10 Ways To Score A Bottle Of Pappy Van Winkle

Pappy Van Winkle may be one of the most famous bourbons around, and not just because of its quality (although the quality is at the highest level and to be respected). The mystery surrounding it plays into its fame as well. Where do all the bottles of Pappy Van Winkle go? Why is it so hard to find? 

According to Distillery Trail, in October of 2022, Buffalo Distillery released six different Van Winkle whiskey expressions and encouraged fans with the exciting news that there would be more of their infamous whiskey available than usual. Still, the bottles vanished quickly. And they don't go cheaply. Pappy Van Winkle's retail suggested prices are reasonable and range from about $70 to $300, depending on the bottle. Unfortunately, when it leaves the shelves and is sold on the secondary market, prices skyrocket. 

One of the reasons Pappy Van Winkle is so expensive is because of supply and demand. Bourbon fans want it and they'll pay to get it. It isn't the distillery's fault that so little is released at a time (usually about 84,000 bottles). When a bourbon ages for 10, 15, 20, or 23 years, a lot of the alcohol evaporates. They literally don't get back out what they put into the barrel. Even so, there is hope. There are several possible ways to score a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle so you can add the treasure to your bourbon whiskey collection.

Try an online auction

The online auction is a unique way to find a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle. It's also a way to spend a very large amount of money on bourbon. According to Go Bourbon, a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 23-year once sold at a Sotheby's auction for $52,000. These auctions mean business. Still, every auction is different and certainly worth a shot.

A rare liquor auction works just as any auction does — the bottle goes to the highest bidder. The Flaviar Times explains that an online auction is pretty simple. You hop on when it's time and place your highest bid, and if you win against other bidders, the bourbon is yours. Just make sure you read the fine print at an auction. There are sometimes hidden fees and commissions you could end up paying as well. Rare liquor auctions vary depending on the site, so it's wise to find a couple to keep track of so you'll be notified when it comes up.

Play the lottery

This isn't the type of lottery where you can win cash, but you might have a chance at a bottle of Pappy. Many liquor stores try to keep the Pappy Van Winkle purchases available to anyone who wants a chance, by offering a lottery where customers enter their name, and if it's drawn, they get the opportunity to buy the latest release of Pappy. Chris Blandford, who is a Kroger Adult Beverage Field Specialist in Louisville, Kentucky, started the lottery system for Pappy Van Winkle in his area. As he told the Lousiville Courier Journal, "Bourbon should go to everybody, and I want it to be fair." 

Lotteries also help out the liquor stores because they don't have to worry about a crazy rush of people running in and trying to score a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle. Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery recommends that Pappy fans get on as many waiting lists as possible and sign up for multiple lotteries when the time comes.

Connect with fellow bourbon lovers on Facebook

Everything and everyone is on social media. Whether you enjoy it or not, if you are in search of something, you should make your presence known on platforms like Facebook, especially when it comes to scoring a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle.

Facebook has come a long way since it began, and you no longer just sign up and hope for the best. Now you can join millions of different groups and find like-minded people, including others who are looking for Pappy Van Winkle. Even better, you may be able to find stores that stock it and have waiting lists.

Connecting with other bourbon fans is fun since you all have something in common, and when it comes to Pappy, it's also resourceful. Someone may have information that you don't have about an auction, a lottery, or a location. According to Esquire, Facebook played quite a role in the bourbon boom these past years. Bourbon took a back seat to clear spirits such as vodka and gin in the 1960s, but in 2006, when Facebook came to life, bourbon was reinvigorated as well. Some feel that Facebook helped it along since people who had never even met each other could now discuss and sell bourbon online in Facebook groups. Many groups have since been shut down because it's not exactly legal to sell liquor without a license. Even so, you can still make social connections online with bourbon enthusiasts, and those could lead to helpful Pappy Van Winkle connections.

Hope for some good luck

Occasionally, a liquor store will leave a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle sitting innocently on a shelf, right next to the "easy to find" bourbons. They likely do this because it's rewarding to see a true fan scream with joy when they spot it. Or maybe they do it because they get tired of everyone fighting over Pappy and instead prefer to see someone just happen to find a bottle. Either way, it's quite clever and would be a welcome surprise to someone who is just browsing that day.

One of the biggest mistakes people make at liquor stores, especially when looking for a rare bottle like Pappy, is only looking at the top shelf. Pappy Van Winkle is a top-shelf bourbon for sure, but a store owner can place a bottle wherever they like. And someone who doesn't understand what Pappy is could pick one up by chance and place it back on the wrong shelf. The point is, if you're on a treasure hunt, look everywhere. Pappy could be misplaced or purposely put in a spot that's almost way too obvious.

Another mistake is to not ask. Don't feel silly just because the release date was October and now it's January. You never know. If no one is asking, maybe the store owner is holding onto a bottle just waiting for that one big fan to politely ask if they have any Pappy Van Winkle available.

Get to know your local liquor store

It seems simple, but this tip will go a long way. Your local liquor store is a place you can frequent often and strike up conversations about all kinds of rare bottles, including Pappy. Most liquor store owners know their stuff and enjoy talking about different spirits. Even when you aren't out looking for Pappy, make sure your local store is your go-to whenever you need any kind of liquor. Small businesses appreciate the patronage and you can start to get to know the staff and owner as you make conversation. 

Once they know you enjoy bourbon and are curious about Pappy Van Winkle, you may luck out and the owner will have you at the front of their mind when they hear when they will be getting a supply of it. You could also get a heads-up for upcoming lotteries that others may not know about. 

Network everywhere you go

Just as you network for your career, you can network for a bottle of Pappy as well. Use what you've learned about career networking in every area of life. You never know who else might be secretly dreaming of Pappy Van Winkle. When referring to business networking, Forbes suggests you never discount anyone. It works the same when striking up conversations about bourbon. Whether it's the local bartender or the waitress serving you at the table, make it a habit of getting to know people and what they drink, and before long you'll find the ones who want to talk bourbon. 

Consider joining whiskey clubs, signing up for newsletters, and subscribing to magazines such as the Whiskey Network as a way to get to know others who are passionate about bourbon. Or how about tastings at a local liquor store or restaurant? Stay on top of those dates so you can join in and make more bourbon-loving friends.

Research and watch for the release

Pappy Van Winkle has a lot of rules about release dates and where the bottles go once they're released. After that, distributors have their rules as well. Research is the best way to know what's happening and when. Not only that, but it's helpful to truly understand what you're getting when you buy Pappy Van Winkle. It's easy to get caught up in hunting for a bottle because it's hard to find. Still, you might not want just any old bottle of the stuff. For example, are you interested in the 15-year, 20-year, or the 23-year family reserve Pappy Van Winkle? If one is more important to you than the other, make sure you're clear about when each is being released. It would be a real letdown to enter a lottery, win, and wind up paying for a 15-year when you really wanted the 20. 

Once you're sure of which Pappy is most important to you, you'll need to know when the release dates are (usually in the month of October). Join any lists you can so you'll receive updates and check with your local liquor stores to find out if they know when and if they'll be getting a supply. A bit of research will save you a lot of time and guessing.

Wait for the second wave

It's rare when all of Pappy doesn't get snatched up, but sometimes bottles are left unbought. Plenty of seekers probably assume it's all gone. The thing is, as we all know, Pappy Van Winkle is expensive and it's not because of the distillery's retail pricing. The suggested retail for bottles of Pappy Van Winkle is far off from most asking prices of it on the secondary market, and some retailers hike it up as much as 5 to 20 times the suggested retail, according to Bourbonr. They can legally do that, and many do. However, there are plenty of retailers that sell it at the suggested retail price as well. 

Either way, depending on the area you are shopping in, it could be that those expensive bottles didn't get snatched up and there is still one waiting for you. Sometimes people sign up for a lottery before finding they have other things to spend their money on; sometimes they simply lose interest. Those bottles left unclaimed are the second wave and a good shot for your collection.

Go hunting in rural areas

Pappy isn't just for the big cities. Small towns get their share as well. A little town of a few thousand people may be more likely to have leftover bottles of unclaimed Pappy Van Winkle than a popular, well-known liquor store in a large city. They also might run a lottery or have a waiting list without as much interest as larger areas. Garden and Gun points out that the Pappy Van Winkle lotteries usually have anywhere between 1,000 and 10,000 more names than there are Pappy bottles available. You may be better off looking for a place where not as many people are thinking about it. 

Make it a habit to hit little liquor stores when on road trips or just take a drive occasionally and get lost looking for Pappy. It doesn't end up in every liquor store, but checking out new places is a great way to network, and the treasure hunt is worth it if you happen to find a rare bottle.

Check out online retailers

Shopping online for Pappy Van Winkle has its pros and cons. It opens the door for fans to buy bourbon in places they can't get to, but you've got to be cautious. The Whiskey Wash explains that there have been counterfeit bottles of Pappy Van Winkle on the secondary market. But there are a few ways to protect yourself when trying to score a bottle of Pappy online. 

First, don't trust a seller who only wants to private message. They should be willing to discuss everything in the bourbon group so there are witnesses. Second, ask for references. You want a reputable dealer. And third, if it seems too good to be true it probably is. A 23-year Pappy Van Winkle on the secondary market for $100 is highly suspicious. They might be pouring fake stuff into fake bottles and selling them cheaply over and over. When you shop online be careful not to get carried away and spend more than you can afford. Online shopping is one of the best ways to find Pappy Van Winkle after it's been released as long as you are smart about it.