Why The Government Raided 2 Kentucky Stores Known For Rare Bourbon

There's more than just alcohol in bourbon, there's also a lot of money spent and made on collectible bottles. Why is bourbon so collectible and expensive? Sure, aging bourbon requires the investment of time, but when you look at the suggested retail price of Pappy Van Winkle bourbons, it's often surprisingly modest — Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year retails for $69.99 — but Alcohol Professor points out it's the secondary market that drives up prices for limited edition bottles. In the case of that $70 Old Rip Van Winkle, the price goes up to roughly $1100 from online retailers like Wooden Cork. Simply put, bourbon has become an investment, one with an annual return of a healthy 9%. 

Since the rule of thumb for spirits collectors is that older is better, and therefore more valuable, part of that secondary market involves buying old bottles from estates or collectors, though L.A. Whisk(e)y Society notes the practice in the U.S. is fraught with legal peril, as it's completely prohibited in some states and heavily regulated in others. In 2018, Kentucky's HB100 or Vintage Spirits Law began permitting licensed retailers to purchase spirits from unlicensed individuals (that are over 21 and meet other specific criteria). On January 18, 2023, two of those stores were raided by the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC).

Which stores were raided and why?

Bourbon expert and blogger Fred Minnick broke the story on January 18, 2023 that the Kentucky ABC raided Justins' House of Bourbon, which has two locations, one in Lexington and the other in Louisville. Minnick reported that state officials said they'd received complaints that Justins' House of Bourbon had committed several offenses relating to "the improper acquisition, possession, transport, and sale of bourbon, including Vintage Distilled Spirits."

A spokesperson for the state said the ABC seized "numerous bottles of bourbon" as well as other evidence in the raid on the two properties. The Lexington Herald Leader notes that this raid appears to be the first enforcement effort under the 2018 law permitting legal trade in vintage spirits. Co-owner of Justins' House of Bourbon, Justin Thompson said the liquor license for the business is still active and the company continues to operate while the investigation continues. The Lexington Herald Leader observed that bourbon collectors worldwide are likely to closely follow developments after the raid of the stores known for their extensive selection of rare and vintage bourbons.