I didn’t want to wait that long, so I combed through a few auction sites, discovering that bottles of the 23 year could go for north of $5000 dollars. November wasn’t that far away.
Leading up to November I did a lot of homework on where and when Pappy is distributed. Here are a few things I’ve learned:
- Kentucky receives the highest allocation of bottles (it is made in Frankfort, after all).
- Independent liquor stores usually reserve their bottles for high-paying customers. Unless you’re spending five grand a year in one store, look elsewhere.
- Chain liquor stores get the most cases. Some hold lotteries once a year for Pappy.
- Find a retailer that enforces first come, first serve with a one-bottle-per-customer limit.
- Call every store incessantly, beginning the last week of October – ask when Pappy is expected.
- Form friendships in your local bourbon community. There is much to learn from the old timers.
- If you find out what day a retailer is getting their allotment, show up early. Really early.
I used all of these tricks and a few more this November. The result – two bottles of 23 Year Old Pappy Van Winkle, and two bottles of 10 Year Old Rip Van Winkle are now in my liquor cabinet. I’ll be opening a bottle of the 23 this Christmas, to share with my girlfriend’s dad. I owe him one.
Here’s to you, Pappy. I’ll see you again next year!