Pappy Van Winkle is damn good bourbon -- but...is it worth what it costs?
Here's what Walker Percy, great writer and bourbon lover, had to to say about the relationship between the price of bourbon and its taste -- and -- umh..."psychological effect" in his essay, "Bourbon Neat."
"I can hardly tell one Bourbon from another, unless the other is very bad. Some bad Boubons are even more memorable than good ones. For example, I can recall being broke with some friends in Tennessee and deciding to have a party and being able to afford only two-fifths of a $1.75 Bourbon called Two Natural, whose label showed dice coming up 5 and 2. Its taste was memorable. The psychological effect was also notable. After knocking back two or three shots over a period of half an hour, the three male drinkers looked at each other and said in a single voice: 'Where are the women?' I have not been able to locate this remarkable Bourbon since."
Obviously if you're on a quest for Pappy Van Winkle you're not looking for the cheap, woman-enhancing rotgut that Percy is referring to. So let's talk about bourbon on a champagne budget.
Pappy Van Winkle Suggested Retail Price
First, let's review the suggested retail -- which can be had if you get lucky or at least call a few places and get on a waiting list, camp out for days in a liquor store parking lot, or win the Pappy Van Winkle lottery. Then, we'll discuss the secondary market or the bourbon underbelly. Where instead of appreciating bourbon for what it is, "entrepreneurial types" are trying to make a quick buck on a high-demand commodity.
Hell, it is as old as America -- but I still hate those (you) sons of bitches. (Not really, but you sure make it harder for the rest of us -- who just want to find and partake of one of the best bourbons around.)
Pappy Van Winkle already costs a pretty penny, but on the secondary market the price is flat out crazy.
Here is a breakdown of the suggested retail price for Pappy Van Winkle bourbon and rye.
$39.99 – Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 10 Year Old 107 proof
$54.99 – Van Winkle Special Reserve Bourbon 12 Year Old
$69.99 – Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye Whiskey 13 Year Old
$79.99 - Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 15 Year Old
$129.99 – Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 20 Year Old
$249.99 – Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 23 Year Old
I have purchased both the 12 year and 20 year and laid down $60 something and $136.99 respectively -- after adding in tax.
The Pappy Van Winkle Price in the Secondary Market
Here's a sampling of the price of Pappy Van Winkle on the secondary market. These were found on the liquorlist.com. (Send me a check for the free ad boys.)
On the site, Pappy Van Winkle 23 year ran from $1,000 to $2,560, Pappy Van Winkle 20 year ranged from $600 to $2000, and the 15 year was priced from $500 to $800. These are the most sought after of the Van Winkles.
In this case, the 23 year is marked up anywhere from 400% to 1,000%, the 20 from 465% to over 1538%, and the 15 from 750% to 1000%.
Is Pappy Van Winkle Worth 10 Times or More of Its Retail Price?
Just because someone overpays for a commodity like a bourbon, doesn't mean it's worth it. We are definitely in some kind of mania -- like tulips or dot coms where people have set aside rationality for a season and bought into the idea that something is worth a lot more than its normal price or value.
However in this case, the bigger fool theory does not hold since most buyers of Pappy are not buying it to get rich later, but to drink it now. Of course, the ones who buy it to resell are causing the already low supply to dry up even more for the "regular" bourbon lover who just wants to taste the so called best bourbon in the world.
Now bourbon lovers with money to burn may not have a problem shelling out hundreds or thousands of dollars for a bottle of Pappy, but I for one would rather spend my time and money on the almost as good bourbons that are findable at their retail price. As good as Pappy Van Winkle is, it is not in a class by itself, untouchable by any other well-made bourbons.
Of course, I might feel differently -- and justify the over-the-top purchase if I'd never found it and wanted to know what all the hype was about. So I can't begrudge anyone who overpays to experience Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon for the first time.
After tasting the 20 year, I can honestly say I hope I score the 15 or 23 this year -- but at its "normal" not "overhyped" price.
Eventually Everyone Who Wants Some Will Get It
The Pappy that is distilling and aging today will be ready for you to consume in 15, 20 or 23 years -- or less -- and the craze will likely have died down a bit. Most folks will have moved onto the next big thing -- maybe some kind of ice-cream flavored vodka or some other marketing influenced monstrosity -- and you can buy all the bourbon, and Pappy Van Winkle you can drink.
As Preston Van Winkle (Pappy's great grandson) once said “a lot of people don’t realize we just can’t crank up the still and have more 20-year old bourbon...tomorrow. We’re not making vodka."
All Bourbon and Pappy Van Winkle lovers should be thankful for that.
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What would you be willing to pay for a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle?