The Great Pappy Van Winkle Heist

George Clooney Danny Ocean seen leaving Buffalo Trace, scene of the heist
Possible suspect seen during the Hard Hat tour at Buffalo Trace

Dateline, Kentucky: In further evidence of the mainstreaming of liquor and cocktails in the modern culture, we are now facing the dire specter of elaborate heists of beloved hooch, as if it were Vermeer’s The Concert. In this case, we are staring down the barrel of a theft of 65 cases of Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve, the bourbon nerd’s bourbon for obscenely wealthy bourbon nerds. In other major theft news, I totally stole the joke behind the Photoshop above from Tim Read on Twitter.

The USA Today has the story thus:

Roughly 65 cases of 20-year-old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon were stolen in what looks to be an inside job from a secure area at Buffalo Trace Distillery’s Frankfort, Ky., facility, said Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton.

Melton said the theft was reported Tuesday and appears to have occurred over the past couple months. Detectives believe that in addition to the inside personnel, access may have been gained by a diminutive asian acrobat who folded himself into a barrel.

I may have added that last sentence….

A case of Pappy Van Winkle consists of only three bottles, so if the thief was Bilbo Baggins instead of Danny Ocean, perhaps he just stuffed the less than 200 bottles into a couple of barrels with some straw and tossed them into the river below the warehouse at Buffalo Trace. Retail for a bottle of Pappy is $200, but since only 7,000 cases come out a year, eBay gets a serious workout with the stuff at significant markup. The whiskey has achieved legendary status in the bourbon community. All of my boozenerd friends who’ve tried it get the same look in their eye and whisper in their voice that Pentecostalists get when discussing the Book of Revelations. Booze writers who want to impress with their “access”, or “industry friends”, or “huge bank accounts”, like to write about Pappy like this: “Ok whiskey world, get ready to pitch your tents, change your diapers, and drain your bank accounts.” Or this: “As far as I am concerned, Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve (20 year old) is the holy grail of bourbon.” It’s good stuff, is what I’m surmising.

And stealing it was also apparently hard work, since the crew also took off with an additional nine cases of Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye (a mere $80 a bottle) for casual after work drinking, I guess.

Incidentally, a bombshell allegation embedded casually in the USA Today’s version of events is that Pat Melton, the sheriff of Franklin County, Kentucky does not drink bourbon. I had written a whole long bit about the sheriff was obviously lying and therefor in on it himself, because the chances that an elected sheriff of any Kentucky county (much less Franklin) not drinking bourbon are slightly worse than seeing Barack Obama and Ted Cruz together, deep in their cups at Applebee’s, giggling in whispers about the waitress’s ass.

But I got rid of it all because I then read in the Lexington Herald-Leader that Melton just doesn’t drink Pappy. Now it is obvious to me that Melton is on the up and up, since his reasons for not drinking Pappy are the same as mine.

“I’ll be honest, if I like something, I like it a whole, whole lot,” he said. “It scares me. I’ve never had it just for that reason.”

I don’t try the really stratospheric boozes like Pappy because, while I can buy Pappy, I cannot afford to buy Pappy. I’ve got my house and my kids’ college fund right where I want them.

So what will be the effect of this theft? Well, it is less than 1% of the annual production, so a simple economic analysis would suggest not much. But simple economists can’t afford Pappy. Buffalo Trace had already been warning that supplies of PVWFR were getting tighter before the theft. Since every drop of the stuff had been selling out upon release for years, I can only assume that announcement was just a friendly reminder, and not a fiendish marketing plot designed to further chum the water in advance of this year’s release….

Anyway, the real result will be everybody watching eBay. The cops will be trying to catch the perps by identifying sellers who seem to have too much of the stuff. The perps will, looking for ways to hide the scale of their sales. (They can afford to be patient, since they have all that rye to drink while they wait for the cops to lose interest.) And buyers will, too.

The interesting thing will be, will buyers hesitate to buy grey-market Pappy because they don’t want to be receivers of stolen goods? Or will they buy more of it, at higher prices, and have the bottles shipped to anonymous PO boxes? And once they have the hooch, will they drink it all quick and then destroy the bottles with their damning serial numbers? Or will they in turn hide their booty away in the dark, telling no one, like whoever has the above mentioned The Concert?


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