Destroy the Pappy Van Winkle


January 8, 2016

Like most people, I was more than intrigued with the Pappy Van Winkle heist. I covered the indictment for Whisky Advocate and planned to cover the story until every last conviction. Perhaps it could be the subject for another book, I thought.

Pappy Van Winkle is great whiskey, and it’s constantly being sold outside of normal channels. Perhaps my favorite all-time weird Pappy sales offer was this Craig’s List ad for sexual services.

I figured this Pappy Heist would fall in line with other interesting Pappy stories that made me chuckle. Then, I started digging, along with a hundred other reporters and the Franklin County sheriff. The thieves were no longer insiders; they were members of a criminal syndicate who now dealt steroids. Okay, I thought, these guys were serious about more than just selling Pappy to those who couldn’t find it in the liquor store.

So what, maybe they sold a few steroids, too? It made them a little more sleazy, but the story was still interesting to cover. Then, there was a connection to child pornography.

The images on the defendant’s phone were determined to be the result of a malware and not intentional, but that one wrinkle to the case is why I stopped covering it and solidified (in my view) the fact that these thieves are criminals, and that this story shouldn’t be considered a novelty whiskey narrative.

It was a crime, and the Buffalo Trace Distillery, Wild Turkey Distillery and the Van Winkles were the victims. I do not cover crime.

Recently, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office said it would auction the whiskey for charity. They then recanted this announcement, saying the whiskey would be destroyed at the request of the Van Winkles.

Since then, the story has gone viral, because who doesn’t want a chance to buy stolen Pappy Van Winkle for–I don’t know–$100,000? The whiskey lovers boo and the conspiracy theorists say the Van Winkles are loving the attention…again. But let’s think about this for a second: Where is the precedent for a sheriff’s department auctioning alcohol or a controlled substance? How do we know the steroid-slinging, child porn-having (via malware, of course) criminals  didn’t tamper with the whiskey? If Franklin County really wants to help a charity of its choice, it should auction off the massive amounts of marijuana it has collected over the years to a legal state.

I’m glad the whiskey will be destroyed. It’s a damn shame the stuff was stolen in the first place, but you will only validate criminal activity giving a stolen Pappy auction any credence. Is that what you want, bourbon lovers? Do you want to compete with thieves, the secondary market and  other consumers for your next bottle of Pappy Van Winkle? You already are to some degree. Auctioning this bourbon only makes things worse.


Fred Minnick is the author of Bourbon Curious.