Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Elijah Craig 12 Year Barrel Proof

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Elijah Craig 12 Year Barrel Proof

It may only be Wednesday, but it feels like it has been a full week already, and there’s plenty more to come!  In Michigan, we are steeped in snow and in the midst of another Polar Vortex, but we are not alone – a good swath of the country looks to be frozen along with us.

One place it’s not frozen is Florida, which is good because it’s Spring Training time!  My Tigers have a few new faces (Cespedes, Gose, Greene and Simon), a few question marks (the rotation) and some injuries to see through, but few things can bring warmth to a sub-zero winter day like the thought of baseball.

This is also Bourbon Classic week, and  I will be going for my second year.  We had a wonderful time last year, sampling the wonderful dishes and drinks, and I am looking forward to it again.  I just wish it was a tad warmer in Kentucky…

So what to drink when the weather is so very cold?  How about trying something Barrel Proof?  And that’s exactly what I did, with a glass of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof!

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Elijah Craig 12 Year Barrel Proof
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Elijah Craig 12 Year Barrel Proof

The most recent issue of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is it’s sixth offering, although I haven’t been fortunate enough to run across the earlier five myself.  It is also the highest proof, at a little over 140.  No laughing matter here.

Heaven Hill barrels this direct – no char filtering – and it shows in the color.  Even in the bottle, it’s a very deep brown.  They have accented that with a dark label, and it is just distinctive enough to set it apart.  I have respect for 12 Year Elijah Craig, even if it’s not my first choice (it is, however, my first choice in baking – it’s spiciness adds much to pies, cookies and chocolates!). How would this one fare?

Dan’s Take:

The deep, dark amber-brown color of the pour lets you know right away that this is not a light and breezy pour.  But what really amazed me was the nose – a 140 Proof glass should burn, but this most certainly does not.  There are many wonderful, unique and often, sweet aromas in this glass.  Rich vanilla, caramel and the smell of warm baking, like a gingerbread man iced with maple frosting.  Does that sound unique?  It surely shocked me – there was no great burn, just the wholly unique smell of sweet baking in a wood fired oven.

The taste brought me back to earth and how.  The tip of the tongue held that sweetness of caramel before the proof hit.  In baseball, a pitcher might throw a fastball up around the batters shoulders to brush him back a bit, or get him to swing wildly at an eye level pitch – the ‘high heat.’  This drink is the ‘high heat,’ and the first sip admittedly knocked me back for a second.  The nose had lulled me to sleep, but 140 proof woke me up fast.  I caught my breath and tried again – slower this time.  There is a slightly burned sugar taste, brown sugar to be more specific.  Wood weighed in heavily, but not overwhelmingly, as the toasted oak blended well with the toffee, maple flavors.

(I handed it to Jen to sample, and she agreed with me on both the taste, and the kicks-like-a-mule effect of drinking too large a sip!)

It has a long finish, and a whole lot of burn.  THe wood is probably strongest in the finish, and I’ll admit, it went on a little too long for me.  Such a high proof leads to a long finish, and this one left traces of oak, alcohol bite and burnt toast on my palate for minutes.

So how do I rate it?  I thoroughly enjoyed it – not unlike a roller coaster that gives you a great start, but maybe by the end you wish was a little bit shorter, this version of the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is a great ride.  I look forward to trying other, varied proof versions.

Dan’s Rating: 8.7

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: John J. Bowman Single Barrel

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: John J. Bowman Single Barrel

With all of the discussion and debate that swirls around “sourced” whiskey – whiskey produced in a facility not owned and operated by the bottler and/or brand name on the bottle – it can too often go unsaid that there are two different ways a whiskey can be sourced.  The first and often more controversial way is when a bottler or brand name purchases mass-produced barrels of an indiscriminate recipe distilled and aged at one of the larger distilleries and puts it out to market with less-than-transparent information.  The ‘artisanal‘ bourbon that is really 3 year old sourced Indiana rye, or the fancy bottled and elaborate storied family recipe that is actually excess barrels purchased from an unnamed distributor.

This form of sourcing can be harmless – I’ve enjoyed many sourced and mysterious bourbons.  But it can also be a gimmick, and there are many overpriced, underwhelming bourbons on the market made from a basic recipe by a bulk manufacturer and bottled with a ‘family heritage’ story and a hefty price tag.  Its unfortunate, and gives sourcing a bad name.  Legendary bourbon blogger Chuck Cowdery calls them “Potemkin Distilleries” and on the whole, I concur with his opinion: failure to demand transparency in what we drink only encourages others to be (at the least) disingenuous or (even worse) underhanded.

The other way whiskey can be sourced is much more interesting.  This form of sourcing involves a distiller, NDP, or brand having their recipe distilled to their specs at a larger distillery.  For example, everyone knows the name Pappy Van Winkle, but Pappy is distilled by Buffalo Trace to spec – the same as John J. Bowman.

John J. Bowman’s distillery (The A. Smith Bowman Distillery) is most interesting, because they are, in fact, a distillery.  They are owned by Sazerac, the same as Buffalo Trace (and Blantons and Taylor and Stagg and etc).  They are in Virginia, not Kentucky, and have been at the current location in Fredericksburg, since 1988.

What makes their process so different is that they have Buffalo Trace do the first distilling, to make the ‘White Dog’ corn whiskey.  Then the distillate alcohol is shipped to Bowman, where they distill it two more times.  Then it is barreled, stored and aged.  I have even read that the barrels are stored upright, which is again very different.

So how is this Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey?

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: John J. Bowman Single Barrel
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: John J. Bowman Single Barrel

Dan’s Take:

John J. Bowman Single Barrel comes without an age statement, a barrel or bottling number, or any other indicators that would allow me to match this single barrel with any others.  Its unfortunate, because there is much about this whiskey I would like to find again!  The bottle itself is quite lovely, with its image of Col. John J. Bowman exploring Kentucky on the back.  It’s no slouch at 100 Proof.  I just wish I knew a few specs.

The nose is fantastic – caramel, vanilla, oak, and a soft corn.  It was a sweet nose, and as the soft corn gave way to the oak and wood, I almost couldn’t help but forget it was the dead of winter and think of soft campfire and roasting corn.

The taste was as smooth – a thick texture, with a great sweetness up front, but never overwhelming.  Again, vanilla, and a vanilla almost sugary and frosting like on the front of the tongue, while the thick mouthfeel showed off a rich woodiness blended with a slightly tart citrus.  Orange and a tiny bit of raisin, before resolving to a smooth finish of cinnamon, walnut and dry oak.

A second sip showed me a bit more of the rye – along with the cinnamon, there was a hint of clove and even a bit more of that raisin, roasting corn taste.

I found the John J. Bowman Single Barrel to be outstanding – a wonderful sipping bourbon, and a nice addition to the regular rotation.  Most impressive. I can see why it’s competition scores have seemed to rise ever year.

Dan’s Rating: 8.7

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Parker’s Heritage 8th Edition – Wheat Whiskey (13 Years Aged)

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Parker’s Heritage 8th Edition – Wheat Whiskey (13 Years Aged)

The past few years, I have largely sat out the fall release extravaganza in the bourbon/whiskey world.  Following them online can be great fun, but knowing so few would make it to Michigan precluded me from searching for them.  Outside of the obvious Pappy Van Winkle and Buffalo Trace Antique Collection releases being hard to find, rarely have I seen an Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, a Parker’s Heritage or a Elijah Craig 21-22-23 on shelves here in the great Mitten state.

THis year was different, both in selection and my personal hunt.  I decided to go after more of this year’s fall releases, and was pleased to find that many more were coming to Michigan, albeit in very very small numbers.  And earlier this month, when the Bourbonr Blog posted their poll winners for the best of the 2014 Fall releases, I was proud to say I was able to hunt down half of them, including 5 of the top 10.

So now it’s time to start sampling them, and I opened with an absolute doozy – the 8th Edition of Heaven Hill’s Parker’s Heritage, a 13 year old Wheat Whiskey.  And in a word, wow.

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Parker's Heritage 8th Edition - Wheat Whiskey (13 Years Aged)
Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Parker’s Heritage 8th Edition – Wheat Whiskey (13 Years Aged)

The Parker’s Heritage label was started by Heaven Hill in 2007 to pay tribute to their Master Distiller Parker Beam.  Parker Beam (and yes, he is of the Jim Beam family) has been with Heaven Hill since 1960, and been the Master Distiller there since 1975.

The first Parker’s Heritage, in 2007, was an 11-year old cask strength.  Every fall since then, Heaven Hill has issued another limited edition, small bottling of a unique whiskey to pay tribute to Parker.

This year, it is a 13-year old Wheat Whiskey, made from the initial barrels of Bernheim Wheat Whiskey.  Bernheim is bottled at 7 years old, so this years P.H. has an extra six years in the barrel – and these barrels were on the top floors of Heaven Hill Rickhouse Y. It has a minimum of 51% soft winter wheat in the mashbill, and to top that off, it was bottled at cask strength and without cold filtering.  This years Parker’s Heritage is the closest thing you can get to drinking it straight from the barrel.  But how was it?

Dan’s Take:

The nose jumped out at me with a real serious burn. And why not – at 127.4 proof, it had better! I let it sit for a minute and tried again, but it was still hot and not giving away anything.  A little water and things were looking up.  There was a deep honey and caramel, and a tang of what I would describe as citrus.  The wood notes were muted, but I got a hint of baking spices and even a fresh biscuit-like smell.

The taste was outstanding.  The first sip was heavy in the oak and baking spices I would expect from, well, a cask strength 13-year old wheat whiskey.  But unbelievably smooth.  The wood taste wasn’t tannic either – there wasn’t a bitterness, just a smooth woodiness and spice.  The sweeter tastes – vanilla, a touch of toffee candy – swirled around as the thick pour subsided into a soft but lingering finish full of cinnamon and clove, and again a biscuity goodness.

The first taste was so good, in fact, that I dove directly into another – and again, it was fantastic.  To have such a sweet nose, a complex taste full of character but not overpowering with bitter or tannins, and a medium, smooth finish that ends dry like coconut and oak, but not harsh in any way.

The Parker’s Heritage 8th Edition is one of my favorite whiskies of all time.  Perfectly blended and delivered.  It just makes me all that more sad that it will not be available again.  Well done, Heaven Hill.

Dan’s Rating: 9.5

Master Distiller Parker Beam was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig Disease, several years back.  In addition to a portion of Parker’s Heritage sales going to ALS research, you can visit his ALS Promise Fund page here, and support a great cause for a legendary man.

The incomparable Ernie Banks

I, along with so many others, was saddened this weekend to learn about the passing of Ernie Banks.  Banks, “Mr. Cub,” passed away on Friday at the age of 83.  Growing up, I loved the stories of Banks and his absolute love of the game. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest of all times, and as so many have said, he will be missed.

It’s a great day for baseball.
Let’s play two!

http://www.npr.org/v2/?i=381529306&m=381529307&t=audio

Ernie Banks - Mr. Cub
Ernie Banks – Mr. Cub

My write up of a trip to Wrigley Field here.

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon

Rough week here in the “D,” losing Max Scherzer to the Washington Nationals.  It’s bad enough they fleeced us on the Doug Fister deal a year ago, now they are just getting greedy.  I’m especially sad to see him go, because aside from being a Cy Young Award pitcher, he was a fellow Mizzou guy.  Oh well, sounds like the perfect excuse to go and drink the troubles away.

And there are increasingly more and more places to partake of the finer things (namely whiskey) as the “bourbon boom” continues.  Here in Detroit, we have become home to several start-up distilleries.  In the next couple weeks, I’ll discuss them – and their corresponding tasting rooms – at greater length.  This week, I ventured to one of the hipper new distilleries – the Detroit City Distillery.

The Detroit City Distillery opened last year in Detroit’s historic Eastern Market.  Only the second licensed distillery to open in Detroit in 80 years (the first was Two James, which we will discuss soon), it was the brain child of a group of close friends with a passion for booze and urban revitalization.

They began by distilling their own vodka and whiskey, as well as preparing for gin, which will be out ‘soon.’ But what about bourbon?

Bourbon is one of the trickier offerings for any start-up distillery.  There are laws and rules regulation how bourbon has to be prepared, aged and bottled.  I won’t break them all down here (a good explanation can be found here), but the hardest one is the aging.  For a bourbon to be called “straight bourbon,” it has to have spent at least two years in the barrel.  If it’s younger than four years, it must have an age statement on the bottle.  So to make bourbon, a new distillery has to sink the money into storage, and barrels, grains and equipment and…wait.

There are, of course, ways around this.  The most popular way is to “source” bourbon, buying from another (often mass quantity produced) distiller and bottle/label it with the new brand name.  Many of the newer distilleries in Michigan are doing this, and Detroit City Distillery is too – sort of.

For their Two-Faced Bourbon, DCD is taking a five year old sourced bourbon and blending it with their own very young (6 month old) house made bourbon, in a 51%-49% mix – hence the name “Two Faced.”  Since their bourbon is locally sourced (including corn from St. Clair County here in Michigan), it is truly reflective of their own recipe (which is high in rye), but has some of the age of an older bourbon.

DCD is very open about this process, unlike other distilleries that are sourcing and a little less forthcoming about it.  And stopping into their speakeasy style tasting room in Eastern Market, one needs only look at their artisan cocktail list to see they are trying to do something both retro and inventive, with a great deal of respect paid to the craftsmanship.

The entrance to the Detroit City Distillery
The entrance to the Detroit City Distillery

With my good friend Eric Oliver joining me, we sat down at the bar to try the bourbon, as well as a few other drinks.  The long bar is impressive – it is made of reclaimed wood from another Detroit building – and the soft lighting and exposed beams set a nice ambiance.  Glasses were poured, toasts were made, bourbon was consumed.

 

 

 

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon

Dan’s take:

Right from the nose, this dog has some bite.  While only 94 proof, the first scent was hot, almost like a high-proof rye would be.  Given a minute, the heat started to part and opened to an unsurprising corn and spice.  There were hints of almond and a touch of toffee, but the prevailing smell was corn.

The taste was softer than I expected.  Fiery on the front, the bourbon has those high-rye pepper notes, with a touch of cinnamon and allspice, but the younger corn seemed to temper it well.  Nutmeg and a slight bitter – almost coffee – were present.  It had a thin mouth feel, almost watery, but that works to it’s advantage – thicker would cause the spice to linger too long.  There was a soft sweetness as well, part corn and part caramel.

The finish was hot but not lingering.  There was a pepper to the finish, and it was the first time I detected a touch of oak. Most of all, there was that ever-present corn, soft and subtle.

The recipe for Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon seems good – it was not overly simple, and blended nicely with the older sourced bourbon.  As a sipping whiskey, it could use more aging to add complexity and depth.  As a main ingredient in some of the totally unique cocktails they are preparing at their tasting room, it works very very nicely.

Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon is not yet available at distributors, but will be soon.  The price point – like most micro-distillers – is still on the higher side ($50 for 750mL), but there is something to be said for buying local now, isn’t there.

And the Tasting Room is well worth a visit!

Dan’s Rating: 7.5

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Angel’s Envy Rye

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Angel’s Envy Rye

First of all…Happy New Year!  Hopefully you had a wonderful holiday season, full of merriment, joy and bourbon.  I most certainly did, so much so that I’m just now saying Happy New Year on the 12th of January!  I would be lying if I didn’t admit that part of the delay in posting a blog was due to football – between my Missouri Tigers winning a New Years Day bowl and my beloved Detroit Lions losing a game to the Dallas Referees Cowboys, I’ve been wrapped up in football fever.

One of the best things about being emotionally invested in football this time of year is gathering with friends and coping with the nervousness of a tight game by sampling a new whiskey or two.  And that is exactly what we did as time ran down on the Lions-Cowboys.  We opened a bottle of Angel’s Envy Rye and tried something new.

I first had Angel’s Envy Rye last year at the Bourbon Classic.  I admit, by the time I sampled it, I had partaken of a few other whiskies and my palate wasn’t quite as clean as I’d like for a review.  But even then, I knew there was something very different about this pour.  It took a little longer for the A.E. Rye to make it to Michigan, so in May I purchased a bottle while in Maryland to have for myself.  This seemed the perfect opportunity to try it.

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Angel's Envy Rye
Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Angel’s Envy Rye

Few bourbons have grown on me like Angel’s Envy has.  When I first reviewed it last year, I thought it remarkably smooth and clean – and a little dull.  And I still think that it is one of the less complex bourbons I’ve had, in that price range anyway.  But given the choice between a glass of Angel’s Envy and most other readily available bourbons, I have found I will choose the Angel’s Envy consistently. That has even included Kentucky Derby day!  So what of this Rye?

I remember trying it at the Bourbon Classic and thinking “this is like candy!”  And why not – Angel’s Envy Rye is finished for “up to 18 months” in Plantation XO Rum casks.  So they take a rye whiskey, and then age it for a year and a half in rum casks before bottling it at 100 proof.  Sound interesting?  It certainly tastes interesting.

Dan’s Take:

Angel’s Envy Rye comes in the same style attractive bottle as its sister.  It’s a little pricier ($60-80), and a little harder to find.  I have read from others that it is an MGP/LDI sourced rye, so it shares characteristics with Bulleit. And let’s skip to the chase – if you like your rye whiskies tough, spicy and hot, this isn’t the one for you.  But if you like something with some sweetness, read on.

This rye has a nose that’s as exotic as the trip these barrels have seen.  There is little of the typical whiskey bite – rather, a sweet bouquet of orange peel, brown sugar, coconut and pear melt with a soft rye scent of clove, cinnamon and allspice.  This smells sugary, much more like a rum than a whiskey, and it’s light and pleasant.

The taste has a lot going on.  It has a thickness to it, creamy and buttery but with many of those same rum characteristics.  Honey and cinnamon, with a touch that could even be pineapple.  The toasted oak is very light, and the rye doesn’t fully blossom until the back of the palate.  The higher proof also shows through, and it does have a bit of a bite in the back end (if only because it started so sweet).  Make no mistake, it tastes like whiskey, not rum, but the typical pepper of rye is far offset by the sweetness that envelopes.

The finish is, admittedly, a bit confusing.  The rye notes are there, with their spice and slight burn, but there is the thickness of rum as well.  The sweetness, so nice in the sip, is a bit muddled in the finish.

I like sweet drinks, and I like mellower whiskies, so I rate this one with a pretty big caveat – this is not your grandfather’s rye.  It may share a recipe with Bulleit or Dickel, but the finishing makes it wholly unique.  This is a great whiskey for a summer night, I believe (or a winter night you want to pretend).  As a taste profile, it might even be closer to the glut of “flavored” whiskeys on the market – but it has a few things none of them seem to: it’s made of a solid product to start, and the flavor is much more natural than any maple or honey additive found in one of those products.  So my rating is for someone who, like me, has a sweet tooth now and again.

Dan’s Rating: 8.1

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel

Happy holidays! Hopefully you all had a wonderful holiday season as we did here at Baseball and Bourbon, sipping fine bourbon by the fire with loved ones.  We were spoiled here, with a few new bourbons finding their way into our tasting collection as well as some well loved regulars. I can’t wait to pop the cork on all of them, and today I start with a bottle of Col. E. H. Taylor Jr. Single Barrel.

EH Taylor is one of the many labels produced by our friends at Buffalo Trace.  Taylor himself has been referred to as the “father of modern bourbon,”  due to his strict adherence to better bourbon and whiskey aging practices and his importance and influence in getting the “Bottled in Bond” Act of 1897 (the Act required that spirits labeled as “Bonded”or “Bottled-in-Bond” must be the product of one distiller at one distillery during one distillation season. It also required that bonded spirits be aged in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least four years and bottled at 100 proof).

Taylor also bought and expanded a distillery on the Kentucky river that survives today as… Buffalo Trace!  So when BT launched it’s E. H. Taylor line of whiskeys, it was made up of spirits aged in the actual Taylor warehouses and using the Taylor recipes.

There are a collection of Taylor products – Small Batch, Single Barrel, Barrel Proof, Straight Rye – all of which are aged in the famous Warehouse C on the Buffalo Trace campus, and most considered exceptional.  So how does this stories bourbon hold up?

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel

In short, spectacular.  The Col. E. H. Taylor Single Barrel that we sampled was a complex and impressive pour.  There is no barrel or batch information on the packaging or bottle, so I can’t note which bottles it shares traits with.  There is also no age statement – an internet search came back with anything between 7 and 12 years.  Armed with…surprisingly little knowledge, we dove ahead.

(Ed. Note – Buffalo Trace media relations has let me know that the 2014 E. H. Taylor is “between 9-10 years old”)

Dan’s Take:

First of all, the color is quite dark, and made me wonder more about the age.  It was a deep amber, more akin to a 15 year old than a 7.  It caught me off guard, to be honest.

The nose kept me off guard.  There was a sharp bite to the nose – while 100 proof is obviously pretty potent, it had the alcohol burn of a barrel proof.  I backed off a bit, and found myself swimming in the scent of vanilla, cinnamon, toasted oak, a hint of butterscotch and, present and growing as the glass opened, black licorice.

The taste presented what the nose hinted to.  As a small sip, the EH Taylor Single Barrel has a thick almost creaminess to it, with a good push of corn and buttery caramel on the front.  The middle opened up to a spiciness that belies it’s relatively low rye content – cinnamon, all spice, even a bitter dark chocolate, with a peppery, spicy finish.

With a larger sip, the front burns a little more – again that 100 proof seems more like 120 – and while it retains the buttery sweetness in the front, slight bitter in the middle (more oak and tobacco is evident that in the small sip) it has a very long and potent finish, with oak, spice and a hint of peppermint.

The Col. E. H. Taylor is not the most of anything – not the sweetest, or spiciest, or most complex.  But it is a well rounded bourbon, easy sipping and very smooth.  Perfect for a fire and maybe ushering in the new year?

My rating: 8.5

The hunt for ‘Unobtainium’ – Pappy Van Winkle – Part Two

Back in November, I did the part one of a post about the hunt for “Unobtanium” – Pappy Van Winkle.  Coming off of another fruitless season of hunting for Pappy (and several other ‘collector’ bourbons), I wanted to share some of my experiences.  Judging from the readership stats, I seem to have stumbled upon something, because that post is the third most popular one I’ve put up this year.  I chose to hold off on the second part until now because I had a few irons in the fire, and wanted to be able to report fully and honestly if my alternate plans to procure some of the mystical elixir worked.

I can now report they did not.

Not that this bourbon hunting season has been fruitless.  I have been able to find the Parker’s Heritage Wheated, the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, the Woodford Reserve Sonoma, the Maker’s Mark Barrel Proof and the Black Maple Hill 6 year, all to try and report on soon – good or bad.  Nor was Pappy the only thing I struck out on.  Like most, I was wholly unable to get my mitts on any of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, the 2014 Old Forester Birthday Release, Angel’s Envy Cask Strength or quite a few other sought after bourbons.  But it is Pappy, above and beyond all else, that seems to captivate and frustrate the masses (and often, myself), most of all.

So today I write about some other methods you can try to get the impossible: Secondary markets and Liquor Control states.  Maybe your luck will be better than mine.  I certainly have my doubts.

I want to be sure to state one other fact as well: media sources love to report how Pappy Van Winkle is ‘impossible’ to find, how it’s scarcity is the great equalizer, where billionaire CEOs and bourbon-loving bus drivers are equally perplexed.  That is not the truth.  If you want to but Pappy, there are plenty of places to find it.  As I post this, there are 12 listings on the Detroit Craigslist page for Pappy, the highest being $1,700 for a bottle of 23 year (the lowest being $250 for a bottle of 12 Year).  The concept that no-one can get it is an absolute myth.  The truth is very few can afford to get it except for retail price at an honest store.

Currently, my collection has four bottles of Van Winkle products.  I have a bottle of the 15 Year, that my sister kindly gave me as a birthday gift in 2011, before insanity truly took hold.  Out of respect for the gift, I’ve never asked details, but it’s my understanding she bought it on the secondary market from another state (Illinois, I believe), for a high but not unreasonable price.  I have a bottle of 10 Year that I bought through the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board website, a bottle of 12 Year I bought from a local Metro Detroit store (by winning the chance in a raffle), and a bottle of 20 Year that I bought from a seller on Craigslist, along with some other choice selections, when I was in Kentucky early this year.

As I detailed in my earlier post, I struck out with my local vendors.  I frequent about six different stores around Michigan. Two didn’t receive any Pappy at all this year.  Two more put it up for sale at astronomical prices ($1,500 for a bottle of 23 Year, for example, a bottle that sells for $250 retail).  And the last two sold it to people for the prices they offered – still exceeding $1,000 per bottle.  It’s an unfortunate game, but one detailed quite nicely in an article posted earlier this month on The Daily Beast.

“Pappy has become a prime example of a certain kind of product that economists called a “Veblen good.” Named for the sociologist of the “leisure class,” Thorstein Veblen, these are luxury items that defy the normal workings of the Law of Demand. Normally, when the price of a product climbs, the demand slips. With Veblen goods, the demand does the opposite, growing as the price goes up. In part this is because the person buying the Veblen good gets what economist Harvey Leibenstein called “conspicuous consumption utility.” And Pappyphiles have been nothing if not conspicuous.

But Veblen goods also function because price stands in as a measure of quality—if you can’t tell what the best whiskey is, but you very much want to be seen drinking the best whiskey, then you choose a very pricey spirit. The more expensive it becomes, the better it must be, which in turn makes it more desirable. But note the embarrassing logic of Veblen goods: they appeal to those unable to determine quality based on the evaluation of the product itself—it’s the stuff of those less than savvy folks who need price as a proxy.” – Full Article Here

Now, I’m not quite ready to go full backlash yet.  I still think that in my experience, Pappy Van Winkle is one of the best bourbons I’ve had.  But I would be dishonest if I did not admit that so much of the allure, even to me, is the scarcity of it all.  That’s why I found myself standing on a freezing downtown Louisville street corner last year, buying a bottle of Pappy 20 from a complete stranger from a Craigslist post.

The Secondary Market

And there are plenty of people on both Craigslist and boozehound websites, happy to sell you a bottle for your first-born child and a few thousand dollars.  Like I stated earlier, it’s all about how much you are willing to pay.  Yes, it is a transaction that may well be illegal in your state.  Yes, it may lead you to make an exchange of paper bags in the darkest corner of a parking garage.  And yes, it will almost definitely mean you handing over an obscene amount of money for a bottle that will potentially then be too invested in to actually open.  But it can be done.  But buyer beware – like any other exchange of the sort, it is at the least potentially illegal, and at most, dangerous.

There are a good number of Pappy Van Winkle “fan” groups on Facebook.  While a good number of the participants will undoubtedly be clueless DBs looking for a venue to brag, there are good, decent bourbon fans, and often, they will be looking to sell (or at least trade).  If you can stand posts and posts of people showing their “collection,” it might be a wise place to put your effort.

If money is no object, there are some websites that offer bottles as well.  They often make the Craigslist prices seem reasonable – a quick look today showed me bottles of 23 Year going for as much as $3,000.  I won’t post any of their names here, because I don’t want to encourage such scalping, but know that they are out there.

Liquor Control States

I’m going to quickly mention this because its fresh on my mind.  Most states have privatized liquor distribution – the state has laws, but the importing and distribution is left to private companies/persons.  A few, however, have state run Liquor Control Boards.  In these states, it is the state government itself that orders, prices and distributes liquor (and often, beer and wine).

Pennsylvania is one of these states, and my wife happens to hail from there.  She has quite a few family members there as well, so we visit several times a year.  I have been able to find some products in Pennsylvania unavailable in Michigan. More importantly, when Pennsylvania gets a particularly popular (and limited) product in, they keep it as only purchasable online.  This works for me because I can order something, and have it delivered to my mother-in-law’s house, where she will hold it until we next meet.  This has worked for me a few times and been a nice avenue.

When it comes to PVW, and to a lesser degree, BTAC, however, it has been an epic fail.  Last year, the email went out that PVW 15 Year was available.  I logged in, bought a bottle, and then found out 3 days later their site had malfunctioned and I would actually NOT be getting any.  I was upset, but I work in technology, I know that once in a while bad things can happen.

This year, the PLCB doubled down.  When the BTAC collection went up for sale, their email blast system mysteriously stopped working, so only those informed ahead of time or following them on Twitter were notified.

Last week’s PVW release went even worse.  After weeks and weeks of teasing it, and knowing that users were circling the site like sharks in the water, they released the PVW last Thursday…and watched the site crash.  And crash again.  The next 30 minutes was a comedy of errors, where the site and app couldn’t stay online for more than seconds at a time.  Within 30 seconds of the site being back up, I had a cart with three bottles of the 2014 VW release in it.  But when I went to check out – crashed again.  Meanwhile, the PLCB was posting on Twitter how products were still available, only increasing traffic – nevermind that by the time they were posting, the system was telling everyone it was sold out.

For a government agency to run something as simple as an e-commerce solution and decent bandwidth in 2014 is disappointing.  Immediately, the Social Media lanes were filled with people complaining, and rightfully so.  In truth, I have seen almost no-one posting about being successful, which makes the lack of transparency the PLCB operates with a little more suspect, and begs the question – who got the 1,000+ bottles?

There is talk of them changing the way they handle PVW sales.  I certainly hope they do.

My advice?  If you have that much money to spend on a bottle and you don’t mind the price, go for it.  I’ve been lucky enough to drink all 6 major VW releases, and haven’t had a bad one yet (OK, I admit, I find the 23 year to be way too oaky and woody for me).  If you just want a great pour, there are plenty of other ones out there worth your consideration.