A Retailers Blueprint for Selling Pappy

How to Handle the Pappy Release

First, this post is completely from the perspective of a consumer. I’m not a retailer nor have I worked for a retailer. However, I do talk with a lot of Bourbonr’s across the country and have come to realize what works and what doesn’t work for liquor stores.

Second, a word to the consumer, an understanding of the odds is imperative when hunting Pappy Van Winkle. Most estimate the Van Winkle release to be between 22k-24k bottles. My estimate would say that there’s about 15-20 times the amount of people looking for a bottle. That means for every twenty calls a stores gets only one of those customers will get a bottle.

The Problem

The popularity continues to grow at unbelievable rates. Each fall brings a new level of crazy that’s unrivaled in the liquor world. The problem stores face is how to sell the few bottles they receive to the hundreds of customers that want a bottle? There’s been a paradigm shift in how stores treat customers looking for Pappy Van Winkle and other limited release portions. Walk in to a store and receive a welcome smile from a store employee. Ask about Pappy Van Winkle and you’re quickly shunned. I’ve had some of the worst experiences this fall while buying BTAC. These are stores I’ve spent thousands of dollars at over the years but you would have thought I was robbing the place when I walked in to purchase a bottle of Sazerac 18. I wasn’t bothered because no matter the customer experience I was still going home with that Saz! This did make me realize that stores are missing a huge opportunity to capture their piece of the bourbon boom.

A couple of weeks ago Josh Peters over at The Whiskey Jug wrote “48 Whiskey Enthusiasts Weigh In On What They Want From The Whiskey Industry” which got me thinking, what do enthusiast want from retailers. Because the large retailers are probably the ones receiving the most phone calls and questions they should be the most prepared. As most Bourbonr’s know, that isn’t the case.

Price gouge lot B

Photo courtesy of  Jared Himstedt

Option 1 – Lottery

Personally, I don’t like lotteries because it takes half of the fun and excitement out of the Pappy hunt. It is a fair and equitable method of handling release and I acknowledge that. Simply instruct all employees to tell customers about the lottery and how they sign up.

Variation #1 of the lottery – For the two months leading up to the Pappy Van Winkle release make each bottle purchased by a customer is an additional ticket in the lottery. This doesn’t take a lot of additional work on the retailers end and it incentives people to buy more from the store.

Variation #2 of the lottery – Hold a live lottery. Bringing people to your store is never a bad thing. Even though not everyone can win there will be plenty of people who buy other bottles since they’re already in the store.

Option 2 – First Come First Serve

This can be a difficult for retailers to handle but if done correctly it can lead to a lot of free publicity and happy (or at least non-angry) customers for stores. Stores should announce to customers when they will be releasing. Let the lines form. Steal a page from Apples playbook. They could easily distribute the iPhone without having people camp outside their stores in the cold but hype is a good thing. Every local paper would write a story of XYZ liquor having people camping out the Pappy van Winkle.

First come first serve can also be done without an announcement of the date. I know several stores that handle the Pappy release like this and I usually drop in a few times a week as we get closer to the release. As a good customer I also try to grab some beer or other bottle while I’m at the store.

Option 3 – Make a List

I call this the third option because as an active bourbon hunter I don’t like it but I do understand its fairness. Start taking names a month or two before the release and start checking off names as bottles come in the door. Fair and equitable but so much missed opportunity on the side of the retailer.

Transparency is Key

A store can’t go wrong if they’re transparent and truthful with their customers. If you’re a small store and only get a few bottles in which go to your most loyal 2-3 customers? That’s a great way to reward people for shopping at your store but tell people what you’re doing. Maybe, Ill drive a few extra miles to your store the next time I’m picking up a few bottles if I know there’s a chance you could hold a bottle of Pappy for me in the fall. If you’re a large store and haven’t figured out how to handle your allocation don’t tell people you’re not getting any Pappy. That works on some customers but most know it’s a lie and will be very angry once they find out you did get it in and it’s all sold.

Final Thought

Skip the scalpers. Because of the 3 layers (Distillery, Distributor and Retailer) there’s very little Buffalo Trace or the Van Winkles can do about a retailer that gouges customers. Remember, sometimes it’s not the retailer that is doing the gouging. Distributors have also increased their prices or force retailers to by dozens of cases of products they don’t want just to get 3 bottles from the Van Winkle line. I’ve come to accept anything within 25%-40% increase of retail as SRP and avoid shopping with any store that charges more than that. Ultimately, if no one is buying the bottles some retailers may come to their senses. Or, at least that is my hope.


    Drawing the “scalper” line at 40% over MSRP is pretty arbitrary. There’s a big difference in what’s a fair price between some podunk store in the county, and a high-end store on Wall St.

    While it’s always nice to pay MSRP for rare bourbons, it should not be expected.


    It is arbitrary. Everyone’s situation is different but that’s my personal cut-off for what I consider MSRP. I’ve broken my own rule plenty of times. If a store goes out of their way to hunt down a bottle of ER17 and charges $120 I still think that’s fair and probably closer to what retail has become. The key to MSRP is the “S”. It’s suggested pricing

    I Agree 100% Dennis. I would much rather buy a $120 ER17 from my regular guy that did the extra work making calls for me than have to consider the crazy mark ups from the scalpers. Stores pay rent, insurance, risk their own capital, then make $200 less per bottle than the guy they sold it to. Crazy

    I agree, I don’t feel like the MSRP has actually kept up with the supply and demand of these bourbons. At what point is “gouging” just a simple supply and demand number? With other wines and rare whiskies, the prices have been rising for decades, but that’s often considered part of the market value, why does it feel like bourbon should be exempt? A sale has always been an exchange of perceived value between two parties, so if the outrageous prices are selling…

    I agree, I don’t feel like the MSRP has actually kept up with the supply and demand of these bourbons. At what point is “gouging” just a simple supply and demand number? With other wines and rare whiskies, the prices have been rising for decades, but that’s often considered part of the market value, why does it feel like bourbon should be exempt? A sale has always been an exchange of perceived value between two parties, so if the outrageous prices are selling what does that have to say about MSRP

    Being that I live close to Kentucky, most stores in KY sell at MSRP or slightly above. The stores that even add a $10 premium to their barrels selections can get ostracized by the bourbon community here. MSRP in pretty standard in KY and I wish it were that way elsewhere.
    The Party Source had a first come first serve line for Pappy this past week. Line started 14+ hrs before the store was to sell. Stadium liquor in KY has a lottery system which tends to be fairer to repeat customers and customers who cannot take off work to stand in line for 14 hrs.

    If you refuse to buy Pappy at those huge amounts, prices will go down to maybe double the normal price. A bottle of 20 year old should be no more then $200 for example, 15 year $150, 13 year rye, $150, 12 year $100 and 23 year $500.
    It’s almost like 22 cal bullets at the gun show, supply will increase and don’t cave in to the rip-offs.

    Actually, if “you” refuse to buy Pappy at that level someone else will.

    The whole argument of “if we don’t buy it then the price will go down” will never ever work because all it takes is a handful of wealthy people who want only the best to keep the prices up. It happens with free agents in baseball, special wines, etc. anytime there is a limited quantity of an item that has some demand, the price will go up to the level that the market supports.

    My solution, I drink other things. I have had Pappy many times over the years – back when I could walk into a store and get a Pappy 12 year for $50. I really like it. But is it 5x better then some of the other wonderful bourbons I have n my collection? no. So I enjoy the search for bourbons that I will like – tasting different ones, conparing the flavors and nuances, etc. I would rather spend my time than driving from store to store in search of a specific bottle.

    And yes, my local store when I buy my bourbon gets a Pappy allocation and has a weighted lottery by a well defined criteria. And If my name comes up I will buy that bottle.

    I live in the Houston area and have been shopping the same store this year for 5k+ of products. Yet when it comes to find a bottle of BTAC or dreaming of Pappy, I am getting no where from my loyalty. Granted the store I shop from do it based on total history points not just the pts from this year. It is getting harder and harder to find a bottle, while, I never found one yet… ever.

    One store in Dallas had a first come, first serve for this release. I ended up sixteenth in line and left with a bottle of Van Winkle 10 for $75. Another store has a list and this was my first year to use it. Was called while in Kentucky and picked up my Stagg Jr. this afternoon. Both worked reasonably well for me, but then again I actually got something. I felt like both ways were fair because it gave everyone a shot at getting something, even if they didn’t get exactly what they wanted.

    What kills me is being loyal to a store and then they mark up the price to secondary levels. $300 for BTAC. I can get charging someone off the street you’ve never seen before, but loyal customers who shop all year? BS.

    A popular liquor store in my area has its own reward card. The more you buy, the more points, and eventually earn a $5 gift card. I suggested to them that they total up everyone’s points – maybe even post it so everyone knows the standings, and the top folks come the Pappy release date (or release date for any limited release) get to pick a bottle in order of point standings. They “took it under consideration.” Last year they did a live raffle in February and offered 10% off any bottle of liquor in the store as an added promotion. I happened to be the first one picked for raffle the and got a Pappy 20. See how my luck goes in 2015.

    You are missing one other option, and this would be the option I would choose were I a retailer.

    Option 4 – The Good Customer Incentive

    It isn’t exactly fair and it only goes to a limited number of people but I think this is what stores should do. The fact is they get so few bottles and even if they go with a higher margin it isn’t like they are paying the bills with these sales. These elite bottles should be used as incentive to customers so they continue to come back to their particular store for all of their alcohol needs. It doesn’t necessarily have to go only to the biggest spenders, it could go to regular customers who have a known and strong interest in this particular vein of spirits.

    As a bourbonr I think this is what we should want as well. Take the time to build relationships, buy from one or two targeted stores that will take care of you this time of year. This eliminates the luck of a lottery and anybody can get their name on a list. I am certainly not a huge buyer, not even close to a top dollar spender at the stores I frequent the most. But I’ve found putting time in, buying plenty and building relationships has been the best way to land good bottles.

    I agree with this method Tom. This is how I got my bottle of PVW 15. I was fortunate enough to learn of this local store via a friend of mine who introduced me to the LE Manager there. Even though this store is a hike for me (about 45-60 minutes with traffic in the DC/VA area), I make it there to purchase items which I could otherwise purchase in VA.
    A lot of people do not understand that building a good relationship with the store/store management, even a non-big spender one (as you mentioned), makes you a preferred customer.
    I had sent an email to the LE manager in the morning and by the evening I had a bottle of PVW 15 in my hands, in addition to other items I purchased along with it. Bottom line, take care of your local store, get to know them and they’ll take care of you.

    I like the idea of the lottery except for exactly the reason Tom above outlined – anyone can join and of course with the secondary market, you’re going to find people who game the system (with multiple email addresses, their kid’s names, so on, so forth).
    I’ve gotten PVW over the years only two ways – at my Atlanta store, I simply added my name to a list in February and got a call in November to pick up a bottle. I literally think the determination was done on a first to email was first in line and so forth. The other times I have gotten the rare bottles (including my all time favorite, the 125th anniversary Four Roses, which I was lucky enough to get two of, one of which I can’t break the seal on – you know, like a hundred-dollar bill – once you break it, it’s gone) were by being a regular customer, getting to know the person in charge, buying some higher end whiskey – not crazy expensive stuff, but higher end – and having them offer it to me. I really do think that making sure that shop owners know you aren’t just going to turn around and sell it to the highest bidder matters. And I, luckily it seems, have never paid more than retail for PVW or BTAC.

    I live in Virginia which as most know is an ABC controlled state. This means that I can ask all I want but not much is going to happen. Here in VA, the state will not even accept any requests for Pappy or ER17yo since both have approximately a 3yr backlog.
    Fortunately, I also live right near the North Carolina line. Sadly however NC is also an ABC state. But, NC does things a bit different and the local ABC store manager is a bourbon guy so last year he was able to get me a bottle of Pappy 15, a bottle of William Larue Weller, and a bottle of Stagg Sr. The best part was that since NC is an ABC state the prices are fixed and I only paid retail for each bottle.
    I am still waiting to see how this year plays out. He thinks he should be getting a few of each but the warehouse that the state ships the little things from hasn’t sent him anything yet. So I am not as optimistic toward my chances this year.

    Wish me luck.

    Option X: Just let your store employees (or owners) buy your allotment. Don’t even let it get to the shelves, just keep it for yourself! You know that your customers are just going to flip these bottles on the brown market, so just stick those Pappiezzz in your Nissan Sentra and then get them up on Craigslist as soon as you get home! Come on, this is as close to a Christmas bonus as you’re gonna get this year! Bonus points if you leave the bottles out where your customers can ask about them, and then you can tell them that they’re not for sale! Hey, at least you’re honest about it! Better yet, tell them to check Craiglist later if they’re really interested! (And yes, this has happened in at least one third of the stores I’ve visited this fall.)

    Being a good customer and getting to know the store beyond calling every day in the fall asking “do you have BTAC or Pappy?” is really the way to go. Store owners are beyond annoyed by the calls of that type, my go to store told me they are happy they have released Pappy and that the calls will finally stop. They were getting over 100 calls a day, and for a store of their size that is probably 5 times normal. I was lucky and got a Rye and a 15 year from the release, the other 6 bottles were gone in under 30 mins.

    Also being honest about how your store is handling the sales is very helpful. I to am tired of the “we wont get it till next year” or “we wont get any” when it has already been out every where else in the state. Then of course the story changes to “O we sold out yesterday” a day later. By all means keep it for your regular customers, or yourself, or lottery it; just dont lie to me about how you are doing it. Also marking it up 1000% is just dumb, though if people would stop paying it they would not do it. Keep your 800 dollar lot B, i will spend that money else where and on better bourbons.

    Total Wine today announced they are “not going to carry Pappy this year”. I called four LA/Orange County stores. They had been saying for six weeks that they would follow their normal procedure from previous years. Costco and maybe BevMo is/are the only retailer in Southern California to really rival Total Wine now. So the question becomes: Did Total Wine just pass on their allocation of Pappy from Young’s Market leaving considerable gross profit on the table, not to mention customer loyalty ? (or) Does Total Wine have a “new” allocation/distribution procedure that they are not telling their customers about?

    Actually they lied – they are getting Pappy, but just not selling it to you (or me). They will hold it in a back room and sell it to their best customers discreetly.

    Apparently, Total Wine as a company decided not to sell any Pappy this year and to instead come up with a better way to sell it than they had in the past, which was first come, first serve. So if that is indeed the motivation for the change, that is admirable and should be applauded. However, they’re going about it rather clumsily.
    Instead of being up front with customers and posting a message to that effect online (e.g. bevmo.com/Pappy), they’ve been very vague about the Pappy status in-store and over the phone this year with many people on this site. It wasn’t until we found a buried @ reply from @TotalWine on Twitter that we finally got a definitive answer from someone at the company.
    “We will not be selling any Pappy this year. The selling plan for our limited allocation will be communicated in February. At the earliest we could be selling it in March, but most likely not.”
    So not only is it frustrating how Total Wine handled the communication of that decision, but also the decision in general is pretty frustrating. How is it ok for one of the biggest national retailers to just sit on their large allocation for five months (Nov-March) instead of selling it to customers? Doesn’t seem very in line with the spirit of the community. This bourbon has already been aged for long enough – it’s meant to be consumed at this point.

    I saw that tweet too. I spoke with the director of social media there and he confirmed it. It’s frustrating but what do you do.

    What I am finding is the liquor stores in Atlanta area a lot of them are holding the pappy and only selling it to “their best customers” so the average person has no chance at getting any. I wont name the chains that I know of already here, but….

    I don’t know how many times I’ve been in a store talking with an owner/mngr when in walks a rep or there’s a rep on the phone who is utterly clueless about the products they sell.

    The day the “law” ends dictating what the retailers do with these bottles and where they get them is the day an actual free market is in place to price it all as it should be. Till then, being a ‘good customer’ is a great way to keep getting shafted – because the stores that ‘get allotted’ simply don’t make enough on the stuff to make it worthwhile. The make $$ on their Coors Light sales and Fireball margin; VW is a joke. It’s impossible to ‘gouge’ in a real free market.

    Great post. However, some of the comments are critical of selling over mrsp. My local store said he might not carry it next year because it wasn’t worth the hassle. He sells 20 for 250 and could have sold 30 bottles but only for 2. Pappy will be soon be a bourbon most people will not be able to afford. If the van winkles can sell it for more, they will and I expect the prices to rise more in 2015. I have actually said I might make this my last year because I have put tons of work into the hunt and normally come away with a bottle or two and always seem to overpay or risk not getting a bottle. Thanks for the great article. My favorite comment from a store, 300 for a 12 year and I scoffed, he said I could have sold it this morning but wanted to give you a shot to reward your loyalty.

    I like another option I saw on Twitter. The store would tweet out a picture of which bottle was being sold, then hide it in their store somewhere. First one to find it wins the right to purchase. This accomplishes several things for the retailer 1) it gets people into the store and ensures they look around 2) it creates some buzz via social media which allows them to advertise other offerings throughout the year and 3) it gives everyone a fair chance of purchasing their beloved Pappy or BTAC.

    The whole PVW and BTAC madness is just that – madness. Many stores don’t even know how to handle their allocation any more because of the overwhelming demand. Blake, great perspective with this blog post.

    The one thing to remember through all of this – this madness is driven by money. I would love to be able to get a bottle of ER17…I’ve been searching for 5 years and no one bit of luck securing a bottle. When I see it available on a shelf – it’s $300 or more. It’s a great bourbon, but not at $300. My name has never come up on a list, as many as I’ve been on. What is frustrating is that a lot of the people on these lists end up flipping the product for a huge mark up. Many don’t even drink the damn thing – it’s all about the profit. I ran into a guy tonight who was picking up his BTAC and PVW allocation in Virginia. He admitted he doesn’t touch the stuff, but wants the bottles to sell them to make some money. Seriously?! This is why this whole thing is out of control. Non-bourbonrs are getting into the arena and significantly reducing the availability of these products. At this rate, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to enjoy ER17, PVW, or some of these other hard to find products in the privacy of my own home. I guess my luck isn’t that great…and I refuse to shell out the money. Here’s hoping the bourbon bubble bursts soon and these things become a little easier to secure.
    Happy hunting….or spending…whichever is your preference.

    Great article!! Here’s a few other models we’ve come across. A store in Rhode Island told us flat out that they tell everyone who calls that they’re sold out. They tell anyone who they’ve never seen in their store before that they’re sold out. They only sell it to people they recognize as frequent shoppers…and they sell it at MSRP. It’s a good filter for getting it into the hands of truly loyal customers. We talked to another store that allows customers to redeem any receipt from this year for a raffle ticket. Each receipt = 1 ticket. They then pick winning tickets. Yet another takes all of their bottles, puts them in a “gift basket” and sells raffle tickets for $10 each – everything over cost goes to charity. One of the more creative stores actually has a written “bourbon lovers test” with lots of questions that only true bourbon enthusiasts can answer (“what does OFBB stand for?”, etc.). The highest grades get a shot at buying bottles. But the most common, by far, this year is “if we get any, we’ll post to Facebook/twitter – first come, first serve. Follow us if you want a shot at it”. I agree that most bourbon drinkers prefer the method of announcing the release date ahead of time and letting the lines form. The best stores actually serve snacks, coffee and food to those waiting in line and make a cool event out of it. The approach that gets the most complaints from bourbon drinkers we talk with are those retailers that take a customer’s name and number and promise to call back with an update. Very few liquor stores actually call back and this has proven to be a big source of frustration for many folks.

    Personally, developing a relationship with an independent store owner who does get an allocation has been the way to go. They get all my business and they’ve in turn held a bottle for me the past two years. I picked up my PVW 20 and Elmer T. Lee today. You’re competing with too many others when it comes to the large chains that bring everything to the hub and look at their largest point holders across all their stores.

    I’m sorry to say but I’m becoming a firm believer that the store owners are hoarding Pappy and the other high end Bourbons for themselves and their very close running buds. I hear store clerks in casual conversation slip up and talk about this bourbon or that bourbon they had last week or the week before and it’s the high end Parker, Stagg, Weller etc. But they never have any to sale. I put my name on the so called “lists” but it’s always an excuse on why I did not get called. It’s not unusual to drop a “grand” on wines, bourbons and other spirits in these stores but when it comes to the good stuff how much you spent gets you a cup of coffee. Just saying from my experience.

    You are exactly right. Do you think liquor stores sell every bottle they get in? I would say the majority of the Pappy gets held back. I have confirmed that some stores will hold back 50% of their Pappy stash.

    Hey BLake,

    Thanks for the link and I’m a fan of the “loyal lottery” which is how my favorite bottle shop in L.A. does it. They look at your purchase history for the last year and only put their best customers (who email them to let them know they want to be included) in the pool of names they draw from. Best customer status also isn’t just based on how much you spend, but what you spend it on. Do you only buy limited releases, special editions or rarities they get in? Or do you buy your daily stuff there too? Do you buy the single barrels they go out and pick? Stuff like that. I think it’s a good a system that rewards their truly loyal customers who don’t just use them to snag the harder to find stuff they always get in.

    Great posts and agree with various items throughout. As someone who has had searched various stores for the past couple years and had some success, I still find myself asking the same question, “Why does this have to be so hard?” The problem is that every store does their own thing and there is no unity among the stores in a particular market. For instance, if every store did a loyalty card, where points were accrued by purchases, this would mean you could only buy one bottle from one store unless you had spent money all year all over town. This would prevent flippers from running store to store, help loyal bourbon guys get their bottle at their store, and make sure the random guy who just wants a trophy does not walk out with precious cargo just to go home and pour ginger ale in it. Points could be awarded more for a bourbon purchase, or based on visits, etc and does not have to be all about how much money you spent there because let’s face it, we all don’t spend hundreds of dollars every month like some do but still want a shot. Happy hunting and let me know your thoughts.

    I did not see this option for retailers in the above responses. Some stores bundle PVW . For example, a store puts PVW with 4 or 5 other bottles like Jefferson Ocean Age ($70), Black Maple Hill ($78) and Parker release 2014 ($90) and then charges over $2,000 for the bundle.

    I have always wondered if bundling was legal.

    My method of choice is preferred customer/loyal patron; however, it seems many stores are moving away from this method because it tends to garner a negative reaction from some people. Sometimes the reaction can be loud, abusive, and even violent. Because of this, I’ve witnessed stores move to lotteries, first come first serve, and wait lists. Now those people are content because they have an equal shot at obtaining a highly desirable bottle. From my point of view, a loyal patron should not be on equal footing with a non-regular customer. A loyal patron should have a major advantage. Retailers are making a huge mistake when they take for granted their loyal patrons. For example, one retailer in my area has been very good at supplying premium bourbon to loyal customers and known bourbon enthusiasts. I was confident that I would be able to purchase Pappy Van Winkle this year when it was released. When Pappy was released in my area, the retailer unexpectedly put the Pappy out first come first serve claiming that the demand was too much and they could not hold back the inventory. In all honesty, I was pissed off. Over the course of the past year, I spent a huge amount of money at this retailer not only buying bourbon but also red wine, tequila, and beer. I had visibility at the store and was on a first name basis with the spirits manager. It literally was an investment that didn’t pay out. I’ve decided to never shop at that retailer ever again.

    I think you should have to pass a very basic bourbon test to get any rare bourbon. If you could weed out the people just trying to flip it and people who know nothing about bourbon (but are just there due to hype) odds would be much better for us bourbon lovers who want to drink it, or GIVE it to another bourbon lover. Pappy is just a craze and it will pass ( may take many years). There are SO MANY delicious bourbons out there that I can grab anytime. But if you want Pappy, the first come /first serve is the best way to go ( Unless you have connections).

    I forgot to mention, I went to Liquor barn in Lexington KY to get my bottle of 15 year. I got there at 1 am the night before, thinking I would be top 5 or so and would have a choice of any year. I was 18th in line. Had to wait till around 11am for the truck to show up and purchase my bourbon. I got the LAST bottle of 15/pappy. The first person who was in line (And showed up at 8pm night before), actually did a good job of “leading the line”. Everyone would sign in on a clipboard when you got there, and were then free to sleep in car, go get food, use bathroom, etc. As long as you didn’t leave the premises for hours, you were ok. Then before the store opened, we all got in a single file line according to the clipboard. And it all worked out very well. This is a good way to do it if you plan on spending many many hours waiting. Of course the people in line have to be OK with it too, but it is pretty fair and makes waiting more comfortable for everyone. I believe we got the first 60 or 70 people signed up on the clipboard.

    Every store should hold and release without confirming bottles. That way everything is first come first serve and no one is waiting in line overnight.

    As far as I’m concerned, the fairest way to do it is for stores to let everybody know what day they’ll be releasing their allotments. In other words, if Store X expects to get their allotment on 11/15, then they release it for sale at, say, 11/17 when they open. That way everyone has a legitimate shot (no arbitrary lotteries needed), and the determining factor is, truly, how badly somebody wants a bottle. Take luck out of the equation by eliminating lotteries or people fortuitously stumbling into the store at just the right moment. You really want a PVW 23? Camp out! It would make life a little harder for flippers who currently win bottles on lottery or by getting on every waitlist in their state, and creates the “buzz” for the store that owners are after. This system will also tend to reward the local patrons as they’re physically in the area to line up early.

    I see comments about people having a fair shot and everyone having a legitimate shot at the Pappy, but is it fair as a loyal patron that I hypothetically spend $1K-$2K a year at a single retailer and I have to be put on equal ground with someone who has never spent a dime at the same retailer? It doesn’t make sense to me. Loyal patrons should have some advantage. I think first come first serve is more appropriate for larger retailers because it is much more difficult to monitor customer spending history. Of course, larger retailers could adopt a system similar to BevMo where purchase history is recorded through a club program. The retailer then makes the highly coveted bottles available to their best customers.

    NO PHONE CALLS for that conversation will tell you that we do not have any. We want everyone to know how we handle these items of interest. We have a select list of customers who spend a fair amount of money with our store. We speak with each of them when we see them as they always ask what is new/exciting or when certain limited releases will appear. We will then hand sell the bottle to them and inform all of the other managers who has received what. Our computer inventories show no bottles on hand for there is only one person who truly knows the inventory. He will then select a bottle or bottles to be placed in a designated location at a non-designated time to allow all of our customers to partake in these items. I know that this seems like a lot of work to check with a store, but if you frequent our location consistently, you will more than likely be rewarded. Pricing we consider to be fair and from what I have read in this, WELL below what people are paying (accurate pricing is on the website), but this is the way we have determined that we build our business. We currently do not purchase our own barrels, but we have tasted with most of the major distilleries and discussed what we think would be the best opportunity, but it appears that no one wants to take that risk. We have used a list in the past, but if you were on it and got a bottle this year you may not get one for 15 more years for we know many customers that are on 15 different store lists (yes managers/owners converse). WE do like the idea of a lottery, but not sure that is particularly fair as well. My suggestion to everyone is be patient, these are great items that are difficult to get, yet there are many like them that are readily available and others that only available at the distilleries (Evan William’s 23 for example). Best of luck to you all and may your pursuit be rewarded with that rare find.

    Thank you for the kind comment. This store has been in business for 45 years with our buyer having over 20 years of experience in not just whiskey. He does recall having 50% of the allocation for the state he was in for Pappy 23 (thought it was nice to share lol). In reference to why pricing is high for some accounts, this could lead to the amounts of other products that have to be moved through that location and the time it takes to keep the supplier relationships open. There are items in which we only receive one bottle and work diligently to define the relationship status with that producer/supplier in hopes of obtaining more for our customers. Our belief “whiskey is meant to be shared” just as with all beverage alcohol.

    As a retailer, I have a different point of view on this issue. So let me at least explain the reason behind high prices.

    Currently, the industry is mired in the 3-tier system. That means that by law distiller HAS TO sell their products first to distributor who then HAS TO sell them to the retailer. As you can imagine, with each step the price of the product itself rises.

    But here’s where it gets interesting. Distributors are well aware of the recent bourbon craze. Hence, they make us, the retailers, spend thousands of dollars throughout the year on junk product to get just a small allocation of the “good stuff”. We usually sell the junk at cost price and sometimes even take a loss. Therefore, when we are lucky enough to get a few bottles of allocated bourbon (usually in the fall), it is our only chance to recoup those costs.

    It is also ironic that people don’t really complain about prices bars and restaurants sell the stuff for, but hold us to the higher standard?

    realize that this is probably not going to make you feel any better. I do, however, hope that you look at this from the retailer’s point of view. I think you would agree that you’d probably make the same business decisions if the shoe was on the other foot.

    All great points Michael. Thanks for the info!

    For some reason distributors never get any of the heat from consumers while they’re usually the most guilty. Not always, but a lot more than we realize. I’ve bought a bottle from a store at retail then gone back a couple weeks later and the same bottles is $40 more. I asked the owner and he said when we tried to re-order the distributor jacked the price up. This could just be an excuse but I’m sure it happens.

    Also, restaurants often get a break because everyone expects the 300X margin. This is why a lot of restaurants are getting a larger allocation because they can make more off of a bottle of Pappy and will pay the distributor more.

    Not to disagree with you Blake, but I also think that sometimes the “its because the distributor” is a sham too. I have several stores I frequent, all in the same area, all with the same distributor, and heck 3 of them are even the same chain. Today Pappy hit Missouri, and today every one of the stores had a different price. Of the 3 stores that are the same chain, one had pappy 23 for 218 (via lottery which hasnt drawn yet), one got it for 265 (up from last year due to distributor they said and I believe as they had BTAC at 65 each) and one for 310 which they said was because of distributor costs going up as well. Now the question is who is telling the truth? They all use the same distributor, so is one store selling at a loss? Doubtful. Do taxes of a specific city come into play? I am sure they do, but all I am saying is I feel like some stores are using the “its the distributor” to shield themselves a bit.

    You’re right. The distributor could be an easy scapegoat for stores. Or, some stores may have decided to bite the bullet for a few customers. Either way it’s a mess and I’m not sure what the solution is at this point

    Agreed. I think sometimes the retailers use the distributor as the scapegoat. You’re right….many stores with the same distributor and everyone priced differently. I asked one of my trusted contacts whether he was ever forced to buy inferior product in order to obtain Pappy and BTAC and he said absolutely not. I was also at another retailer that had just received Pappy but they weren’t putting it out for sale just yet; they had to determine their pricing. There was all this talk about how Pappy sold for some absurd amount…a means to justify their mark up. What they actually were doing was coordinating with competitors to make sure their price wasn’t too high or too low. It was absolutely ridiculous.

    I never said distributors are jacking up the prices. All said is that to get Pappy or any other hard-to-get stuff, I have to buy a lot of crap that does not sell all that well. The only way those bottles are selling at MSRP is if you are buying a whole lot of Ciroc Pineapple all year long from me. Sounds fair?

    Michael…your distributor may operate differently and I’m sorry you have to deal with that. My source has been in business for decades and he said he would never tolerate such unscrupulous sales tactics. For the state I’m in, the store in question received a large allocation of PVW, which is all going to lottery. Everything is being sold at MSRP.

    It sounds backwards but if the distillers raised the prices then that would eliminate the black market and half of the demand. The prices would even out between their current retail price and the black market price and the people who actually want to drink the bourbon will have far better access to it. Heaven Hill has already started this with the EC 23 and there were bottles in my local store for weeks.

    As a retailer, I couldn’t agree with michael more. The problem is the secondary market. Let me try to explain, here is generally what happens on the day that pappy get’s released. Almost after our allotment arrives we get several phone calls, these are not from hunters but are from other stores trying to hoard as much PVW as possible. They even send their employees over to see if we have any. Also, I live in DC so I’m sure they send people into VA, Maryland, anywhere with a ABC board. Then we get the ‘hunters’ people who have never set a foot in my shop but happen to just ‘show up’ the day it was released. These people generally are not looking for PVW to drink they want to resell it. I do like the idea of ‘hiding a bottle’ or something in my store but I’m afraid whether the collector or the hunter would ever return; I don’t they will ever come back to pick up those bottles of Ciroc Pineapple I had to buy just to get PVW. To put it simply, the whole problem is the ‘brown’ market. Why would you ever sell something at your store, which you pay rent, employees, bills, product, taxes/fees, permits, maintenance, etc. for MSRP when you could just go online (or sell it in the same store for an equivalent price)? I don’t like it anymore then anyone else and I do keep a couple of bottles for good customers, not at all the biggest spenders but consistent and sell them much closer to MSRP. It sucks but it’s the world we live in. I do remember the days when I first opened and I was selling PVW 23 for $249 and nobody wanted anything to do with it.

    Pricing’s a tricky thing. We’re all upset about paying, or potentially paying, an unacceptable amount over retail, and rightly so, but considering the trend in pricing, that stores, legitimate sellers, can get away with charging what they do, and the thought that pricing should take supply and demand into consideration, the stores that do sell it at retail, or close to, actually increase the problem, as the flippers are making a higher profit on such sales. Relative to this is the whole control thing. The places that sell at retail are stores where the state control everything. I think it’s funny, maybe even to an absurd level, that alcohol is so ******* controlled in this country, but there isn’t any control on pricing. It’s ridiculous, right? If it has to go through the three tier system, does that mean BT sells to a distributor and then the distributor sells to stores and then the stores sell to consumers? I’m assuming if a store is selling a product for an unreasonable mark-up, the problem is either with the distributor or the retailer, or both. Really, there should be some controls in place. But how could such controls be implemented? I don’t know. It is frustrating, though, hearing about rare bottles getting released and then seeing them pop up, pretty much immediately, on craigslist or another selling platform.

    The other thing I’ve been thinking about, and this is just ridiculousness, not of importance, is this: every retail/customer service job sucks to an extent. I have no doubt that it’s annoying getting a bajillion calls a day at a liquor store, or having every other customer that comes in ask the same question(s). I don;t doubt that. I’d be annoyed too. It’s all part of the job, though. I’ve worked in bars for thirty years now, and I not only get the same questions all the dang time (some places I’ve worked, people even call asking if we serve Pappy or BTAC), but I also have to listen to the same jokes over and over, and everyone thinks they’re as funny as the first. Plus, bars tend to have menus. Countless times I’ve given someone a menu with everything listed only to have them ask, still, if we serve Coors Light, which we don’t, and which isn’t listed on the menu. It’d be like a liquor store employee walking someone over to their bourbon section, pointing to it, and saying, “every bourbon we have is right there,” and the customer looks it over, thanks, “do you have Pappy?” Such is the life, yeah. It pays our bills, and it buys us our liquor. All of us, let’s suck it up or get new jobs.

    And, sort of because of the above, as much as I want to get a bottle of Pappy, I wouldn’t blame a store for selling to an employee first, or over a non-employee. They deserves at least that much for their trouble. If they turn around and flip it, though, well, that’s not cool.

    I was able to get 3 bottles of Van Winkle bourbons (10, 12, and 15) from 3 different stores within the last month. Had to do a lot of driving around but it was worth it.
    Got the Pappy Van Winkle 15 from a liquor store that prides itself in having expensive and rare bourbons. Over the last month I purchased a few nice bottles from them and got to know the owner. He promised me a bottle and kept his word when he got his shipment, but because the distributor forced him to buy a bunch of cases of wine he didn’t want in order to get the Pappy, I had to pay about triple the retail price for it. At another store I had my name placed on a list about 6 months ago, they called one morning a couple weeks ago and told me “We have one bottle of Van Winkle 10 year old left and it has your name on it.” The 3rd store is one of my area’s largest and the owner got quite a few bottles but he only puts one bottle out at random times every few days and tells his customers to come as often as possible to increase their chances of finding a bottle. After going for 3 straight days with no luck finally the 4th time they had a bottle of 12yo Van Winkle in their showcase. Could have gotten the 20 and 23 year old Pappys but they are way out of my price range at this point. I’m not going to spend $1,000 or more for a bottle of whiskey unless it’s a super rare pre-prohibition bottle and even then…
    It’s out there if you have the time and money to get it.

    Went to my store today in St. Louis to see what my guy had. He told me he wouldn’t sell me one yet, because some idiot from North Carolina said that he would by all of his 10 year for over $300 a piece. My guy said that he couldn’t do me like that. So that also raised the price on the other bottles. Last year he sold a guy a case of 10 year for $10 over retail per bottle. He called the guy back a week later to buy a bottle back for $150, and the guy said he couldn’t do it for less than $400. He told that guy he would never sell to him again. So this year he decided to make some money for himself. I don’t blame him one bit for doing it this way. So, he’ll gouge any idiot that will buy it for the prices, then trade his 23 for some 10 and 12 year, and sell them to his best customers for a little over retail. I don’t want to even imagine what it will be like next year.


    What do you think a reasonable price for 10yr ORVW ? My retail store near me that I frequent for all my liquor needs and am considered a preferred customer is charging $199.00. Seems to be quite a markup. Just curious.

    Personally, I wouldn’t pay that. Way too much other good stuff out. If you’ve never had it before maybe it’s worth a one time purchase. I know there’s plenty of people out there paying that

    There’s an interesting dynamic going on with the 10yr this year. It’s being pushed up to crazy markups relative to MSRP just like the other VW bottles, but the 10yr has such a low MSRP ($40) that even at a 400% markup it ends up being $160. While $160 isn’t cheap, it presents an interesting question of fixed “max budget” vs. relative value. Someone who would be priced out of a 15yr at $500+ might look at a $160 10yr and think, “yeah, it’s priced at 4x retail, but it’s still relatively cheap compared to its siblings.” I ran into that issue with a 10yr this week that was being offered at $150. I passed, but am starting to wonder whether I should have picked it up anyway.

    I think I’m going to pass. I agree with you Blake. I picked up a Michter’s 10 year instead. I just can’t bring myself to spend that amount.

    I have a few bottles of pvw15 available if anyone is interested.

    Leave you email in the comments with what you’d offer and I’ll get ahold of you

    Good Lord, this comment list made me want to just go get a bottle of Weller and relax. I feel like I am listening to a bunch of hedge fund managers compare the size of their wallets rather than people who just enjoy good bourbon.

    Supply and demand drive the engines of this problem. People want more premium bourbon than distilleries can provide—at least, for the time being. As premium bourbons disappear from the retailer stock, enterprising opportunists (flippers) see the ease of buying up premium stock by hook or crook and making huge profits on the secondary market. As long as consumers buy from them, this problem not only continues but worsens. Distilleries and honest distributors shoulder the anger of consumers who simply cannot find ANY premium bourbon on the shelves of local retail stores. If I had to rely on local retailers to supply premium bourbon, I would never ever see one bottle of it—period!! I haven’t seen a bottle of Pappy, Saz, Jefferson’s Presidential select etc. on a store shelf in YEARS!!! Solutions? Not sure there is one as long as the potential for big profits on the secondary market continues—-even lotteries or retail store lists are subject to cherry-picking before lotteries are run or lists are drawn up. VERY frustrating but it is what it is.

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