When people hear that my hobby is drinking, collecting and writing about whiskey, the conversations nearly always go in one direction.
Have you ever had Pappy? Do you have a bottle of Pappy? How can I get a bottle of Pappy? Well, I’m here to tell you how to score a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle.
Never leave the liquor store empty-handed.
Seriously. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been having a conversation with the owner of one of the four or so liquor stores I frequent and they have told me about yet another person they have never seen before popping their head in and looking for a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle.
Never mind that it is the middle of summer and that years release isn’t slated for another few months, that bit won’t even get a reaction. No, the thing that makes the owner of the liquor store shake their head is the fact that someone who is not a customer of theirs has walked in and asked for one of the hardest to buy bottles of bourbon on the market today.
Now I’m sure some of you have been able to score a bottle of Pappy, or another allocated and hard to find whiskey, by showing up at the right place at the right time. But this is a rare occurrence. And while this method won’t guarantee you will be able to purchase a bottle of Pappy for the retail price every October, it will greatly increase your chances.
Get to Know the Staff, Especially the Owner
As I said earlier, I have four or so liquor stores that I frequent that are close to home for me. Two of them are quite large with some of the largest whiskey and spirits selections in the city. The other two are smaller liquor stores that tend to have fewer bottles but do a great job keeping good stuff stocked for those of us who want it.
No matter how long it’s been since I’ve visited, the minute I walk into these shops I’m greeted either by name or with a familiar “what are you hunting for today?” They know that I collect whiskey and they’re always interested in what I’m looking for.
The answer, of course, is usually nothing. I generally know when allocated bottles will be released, but I always take the time to tell them about some upcoming release I would like a bottle of, and then I head straight for the aisle I need and pick something up.
Once I find something to buy I take the time to chat with the employee behind the counter and since I do most of my shopping in the morning it’s usually the owner (or store manager depending on the size of the store)… an added bonus for sure.
What to Buy?
What do I pick up? Depending on the liquor store I’ll grab a bottle of Evan Williams Bottled in Bond, Evan Williams Black Label, Weller Special Reserve, Four Roses Yellow Label or a bottle of Rittenhouse Rye. Why?
I enjoy drinking each one of these, they’re affordable (Evan Williams Black Label is $11.49), and I make sure they know that I have purchased something. And more importantly, they make money on this purchase, in fact, they make more on these sub $20 bottles over the course of the year then they ever will on an allocated release like Pappy Van Winkle. It may be obvious, but if you haven’t, think about it.
When you look at the shelf, certain brands and bottles are double stocked, or something stocked four wide on the shelf. Things like Weller Special Reserve, any Evan Williams, Jack Daniels, or the bottom shelf standards like Early Times, Old Crow, and Old Charter. Why do these take up so much shelf space? They sell hundreds of bottles of them, so they are given the space necessary to allow their team to not restock them every couple hours.
On the other hand, if a shop gets three or four different bottles of a Pappy release they aren’t going to make much, especially the stores that sell the bottle at MSRP. A single bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year is $79.99, and at the standard markup of around 20% they’ll make more money on the Jack Daniel’s handles they sell that morning than that bottle. It just isn’t that important to their business, so they know the people who purchase regularly as those are the people that keep the lights on.
How Do I Get That Allocated Bottle?
First off, to be 100% honest, you might not get the bottle you’re looking to get. If you want a bottle of Pappy and the store only gets a single bottle of 12 Year Lot B, well, you might not be going home with it (this is why you want to shop three to four different stores to increase your chances). But you want to make sure that the staff knows that you are very interested in purchasing any Pappy, or other allocated releases, they get in.
After you have built up a relationship, let them know what you’re looking for, but make sure not to ask them to do all the work. It isn’t up to them to call you and tell you to come buy something, though some stores may do that. Instead, know when a pick is coming and stop by the store a week or two before to ask if they know the date it may drop. They likely won’t have an exact date, but can give you a closest date. Also, with how allocated whiskey is released, they could be a month or two off, seriously.
So if you’re looking to get Pappy, you should know it drops in October most years. If you’re looking to get Weller 12, it comes out a couple times a year (spring and fall most often) so just be ready to ask about releases close to their typical ship dates. For example, the new Weller CYPB will be released some time this summer, and if you keep up with the news from Buffalo Trace you should know when it’s coming and be prepared to tell the store you’re interested in a bottle.
Lottery or First Come, First Serve?
Some stores are large enough, and have a large enough list of folks looking for hard to buy bottles, that they don’t allow just anyone to come in and buy them as they are released, but instead do lotteries for allocated bottles. Just ask the staff how they sell their allocated bottles and they’ll let you know what they do. If they do a lottery, be respectful and if you draw something you don’t want, for example, when the latest BTAC (Buffalo Trace Antique Collection) releases drop, be gracious and either buy it to trade with someone or just turn it down if it isn’t something you’re interested in. In the case of Pappy, you’re likely going to buy whatever you draw, but be aware that you don’t control the outcome.
In the case of smaller stores that get a much smaller shipment of allocated bottles, they’re usually going to sell it to the first regular customer that drops on release day. So be ready to stop in early and grab the bottle as soon as you can. If you wait it’s likely that someone else will already be enjoying it on their porch.