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Pappy Van (Hood)Winkle? Liquor Commission Officials Hoarding the Good Stuff

Pappy Van (Hood)Winkle? Liquor Commission Officials Hoarding the Good Stuff
February 16, 2023
Dylan Dittrich

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For many collectible assets, some of the most eye-popping, headline-drawing gains come only for the lucky.

From sneakers to sports cards, to whisky and wine, those lucky ones are the individuals able to secure the most coveted products for retail prices and immediately flip them onto the secondary market at a handsome multiple of their cost. Even in art, those collectors well placed and well connected with dealers and galleries may have first dibs on a primary market work from a hot artist with immediate appreciation potential (though a quick flip will just as quickly sever those connections).

The rest of us are left to confront the higher prices on secondary markets, either swallowing hard and paying up or carefully analyzing the outlook for further gains from there.  It's absolutely do-able - and in some cases rewarding - but it's not the effectively free money available to the lucky ones.

How does one join that team? How does one join the ranks of the "lucky"?

One way: join the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission, apparently.

See, as it turns out, a lot of the time, luck has very little to do with it. More often than we'd like to think, it's about being in the right seat or knowing the right people. When it comes to bottles of esteemed American bourbon Pappy Van Winkle, members of the OLCC were in precisely the right seat.

An internal investigation recently reported that six officials at the commission used their positions to ensure rare bottles of Pappy would be available for them to purchase. The officials would allegedly request that bottles be sent from a state warehouse to nearby liquor stores where they would buy them.

Typically, these types of bottles would be included in a state Chance to Purchase program, a lottery drawing system devised to fairly distribute access to the rarities. Instead, many made their way into the collections of the well-positioned over the years.

Included in the requests were bottles of Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year Old Family Reserve. Those bottles have a suggested retail price of $299 but commonly change hands on secondary markets for several thousand dollars. Oddly, the commission officials never resold the bottles. Instead, they either consumed them themselves or gave them as gifts, highlighting their stature as currency.

If the officials still have some in their collection, they may yet enjoy the monetary spoils of holding them. PVW bourbons - and the 23 Year in particular - have enjoyed significant appreciation over the last few years. Auction prices that were more commonly in the $1,500 to $2,000 range in early 2020 are now frequently spotted at $4,000 to $6,000 across release years.

Back in December, auction activity at Sotheby's bordered on downright drunk as a 2008 release of the 23 Year (from the old, Stitzel-Weller distillery) sold for a PVW record of $52,500. Two other bottles from that release sold for $47,500, all against estimates of $3,000 - $4,000. While those results are starting to look like they were the outcome of a bourbon-drinking contest that nobody won, there's no question one of America's flagship whiskeys is taking its place in an even more elevated market position, with scarce supply and a growing number of admirers.

So, you can keep trying those Chance to Purchase lotteries. Or....or! could always work your way up the chain at your state's liquor commission.

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