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Pappy Van Winkle; this is the leprechaun riding a unicorn of the bourbon industry. It is highly coveted yet nearly impossible to buy (at retail pricing).
You typically need to have a lot of luck and usually insider information to score a bottle. Being close to the industry myself (I work at one of the largest single location retailers in the country), I have a bit of insight on how to locate a bottle.
Now I’m not going to say that my methods by any means are fool-proof, however they have worked for me in the past and hopefully will be helpful for you. So let’s begin!
Your Pappy Van Winkle Options:
I’ve laid out the tips below in order of what seems to be the best chances for me personally. They vary from auctions, networking, whiskey tasting events, and flat out getting lucky.
Your mileage may vary these but I am speaking from personal experience here and not just regurgitating what others online are saying.
My network has been the primary reason that I’ve been able to get a bottle at retail pricing. Although my store gets Van Winkle products, they take part in the raffle/lottery system and that usually is where their allocation always ends up going.
So trying to buy a bottle from the home team was out of the question. But instead of taking my ball and going home, I did the next best thing… I befriended the rep in charge of our account to get some inside information.
Now it did not hurt that we are both (for better or worse) Chicago Bear fans. Because of this, we had a lot to bond over in the form of misery of our playoff hopes every season.
Well once our playoff hopes had been decimated, I decided to slip in some “work” talk and asked if he knew where I could score a bottle of Pappy.
Him knowing I was a bourbon guy (and fellow Bears fan) happily let me know where I would have my best chance of getting a bottle and when. I was able to get from him the location of a smaller shop in town that sells them at retail pricing on a first come basis. Not only that, but I was able to get the actually date that the shipment was scheduled for. Talk about a win!
Talk to local shops
Now if you aren’t lucky enough to befriend an account rep like I was, befriending a local shop is your next best bet. The larger retailers realize how powerful their Van Winkle allocations are and the savvy ones will not abandon the lottery/auction model simply because they do not have to.
It is the smaller shops that may get 7 bottles total and really don’t want to be bothered with the hassle that comes with Pappy season. They just want to get rid of the bottles as soon as they can so they can get back to business as usual.
If you can get on their good side earlier in the year by being a good, loyal customer (or having something else to bond over) then you can likely secure you a bottle once the shipment gets in.
Your networking does not need to be limited simply to owners and employees of liquor stores, checking social media to see who consistently seems to get bottles is not a bad idea either.
Again, you do not solely want to try and build a relationship with people only based on what they can do for you. But it’s worthwhile to try and find mutually beneficial relationships with others that have connections.
I came across a wine guy who always seems to have hard to find and allocated bourbons. After chatting it up with him a bit, I was able to find out that he drives up to a hole-in-the-wall store up in Wyoming that literally has these items on the shelf. I haven’t personally been motivated enough to make that drive yet, however if all else fails I make do it someday.
This is obviously the most difficult way to get a bottle of Van Winkle but its also the most rewarding! It’s very rare, but you always hear stories about those who just walked into a liquor store and saw a bottle of 15 year sitting on the shelf next to a bottle of Jim Beam.
If you do happen across a situation like this, I’d go grab a lottery ticket immediately after to see how far you can stretch this luck out.
I also hear many people say “Call around to see who has it” and from my experience, this flat out does NOT work. The stores that sell Van Winkle products usually don’t like selling to people who are just fishing around to find Pappy.
They like to give it to good-loyal customers and/or their friends. If you call a store, you are likely to get a “No” whether they have the bottle or not.
Last year I called a shop down the road to ask after my buddy said they had some and they were very quick to tell me “no” over the phone. But when I drove to the store minutes later they sold me a bottle.
Most of the larger games in town are going to have some type of lottery, raffle, or other whiskey events to get rid of their distribution. Pappy is a tool to capture new potential customers and is used by large liquor stores as such.
They realize not everyone will get a bottle, so they use this opportunity to capture leads that they can to market to later. And they do it because it works!
It does not hurt to enter the lotteries, but there are no guarantees of winning here and they are primarily aimed to market other similar products to you.
I’ve never participated in a Pappy auction mainly because these get out of hand very quickly. You may as well pay for a bottle on the secondary market if you are willing to get into a bidding war with someone else that can easily end up in the $1000s. This option just is not for me, but more power to you if this is your thing.
At the end of the day unless you are very lucky, your network will determine if you are able to score a bottle or not. The more inside information that you are able to come across, the more likely you will be successful. But keep in mind that these relationships need to be cemented far before November when those allocations start to be distributed.
What tips do you have that I’ve missed? We are all in this together, so be sure to share the wealth in the comments. Also, be sure to follow @bourbonculture on Instagram!
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