Monday, October 7, 2013

Where can I find Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon?


It's that time of year again.  With fall comes the browning of the leaves, the cooling of the air (well, eventually, we hope), and the Google searches for Pappy Van Winkle.  "Where can I buy Pappy?" is a question I see pop up a lot on Google searches leading to my blog this time of year.  As a public service, I'm going to answer this question for all of the Googlers out there.  This post isn't for my regular readers who know this stuff already, but I will ask them to help out. 

So, you read an article about how Pappy Van Winkle is the best bourbon ever and you think it would make the perfect holiday gift for your spouse/significant other/boss/client.  Here's the deal: Pappy Van Winkle is the most sought after bourbon in history.  Bourbon fans will go to great lengths to hunt it down.  Liquor stores often have hundreds of people on the wait list for two or three bottles and some poor slobs are willing to pay double, triple and, yes, nearly 10 times the retail price for the stuff.

So let's deal with the reality.  If you got to this post, because you Googled "Where can I find Pappy Van Winkle?", you aren't going to find it.  I'm not going to find it.  All but a few tireless or very lucky souls aren't going to find it.  That doesn't have to mean you're out of luck though.  Pappy is great bourbon, but there are plenty of other great bourbons out there that you can find; so if you can't find Pappy (and you won't), consider the following:

  • W.L. Weller 12 year old.  This is essentially the same stuff as much of the Van Winkle bourbons.  It's made by Buffalo Trace, the same distillery that distills all but the oldest Van Winkles, and it's made from the same recipe that they use to make the Van Winkle bourbons.  Buy this and tell that boyfriend that this is essentially Pappy 12.  It's a great bourbon; it won't cost you an arm and a leg ($20 to $25), and you'll be able to feel superior with this bit of insider knowledge.
  •  Four Roses Single Barrel Hand Picked Editions.  Four Roses is probably the most consistently excellent bourbon distillery around today.  These guys pump out great bourbon like it's nothing.  The regular single barrel is good, but retailers hand pick single barrels of particular recipes that range from decent to mind blowingly good.  Binny's currently has eight different hand picked bottles for $55 a piece, a fraction of what Pappy would cost you for juice that's just as good if not better.  To put it in musical terms, Pappy may be as popular as The Knack in 1980 but Four Roses is the Velvet Underground in the early '70s, the life changing band that only those in the know are listening to (check out that rock analogy - eat your heart out David Driscoll!)
  •  High West Rendezvous Rye.  This one's not a bourbon, but a rye, bourbon's spicy cousin. This excellent whiskey is composed of rye whiskeys from Kentucky and Indiana, masterfully blended by David Perkins from High West in Utah.  At $50, it's one of the best whiskey deals around for a fabulous, spicy whiskey.

One thing I have going for me on my blog is an army (okay, a division) of talented readers who know their stuff.  Readers, what would you recommend as a relatively easy to find substitute for Pappy this holiday season?

43 comments:

Justin said...

Hard to argue any of your suggestions Sku. I would add the following: also hard to find but not the white whale that van winkle is are any of the buffalo trace antique collection. Also throw in the Old Forrester Birthday bourbon, high west campfire (for someone who wants "something different") and Elijah Craig 12 year barrel proof.

Truth of the matter is, as good as pappy products are, there are tons of other whiskies out there worth drinking.

Marcus said...

Weller is a no-brainer. Other great alternatives are Elmer T. Lee (love that stuff), Old Fitz, even Larceny in a pinch. Personally I have put aside a bottle of Angel's Envy Rye for x-mas. Can't wait!

Anonymous said...

My suggestion is to stick with vodka or switch to Scotch and leave the bourbon to those who aren't drinking it just because it is the next big thing.

sku said...

Justin, I'm not sure any of those are going to be much easier to find than Pappy, except for maybe the Campfire.

OldBean said...

It's weird to talk about scotch as a bargain, but I guess in the context of Pappy it is. If you're really going to spend a several hundred dollars on a bottle, Glenfarclas 40 would at least be easier to track down than Pappy. And if you're shopping for me, skip that too and get me a bottle each of Old Pultney 17, Glendronach 15, and Ardbeg Uigeadail, then buy yourself something nice for yourself with the $100 you have left over.

Mark Entel said...

Sadly I can't even find the Weller 12 year-old. By me (DC/MD) all I see is the NAS 90-proof (or 107-proof, both in the $15-25 range depending on store/jurisdiction)

Did that replace or just augment the Weller 12-year old?

Luckily for me there is other great bourbon in plentiful supply, apart from any seasonal or limited releases I have gotten a hold of

Anonymous said...

It's not bourbon, but the higher end Jameson products are widely available.

Cincy Hound Dog said...

Truthfully,I would prefer many of those Four Roses special, single barrel, barrel strength, non chill filtered selections over Pappy any day.

Carlton said...

The Parker's Heritage Collection annual release is much easier to come by than Pappy or BTAC. Being a limited bottling, it still makes a nice gift. It also scores points for being a different age or mashbill/blend of mashbills each year.

Anonymous said...

And what do the Pappy folks do when they do not have enough product to go around? Sell merchandise.

http://louisville.styleblueprint.com/faces-of-louisville/louise-van-winkle-breen-faces-of-louisville/

7G said...

Just to be clear I Run Seven Grand San Diego, I say this not to tell you how cool I am but just to honestly disclose that I am in the business.

100% Agreed on the Four Roses We buy a few barrels every year and they are some of the most affordable and best bourbons on the wall.

Weller 12 year is around it is just on allocation with less making it to the market as Buffalo Trace lays more and more whiskey every year towards PVW and BTAC Weller editions.

I will add to SKU's recommendations, Wild Turkey (yes I said Wild Turkey)Kentucky Spirit and Rare Breed along with the Russel's Reserve editions. These are big powerful and delicious Bourbons which are widely available. (Think the Talking Heads in the early years to touch on the Rock and Roll Analogy). WT Master Distiller Eddie Russel just let me know that they will also be adding a single barrel program to the mix in JAN so be on the look out for hand selected barrels from WT as well.




Jack Donaghy said...

I'm sure all the little people are greatful for your well-meaning advice, but the truth is that there simply IS no substitute for Pappy van Winkle bourbon.
Oh, I'm sure there are other fine bourbons out there for the rif-raff, but the only reason for possessing bourbon in the first place is to make it clear how important and successful I am. If any idiot with a C-note in his pocket can obtain it, it's certainly not worth MY consideration.

sku said...

Lots of great suggestions here. Keep 'em coming!

patrick bateman said...

sku, thanks for this column.
it's just the kind of advice i'm always looking for.

that said, if you could kindly come up with the "marquee moon" of whiskey, that would be very much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Agree w/ your recommendations except for the RRye... simply not in the same class.

sam k said...

I'll agree on the Parker's Heritage as a gifty-type whiskey due to its limited availability. I'd also recommend John J. Bowman Single Barrel from A. Smith Bowman in Virginia if it's available in your area. It's big,even-tempered, and just beautiful at 100 proof.

Also, the 1.75 liter size of Eagle Rare is maybe the prettiest handle in the business, and is filled with a really good, complex bourbon for a very reasonable price.

Lazer said...

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage 2003 or 2004 when it comes out.

Jason Pyle said...

This isn't a suggested whiskey but rather an add on to your point, which is a great one. IF you do want a chance in hell of getting a bottle of Pappy, asking people for it online isn't the approach. Here are my suggestions.

1) Find a couple of reputable stores in your area that do a good job. Spend your wine and spirits budget there. Invest in those 1 or 2 stores that deserve your money. Talk to the owners, build a relationship with them. Be honest with them and explain that you invest in them and love what they do. Good wine and spirit merchants enjoy those that dig what they do and put their money where there mouth is. You won't get Pappy this year, but if you do this long enough, in time, and if you are up front about wanting a bottle of Van Winkle whiskey, just maybe that merchant will think of you when/if they get their 1-3 bottles per year (if that).

2) When you travel to out of the way areas across the country, always drop into liquor stores. Sku, you know this well. You never know what you are going to find. I live in an area where Pappy is well known, and yet I walked into a liquor store on the west side of town and saw a bottle of 15, a 12 year, and the previous years Stagg and Weller fromt he Antique collection.

None of the above you can plan on, but like anything - there's no silver bullet, no sure way to get it, but if you wish to put in the work you have a chance.

As for me - I've got half a bottle of 15 and have stopped trying to find it. Just too much work......and lots of other good ones out there.

sku said...

Great advice Jason. Pappy isn't impossible to find, it's just not available on demand. You have to put in some real effort and time to get it.

Anonymous said...

Out of the way stores are the way to go. The ones I go to don't carry pappy any more but still get a BTAC every now and then. The past two years I've passed on wlw, er17, gts. I believe one store still has handy on the shelf. I still have 3-4 bottles of btac so no need to purchase. Especially with the great stuff four roses puts out. Weller 12 year and Eagle Rare 10 are two of my favorites.

The only Winkle bottle I have ever come across was a summer release. I guess nobody expected it. The owner said it had been on the shelf for a little over a week. Shouldn't have bought a lottery ticket that day.

Rajesh Aialavajjala said...

Hard to argue any of your suggestions Sku - excellent recommendations - especially High West - might suggest adding their American Prairie Reserve to the list...

Alternatives to Pappy eh ? Trying not to touch that one - but in terms of what else might be good...

--Definitely Four Roses - if there's any chance of either Small Batch Limited Edition or their Single Barrel offering....

-- Balcones Distilling

-- St. George Single Malt Whiskey

-- Elijah Craig 21 year

-- Forty Creek (Yes - I know it's Canadian) special/limited bottlings - I've heard of some distribution in the US (Texas)

I'm with Jason Pyle on the Pappy 15 - I acquired a couple back when the price was in the low 50s' - stopped looking 2 years ago...

AaronWF said...

I'm surprised to see Jason and Sku getting along so well in the comments here. After the Birthday Bourbon debacle, I expected some kind of West Coast/Mid-Southern rivalry to erupt with dire consequences for all. Ya'll must have made up over a Pappy.

My bourbon recommendations have already been mentioned; I'm a huge Four Roses fan. You can still get ultra-aged grain whiskies and Armagnacs at bargain prices, so one of those might be another avenue to explore.

Anonymous said...

While I adore the fact that Rendezvous is in this list, as it is my fave rye out there that I don't need to sweat over acquiring, I think for the holidays there are 2 faves of mine that stand out...and yes, part of the reasons I love both is packaging. There, I said it.

First - for the rye lovers in the house, Rock Hill Farms is the best high rye content whiskey out there, and it's under $50. It has a swanky bottle, it's incredibly delicious and doesn't vary wildly in taste and flavor profile.

That being said, if you're looking for bourbon to impress the newbie in this hobby, I think a bottle of Blanton's really is THAT good. It's got the coolest bottle in the industry, (my dad and I refer to it as the Holy Han Grenade Of Antioch,) it's essentially single barrel, longer aged Buffalo Trace without the hassle of hunting for Stagg and it also has a box and a baggie...the ultimate Xmas/Hannukah/ZombieApocalypse present!

-Humchan2k

Adam D. said...

Sku et al., thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. I'm a big fan of Four Roses, but have yet to try any of their barrel-strength non-Limited-edition offerings (e.g., the Binny's handpicked bottles). Anybody have a recommendation on which kind (OBSK? OBSV?) to try? Thanks for your help!

sam k said...

Here's another: Willett Pot Still Reserve Singl Barrel. Great bourbon and an outstanding and impressive package (even to rival Blanton's, and ten bucks cheaper).

Soko said...

Old Granddad 117. If your spouse, boss, liquor store owner whom you're trying to bribe to not sip his allocation on BX doesn't like it, f them.

Anonymous said...

[echoing what Jason said]: I randomly found a bottle of Pappy 15 in my local liquor store a year ago - so yes, it does sometimes pay to keep one's eyes peeled!

Matt L said...

While I am not a fan of their pot still single barrel, you can't go wrong with any of the Willet Family Estate bottlings, no matter the age.

Anonymous said...

Matt, your dead on with the Willet Family Estate stuff. Around here it's become difficult to find anything over 4 yrs old. You may run up on a 7 yr bottle from time to time.

Adam D. said...

Agreed on the Willetts--though I heard they'll be discontinuing their single barrel program. Here in NY even the 4-year rye (a fantastic, affordable whiskey) is getting very hard to find.

Matt L said...

Are you kidding? Discontinuing their family estate bottlings or just their exclusive single barrel program?

Matt L said...

By the way I picked up two 21 year old Willets in Lexington, KY last year so they're still out there.

Anonymous said...

Best I've ever had is the 21 yr Willet. Manager of a store here in town let me have a sample. Priced at $175 I just can't pull the trigger.

sam k said...

Sku was asking for booze that's easier to find than Pappy, which the Family Estates are usually not, hence my suggestion of the Reserve Single Barrel. Not their best, but certainly not bad...and that bottle!

Adam D. said...

Matt L, not sure if it's one or both; I do know they're ending their exclusive single barrel bottlings, and have noticed a drop off in the availability of estate bottlings near me; perhaps the two are unrelated--I hope so!

AM, where are you located? I'd be interested in getting that 21-year-old Willett. Pricey, but I've adored every older Willett I've been lucky enough to taste.

Matt L said...

Sam K I'd say the Family estates are much easier to find than Pappy. I've found them in KY many times and in LA where I now live. They are rare but they are on the shelves, whereas Pappy is not. Ever. (Basically) I'd be curious to know where that 21 yr is as well. Liquor Barn says they're all out. My two were from their Holiday release last year. Two different barrels, and yeah about $160-$170 each. Ouch! Also got some 8 yr olds for about $55. They are great.

Matt L said...

Let me correct myself- Liquor Barns in Lexington are all out of the 21 year. It looks like there are some in other towns.

sku said...

Thanks for all the great comment folks. Clearly, there is plenty of bourbon out there that would make excellent gifts.

Adam D, to look at some ratings (including my own) on some of the Binny's and other retailer Four Roses picks, check out the LA Whiskey Society.

Adam D. said...

Thanks, Sku! Nabbed some OBSK, OESK, OBSV, OESO, and OBSO--let the Four-Rose-a-thon begin!

SteveBM said...

@Matt - I'm with ya 100% on Willett Family Reserve bottlings. I just had a 21yr while visiting LA that was absolutely phenomenal. Right up there with the best bourbon I've ever tasted. I also have a few other bottles from The Party Source's private barrels that are delicious.

I also strongly recommend all of the Four Roses private bottlings but also their regular Single Barrel and Small Batch as well. Fantastic flavor and value.

Then there's John J. Bowman which became one of my favorites pretty quickly. It's a little tougher to find because of limited distribution but it's great stuff that you can find online if you care to.

Blanton's and Rock Hill Farms also great suggestions. Cant say I'm disappointed no one listed my personal favorite - Old Weller Antique (same juice as pappy 15, bottled at same proof). I'd rather have it all to myself ;).

Pappy is dead to me. I even wrote about it.

http://blindtastes.blogspot.com/2012/11/rip-my-pappy-is-dead.html

Anonymous said...

Want to know something that's simply ridiculous? A couple years ago (2010 or 2011) I was visiting a friend and decided to stop at a liquor store to pick up a bottle of bourbon. He's a good friend, so I figured I'd try to buy something nice. I was strictly a dark-rum guy at the time, so I didn't know what the hell I was talking about when it came to bourbon and was simply going by price.

When I was checking out the selection I decided to go with a brand that I'd never heard of - but looked like it would be tasty. I can't remember exactly what I paid for it...but it was right around $70.

Turns out that the first bottle of bourbon I ever bought was Pappy's 15 - and it was awesome. Unfortunately I wasn't aware that it was such a limited product until I tried to buy it again.

Luckily I still have some left, but its proven to be a unicorn ever since that day.



Anonymous said...

This is a link for a current auction of Pappy 23 but the reserve is £600

http://www.scotchwhiskyauctions.com/store/product/64_the-33rd-auction-runs-until-sunday-january-05-2014/27206_lot-331377-pappy-van-winkle-23-year-old-family-reserve/

TylerP said...

All very good selections.

If you really want Pappy Van Winkle or George T. Stagg the best suggestion that anyone can offer you is to make all your adult beverage purchases from the same place and make the sure Owner/Manager knows and sees you do this. Stores get MAYBE 5 bottles of Pappy or Stagg a year and they are going to want to offer them to folks who really spend some money with them.

PLEASE be very careful buying anything off Craigslist of the like- for all any of us know- they drank the good stuff and refilled and sealed it with anything.

Happy Hunting!