SALT LAKE CITY — The rare bourbon known as “Pappy Van Winkle” has arrived in Utah liquor stores, and it’s being sold at deeply discounted prices thanks to the way state alcohol laws are written.
Bottles of the exclusive Kentucky bourbon were handed out to a swarm of people lined up outside a liquor store near 1300 South and 300 West on Wednesday morning, who had heard whispers it had arrived. Liquor store employees would only sell one bottle per person.
“It’s so coveted that everybody wants to have a piece of it,” said one man, who bought a bottle of the 20-year-old bourbon. “It’s just a truly artisan crafted bourbon that is so rare, that the scarcity of the product and the quality just drives demand for it. Crazy!”
The liquor stores that had bottles of Pappy Van Winkle sold out in minutes after word spread it was there. The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control would not say much about it.
“Utah received one shipment of Pappy Van Winkle,” the agency said in a written response to FOX 13’s questions. “The supplier identified two allocations of the shipment: one to clubs and restaurants; and one to state stores.”
Many state stores were slated to get shipments Thursday, but the DABC refused to say which ones were getting bottles because of security concerns. On Twitter, people traded locations and reports of which stores had them — or had sold out.
At a store near 200 South and 300 East on Thursday, dozens of people lined up early in the morning for a chance at a bottle.
“There’s none left,” an employee at the liquor store said as he stepped out to inform the crowd gathered outside.
“Noooooo!” a man said, throwing his hands up in the air and wailing. Others chuckled as they turned and walked away.
Liquor store manager Ron Harris said the 30 bottles he had were gone in 14 minutes.
Pappy Van Winkle is so coveted, 65 cases were heisted in Kentucky last year. Bottles can sell for hundreds of dollars. At an auction last year, a bottle of the 20-year-old bourbon sold for nearly $1,200.
But under Utah statute, Pappy Van Winkle is being sold for a bargain — the 20-year bottle is being sold for $140; a bottle of the 10-year Rip Van Winkle bourbon was purchased for only $42.
“By statute, the price is cost plus 86-percent (markup),” the DABC told FOX 13.
Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, who has sponsored liquor legislation in Utah, said it was a case where state control of liquor worked against it.
“It’s definitely a direct consequence of the state’s control of the market,” he said. “That can work in your favor with revenue collection, and it certainly in this case can work against you.”
Wilcox has favored privatization of liquor sales in Utah, with the state maintaining taxation authority. He called the sales of Pappy Van Winkle a “missed opportunity.”
“The market is reacting to control price that doesn’t exist outside of a controlled market,” Wilcox said. “We have bottles selling of that particular brand upwards of $1,200 in other states and where we could be making over a thousand dollars a bottle, we’re making a lot less than that.”
The DABC warned against people attempting to buy Pappy Van Winkle and turn around and sell it.
“It is illegal to buy a bottle and sell it to someone else in Utah or selling it to someone outside of Utah if the transaction originates in Utah unless you are a licensee, military installation or the DABC,” the agency said.
One customer who snapped up a bottle said he wasn’t planning to sell it.
“It’s worth more in my hands than anywhere else,” he said.