You could call it bourbon, or you could call it a $5,000 bottle of liquified, barrel-aged unobtanium. Its fans refer to it as Pappy, when they’re lucky enough to get a sniff of it, and those times are few and far between. … The web has yet to catch on to this very lively feature piece in Louisville Magazine this month, taking a look at Pappy Van Winkle, the Kentucky bourbon that is by all accounts one of the most sought-after bottles of booze on earth. … Its distillers pump out from 7,000 to 8,000 cases each year, 12 bottles to the case, and hope that within a decade they can double that to 15,000. Jim Beam, by comparison, makes 7-8 million cases per year. So the Beam:Pappy ratio is about 1000:1.
Over more than 20 years at Buffalo Trace, Curtsinger had worked his way to a senior position on the loading dock, but it wasn't necessarily clear where he might go from there. ... Still, what might drive a man with a wife and two kids, who's worked some two decades for the same company, to start stealing from his employer? The simple explanation might be that bourbon prices were soaring and that stealing it was pretty easy. Buffalo Trace has 450 employees spread across 440 acres, and more bourbon aging in its 15 warehouses than at any time since the 1970s. ... Curtsinger started small. According to the investigation, around 2008 he began lifting bottles from display cases at the distillery. As a precaution, he would casually ask co-workers about security cameras around the facility. Curtsinger could be a generous colleague, loaning cash to co-workers but then asking that they repay him in stolen bottles. Eventually he got bolder: One night Curtsinger loaded more than 50 cases of Eagle Rare onto a pickup truck that was so weighted down it bottomed out on his driveway when he got home. ... Business was brisk, but there were only so many bottles of Pappy to be found, and eventually Curtsinger started stealing entire barrels, each containing the equivalent of around a hundred bottles.
Two new "blue books" help enthusiasts track prices for white-whale whiskeys on the secondary market, raising questions about the true value of rare bottles. ... One of the first things I do every morning is check the markets. E.H. Taylor “Tornado” is up 23% since October. Michter’s 25 now goes for a cool $1,000. Four Roses Mariage is being moved for some seven times retail cost. ... If those don’t sound like stocks, it’s because they’re not. And though these prices I’m referencing come out of a Kelley Blue Book, I’m not talking about used jalopies either. Allow me introduce you to the wild world of secondary-market whiskey selling, and the online “blue books” that now attempt to monitor such rapid price changes. ... Within the past year, two pricing guides have emerged to track the secondary market for highly coveted whiskeys. Bourbon Blue Book is the more bare-bones option, while Bottle Blue Book additionally monitors month-to-month growth trends. Both are now helping whiskey geeks make more informed decisions about their black-market buying and selling. ... You wonder who is going to be the first distillery to say, “You know what? Since the market has determined that we make a $400 bourbon, that’s the price it’s going to start hitting store shelves at.”