Pappy Van Winkle Release Map Retires

This is a sad day in Bourbonr history. I’ve gone back and forth on this decision for weeks now. For the last six years, I’ve maintained the Pappy Van Winkle Release Map. It’s how a majority of readers found Bourbonr. I’ve met a countless number of people that only know Bourbonr because of these maps. While the map was work to maintain, I enjoyed doing it. Unfortunately, the Pappy Van Winkle release map has run its course.

First, everyone is looking for Pappy these days. In 2013, when I started the map, Pappy was hard to find. But, with enough legwork, you could find a bottle. That has changed over the years. Everyone wants Pappy now. If there were dozens of people showing up to store releases in 2013, there are now thousands. That’s a good thing for bourbon. Secondly, stores have changed how they handle the release of Pappy Van Winkle. Most stores either hold raffles or sell bottles through their loyalty programs. This is a good solution for a problem with no great answers. However, spending thousands of dollars at a store isn’t bourbon hunting. The third issue I see is the retail price of Pappy Van Winkle. According to Wine-Searcher, the average price is up from $928 in November 2014 for a Pappy Van Winkle 15-Year to $1,651 in October of 2019. The statistic that’s missing, and more glaring, is the number of retailers that sell at (or close) to retail. My rough estimate is around 3%-4%. Finding a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle is rare. Finding a bottle at a reasonable markup doesn’t happen anymore.

Finally, the Van Winkles and parent company Sazerac have taken a hard stand against the bourbon secondary. This felt like an attack on bourbon communities that may also have buy/sell/trade. I.e. your local bourbon Facebook group. Don’t get me wrong. The secondary market is at best a grey area and at worst illegal. But, it served a specific purpose. Didn’t get a bottle of Van Winkle Rye but you did get a 20-year? You could trade. Sazerac’s main (stated) concern has been consumer protection from fakes or counterfeits. There’s no mention of adding anti-counterfeiting measures to the bottle. An open market has done a much better job at policing fakes. It was the secondary that caught multiple fake bottles and shut down counterfeiters. Not Buffalo Trace. There was also no mention of retailers that sell for prices 2x-3x the current market. Some distributors force retailers to buy thousands of dollars in products they don’t want. Or, empty bottle sales. My point, there are a lot of issues. Going after some of your most loyal and vocal fans doesn’t seem like the right path to take.

That was a little more long-winded than I like to be but I hope you understand the decision. There is one postscript point I’d like to make. Current Pappy and LE bourbon prices make people think they need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to taste great bourbon. I know that the Van Winkles and Buffalo Trace would agree with me saying: “That couldn’t be farther from the truth!” Buffalo Trace makes some of the best bourbon on the market today. Most Buffalo Trace brands remain hard to find. But, a regular bottle of Buffalo Trace still beats out most $100 bottles on the market. Here is my list of what I think people should be drinking. I’m not calling these Pappy replacements. These are just great, affordable bourbons.

Wilderness Trail

Old Forester 1910

Barrell Bourbon – Pick Any Batch

E.H Taylor Small Batch

 Chattanooga Whiskey 111 Tennessee High Malt

Baker’s Bourbon 107

47 comments

    I agree Blake, fun while it lasted! I lost interest when I found a bar in a high end hotel in Denver offering a “taste” for an absurd amount. Most bottles never even hit the actual retail market, others marked up like dot com stocks. Let’s get back to enjoying the hunt for good bourbon. Thanks for what you do!

    Agree that the Pappy rush has gotten ridiculous. Have camped out for two nights in Alabama for a bottle, but people had hired someone to get online 3 days ahead to get a better place in line for release. Alabama did a sweepstakes this year but it seemed that not many of us local bourbon folks had a chance. But found out some big political people got good numbers. No longer worth the effort and will continue to enjoy more moderately priced bourbon with friends. Peace

    I will say, that I walked up and got 50th in line because people didn’t show up. Didn’t get pappy (didn’t want it), but got GTS, Michter’s Toasted, Old Fitz 13, Woody Masters…

    Pappy is probs out of reach, but there is still plenty of good stuff to go around.

    Steve, I love reading your pieces. Always a great perspective! I’d sit down and talk food and bourbon with you anyday. Send me an invite!

    In September 2018 I opened up a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 15 yo which I had purchased in 2010 for a friend who was visiting me from across the country. The first thing I did was ask my friend to look up PVW15 on wine-searcher.com I still laugh whenever I look at that original $ 69.99 price sticker on the bottle. But I am very sad for the many who have had little inexpensive chance to taste these whiskeys.

    But you are right, the number of great whiskeys available now is much higher than it was in 2010, 2012, or 2014. The floor of prices has considerably escalated, however, especially for the medium tier. You mention 2014 the price of PVW15. In 2012 the secondary market price for PVW15 averaged around $ 265, before it went vertical in the third quarter of 2012. THAT is when the madness hit.

    Thank you very much for keeping your distribution list over these 6 years!

    I bought a bottle of PVW15 at my local liquor store in the fall of 2012 – the price? A cool $79.95. (They also had ORVW in the old dumpy bottles, around that time or a bit before, that I’ve kicked myself for not snapping up then when I had the chance.) In the years since things have really dried up for this store, all they can get these days is stuff like Weller Special Reserve … I do live in an ABC state, though 🙁

    I have been trying to buy Pappy Van Winkle for years and years. The local distributors laugh when I ask and the bottles never hit the shelf. Frustrating as hell. You should use your bully-pulpit to lobby for some type of lottery or equal distribution system. Put up or Shut up!

    I follow lots of bourbon pages on Insta, and there are a couple of guys who post their Pappy ‘hauls’. They’ll makes comments like “what a good day hunting” and show 5 bottles of PVW23, 10 BTAC, a couple of Weller Full Proof, etc. Clearly they are not ‘hunting’ and finding these on the shelf. They either know someone, or are a distributor, or are buying secondary, etc. It’s these guys who ruin it for the rest of us — in some cases they practically get the entire allocation for a region.

    I agree with everything said in your post. But I do wonder if there is a 2019 version of this information. Maybe a “lottery” map. Like, here is a listing of all the states or stores that have more open drawings. That seems like where a lot of the pappy hunting is going

    Totally “bumbed” to learn of the demise of the annual PVW Release Map. Since its inception, it has been the centerpiece of my fall bourbon hunting quest. We all realize that it’s a “low-percentage shot” to acquire bottles in the current market, but it was still a lot of fun to track the “whens and wheres”. So long my friend…..

    Blake – I agree with Steve, well said.

    Unfortunately for me, bourbon hunting has completely lost it’s fun and appeal. When you do find something at a retail store, they have the price jacked up so high it’s not affordable. Call me old fashioned, but it was always fun to find an out of the way liquor store to see what gems may be hiding out there – not the same feel at all going out on secondary sites and finding it.

    I have gotten to where I will just find one or two tried and true bottles that are priced fair, taste delicious and sit in the middle or bottom of the whiskey shelf!

    I do appreciate your blog and hope to continue to read your insights into this wonderful drink.

    Certainly understand your decision and I agree with my friend Steve Coomes’ comment, well said. As a retailer, I always found the release map interesting. It gave an indication as to which markets were deemed more important than the home one, and it was an early indication as to how much smaller the local allocation might be. We believe we are still in that 3 to 4%, when we have enough bottles to offer for resale, we are within the SRP. Sure we could inflate the price, we chose not to do so.

    And I like the list of other bourbons to try, just wish we could get the Chattanooga here in Kentucky.

    I’ve used your map for years but was just lamenting all these same issues to my wife. They’ve sucked the fun out of the hunt. I fully support your decision. While the map brought me to your site years ago, I’ll continue enjoying all your other content.

    Good for you! Well said. I agree that the Trace/ Van Winkle reactionary blabber has been half-baked. I have appreciated your release maps (esp. BTAC) in the past. However, it is probable that these maps only add fuel to the FOMO-fire. In the comments and on social media, the maps seem to engender a lot of comments — HOW/ WHERE DO I FIND THIS? – which are sadly aloof.

    Producers should work on upping stocks and wisely employing the good juice they have now.
    They should be working on anti-counterfeit measures.
    The communities (yes, even online – secondary) should be policing themselves.
    And WE (the whole community) should be educating those considering spending half a week’s pay on a rare bottle – NEVER worth it.

    Keep up the good work you are doing.

    This feels like Wayne Gretzky hanging up the skates! Blake, you have done us proud. I actually found out how to game from your site after the good stuff started disappearing to some collection that will never get drunk. Be loyal to a great retailer and they will get it for you! Don’t worry! The economy will stumble in about a year after Elizabeth Warren decides to tax bourbon hoarders on the “Pappy” value of their collections. Then everyone will just…..drink them! Fred Minnick will start hawking vodka!

    Your explanation is quite sound, and I agree that conditioning bourbon drinkers to buy into searching frantically for a Holy Grail release is maddening. That said, I highly value your bourbon recommendations and look forward to many fine future evaluations.

    Hey- I know this is overstating the obvious, but there is a boatload of good bourbon to be had for pennies on the dollar, that are as good or dare I say, better than Pappy.
    I just picked up a bottle of Elijah Craig Barrel proof B519. Excellent, well balanced bourbon for $54.99 a bottle. Also managed to snag a bottle of Willett 12 year for $199. (I live in NY-can’t get MSRP within a 100 mile radius) If you are looking for that special bottle, this is it. Same juice as Pappy-only difference is barrel management in the rickhouse.
    I could go on-the Willett antique 107 is a great bottle for $99. but you get the idea. Pappy is great but until I get Jeff Bezo’s job, I’ll have to pass.

    Bob – I think you meant to say Weller 12 year?

    I agree, it’s good juice. But it’s not PVW, despite what lots of folks will say. It might be the same juice going into the wood, but aging conditions make a significant. Not going to comment on which “tastes better” because that’s purely an opinion issue. What I will say is that PVW 10 and 12 are not only well balanced but smooth all the way through. Weller 12, as much as I love it, has a certain bitter aftertaste not present in the PVW. Also, if you’re so inclined, the Total Wine in Norwalk gets Weller 12 this time o year. Last year they charged approx. $40.

    Sorry to see the map go, but certainly understand. My bourbon “hunting grounds” consists of 3 stores, one in my small (pop.4000) hometown, and the others 90 or so miles away. Each is locally owned and relatively small, one is downright tiny. I visit the local guy once a week and always make a bourbon and wine purchase and take time to chat, mostly about bourbon. I’ll make requests for something not on the shelf almost every visit and have been availed of Old Fitz BIB (3 releases), E.H.Taylor 4 Grain, and a Parker’s Heritage to name a few. Nothing unobtainable, but keeps the chat, and $$, flowing. Two years ago, the owner surprised me with an Old Rip 10 year. I paid $70. Last year, my “reward” was Pappy 15, for which I paid $130. Similar stories at the other 2 stores (BTAC Stagg, Weller 12, Al Young) all at retail. Build a relationship, and don’t try to BS the proprietor. Ditto what Firebrand said!

    I tried this but unfortunately i still cant compete with people with deep pockets, yeah the store owner will tell me when he gets allocations but still hold the unicorns for his big spenders, and i dont blame him but sucks for the average Joe, Southern California is extremely competitive so i just gave up supporting stores, now i just rely on bix box stores shipping days.

    I understand the rationale for terminating the map. Ironically, the map only started to have value to me when I moved from Louisville to Connecticut in 2015. In CT, there are few stores that even see 1 bottle of any PVW. And, of those, some do gouge. But there are still a few stores that sell at a relatively modest vig. For instance, I got my first William Larue Weller and Pappy 15 in CT in 2015 from a store that charged me $380 for the pair. He only got 1 bottle of each, but called me because he said he wanted it to go to someone who actually enjoys the juice. So, the map would let me know when the juice hit CT so I’d know when to star making the rounds. I’ll miss it because it had value for me – but I understand, and thanks for maintaining it.

    Agree with everything said. Thank you for your insight & honesty ( not to mention a fine palate)and your efforts for all these years.

    Well said, sir. Don’t blame you one bit. I fell for all the Pappy hype, 2 years ago. Then I had the opportunity to try the 15 year, Lot B and I was able to purchase a bottle of ORVW. The ONLY one I really, truly enjoyed was the ORVW. The other two were so underwhelming, I quit looking for anything Highly Allocated. If I find a bottle of WSR or OWA sitting on the shelf, for reasonable doll hairs, I’ll buy it. It’s really not that good. I don’t enjoy paying more than $40 a bottle. When I do, it better be damned special. Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof, is better than most of the BTAC, arguably. The only exceptions may be WLW or GTS. But I can regularly find the JDSBBP AND less than $70/bottle. Wild Turkey makes an AWESOME barrel proof in Rare Breed. EHT SmB is excellent, but tough to find in my state. So I drink lesser quality Bottled in Bonds… Like Evan Williams or Jim Beam… Early Times BiB is KILLER if you can find it! It’s not available in my state, but I have friends who travel! My long-winded diatribe is essentially in support of your blog, sir! There’s MORE to bourbon than PVW and BTAC!!! Cheers!

    I live in Virginia, and the Commonwealth runs the liquor stores here. The past few years they’ve had a Pappy lottery that’s limited to Virginia residents. Maybe 25,000 entries for 100 bottles as an example. I’ve never won. But they sell it at list price. No mark-up whatsoever. They also sell Sazerac 6-year rye for list price of $29.99. Availability is spotty. I was in New Orleans in February of this year, and Costco was selling Sazerac 6-year rye for the unbelievably low price of $19.99. I wish I had been able to buy a few bottles, but I was going on a cruise and then had to fly home, and really had no safe way to transport it. I’ve seen it as high as $99.99 in the District of Columbia.

    Speaking just for myself, I am not interested in purchasing a bottle or even a drink of Pappy. It is nothing more than an extremely limited bourbon supported by hype and a surging demand. No doubt than its a fine drop of whiskey, but there are others that are very acceptable to me for far less money. I suspect half of the people that are purchasing these rare distillations aren’t even bourbon drinkers. Chasing after a bottle of Pappy is no different than chasing your own shadow. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

    Thank you for all of your hard work, Blake, as it is appreciated.

    As much as I like Pappy I have lost all interest in bothering with finding a bottle, much less paying way too much, wasting my time in line, etc. People got greedy and that’s a huge turnoff. As you said, there are many other great bourbons at a very reasonable price.

    After touring the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY I learned a great deal about the elusive Pappy. It will be back and back with a vengeance as they didnt make too many bottles in the 90s when bourbon wasnt nearly as popular. So by the time I’m 60 I may get a chance to taste the unicorn. With that being said, the flavor profile your looking for may not be charred straight up barrel, lol. I have heard it tastes like liquid oak. I would still like a taste one day as who doesn’t?! But your right on with there are plenty of great bourbons that dont cost thousands or even hundreds.

    I worked for a dist for 11 years that dist PVW and all the BT hard to finds and would love to talk to soneone…ANYONE about some of their practices that I know of 1st hand and its only getting worse. I was terminated 2 days after xmas 2018 for a facebook post.
    If BT and PPVW knew of their practices maybe it will stop. The distilleries have to stop the distributors. They are the initial problem.

    I will add my ‘Well Said’ to the list. It is true that the AC and the Pappy’s are almost impossible (I actually stumbled on a PRVW at retail price 3 years ago and consider myself lucky and a rare situation). I also agree that there are a lot of accessible and difficult to find (but not impossible – such as Eagle Rare) bourbons out there that are downright delicious.

    Finally, I also agree that BT and the Van Winkles are being….well…trying to think of a word I could use here. Let’s just say that their decision was HORRIBLE. As you said, the market found more and has done more to close down fakes than BT has and shutting down the secondary market actually does little to curb fakes (except excluding the watchdogs that are keeping an eye on it). Don’t slap around your loyal drinkers and fans and label it ‘protecting us’. Shutting down the secondary market means that if I want one of the rare bourbons I now have to pay 3 TIMES as much to some skinflint lowlife store owner. The ones that we really need protecting from and the ones that BT and Van Winkles don’t even touch.

    I love BT bourbons, but this has left a bad taste in my mouth.

    Blake,

    Thabk you for the great prank on us! For real, which states have dropped? Lol! Nothing in MN! Anybody else?!! Who needs a map when we have “OUR” blog!

    Great article! I stopped chasing Pappy a few years ago and haven’t missed it with all the awesome bourbons available. Can’t agree more with your alternative selections. Most impressed with CHATTANOOGA Whiskey 111 (cask) and even the 91. Recently tried the Wilderness Trail and flavorably impressed as well.

    Pappy, like designer water, is all hype, of the Screaming Eagle ilk. not worth the money but those who have the do ray me, flock to obtain this over priced gimmicky product.. Just like a major sporting event with over inflated ticket prices, we only lose if we buy into their madness.. Mild protests by passing up inflated ego pricing will cure this epidemic… Refrain my friends… Refrain..

    Pappy’s are overrated for my taste. I had the 10, 12 and 15. The 15 was good, but not worth anything over retial, I would say retail is already to much nowadays. The 10 and 12 are not much better than most $30 bottles I had. Harsh and flat. The best bourbon I ever had was the 25 year old Jefferson presidential. That bourbon just tasted like a old lounge with wooden floor, leather chairs and cigars would smell like. I really wish I had bought more of those bottles. That bourbon hit all the right spots. But then again taste differs from person to person. Still not going to turn down a bottle of pappy 15 if I win one in the lottery. However I will skip the 20 and 23 even at retail, way overpriced for me.

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