Buffalo Trace, the distiller of the Pappy Van Winkle line of crazily hyped bourbons, dropped some details on the 2020 Van Winkle whiskey releases this week, and contained within were some facts that are likely to send whiskey collectors into a tizzy. Most notably was the distiller’s admission that the two most sought-after (and expensive) bottles in the collection—that would be Pappy Van Winkle 20-Year and Pappy Van Winkle 23-Year—will be available in even smaller quantities this year than usual. Said the distillery: “While the amount of 10, 12 and 15-year bourbon will be about the same as previous years, unfortunately the 20 and 23-year-old barrels yielded far fewer bottles this fall.”
This is of course always a possibility when it comes to bourbon aged for such longer than typical periods—evaporation is an erratic thing, and it can occasionally lead to the entire content of a single barrel evaporating before that barrel is opened—essentially a total loss. We would guess that this particular batch of 20 and 23-year-old Van Winkle barrels must have been struck by an unusually large angel’s share; one big enough to make BT acknowledge that they yielded “far fewer” bottles.
That’s sure to send prices on those particular 2020 Van Winkle releases even further into the stratosphere, both on the secondary market and via unscrupulous retailers who are gouging heavily on Van Winkle products. We recently wrote an in-depth feature on this kind of price gouging from retailers; a phenomenon that is running rampant in the American whiskey industry and causing concern even to major distilleries like Buffalo Trace, Heaven Hill and Brown-Forman. The distilleries are legally unable to enforce any kind of maximum pricing in this scenario, leaving them relatively powerless to stop package stores from charging $1,000 or more for sought-after bottles such as the Van Winkle lineup.
There is a silver lining here, though—Buffalo Trace also acknowledged that although the 20- and 23-year Van Winkles would be in even shorter supply than usual, there will be more of the lineup’s sole rye whiskey, Old Rip Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye 13 Year Old.
Both the distillery and members of the Van Winkle family also felt it was necessary to release statements about Pappy Van Winkle pricing and price gouging; a clear acknowledgement that they’re both concerned by the issue and how perception of it might color consumers’ opinions of Buffalo Trace. The distillery also warned against online bourbon selling and trading, saying it was “prepared to take action to curtail the activity,” whatever that means.
Said Julian Van Winkle, president of Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery: “Unfortunately even though we suggest what we believe to be a very low and fair MSRP, we cannot control the price retailers charge, and some retailers mark it up even though we and the distributors that those retailers buy from ask them not to. We are committed to releasing quality whiskey at a reasonable cost and we hope retailers will honor what we suggest as a fair retail price.”
Said Buffalo Trace: “Upon release of the Van Winkle bourbon this fall, Buffalo Trace Distillery reminds fans to be wary of online resellers such as private Facebook groups, Craigslist and other online marketplaces. Trading and selling bourbon online is an unlicensed and illegal sale. If you are not a licensed retailer selling Van Winkle products, we are prepared to take action to curtail the activity. Additionally, if you are a customer trying to buy a bottle at a licensed retailer who has marked it up above MSRP, we encourage you to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau or contact your state Attorneys General office.”
This is the first time I’ve seen a distillery suggesting that consumers contact the Better Business Bureau in order to report price gouging of whiskey above MSRP, which certainly makes me curious as to whether that organization actually receives reports of that kind. We will look into that particular aspect of this story and may report on it more fully in the future.
In the meantime, here are your suggested retail prices for the Pappy Van Winkle line in 2020. Be aware that even if you somehow managed to find one in a store, it may be marked up 500% or more past MSRP.
$69.99 – Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 10 Year Old 107 proof
$79.99 – Old Rip Van Winkle Special Reserve Bourbon 12 Year Old
$119.99 – Old Rip Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye 13 Year Old
$119.99 – Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 15 Year Old
$199.99 – Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 20 Year Old
$299.99 – Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 23 Year Old