An image of the illusive Pappy Van Winkle 23-year bourbon. It's so rare only three were made available at a local Liquor Barn though dozens waited in line for hours.
Some might have likened Brian Booth to a child on Christmas. He was up and out of bed, dressed much earlier than any other day, and wide-eyed with anticipation. Booth drove from where he’s been staying in Frankfort for his job as a field geologist to the Richmond Road location in Lexington of Liquor Barn. It wasn’t Christmas, but it was a white Pappy Day.
The season’s first dusting of snow covered the grass and roofs as Booth was the first to pull into the liquor store’s parking lot at 4:50 a.m., because he’d heard the illusive Pappy Van Winkle line of whiskeys was going to be delivered to central Kentucky’s dominant chain of spirit suppliers.
A Wall Street Journal blog mused in July that bottles of Pappy Van Winkle’s 23-year aged bourbon were so in demand that billionaires couldn’t even get one. But on Nov. 12, it didn’t take all the money in the world. It did, however, require at least a couple hundred dollars, in addition to a good ear to the ground, to find out when Pappy would be available — along with the persistence to wait for it.
Forty minutes after his arrival, clad in a two-piece coverall, Booth saw the headlights of Lexington attorney Tony Bonner pull into the parking lot. Both men opened their doors and quickly agreed, “Let’s stay in our cars.”
By 7 a.m., still two hours before Liquor Barn’s doors were set to open, three became a crowd as another whiskey hunter pulled into the lot and ceded the first and second line positions, but pushed for the wait to be held outdoors.
By 8:45 a.m., two dozen were in line alongside the liquor store, as temperatures hovered around freezing. Then mercifully the doors opened and the crowd, which included a former city councilman who’d come only in a blazer before receiving an overcoat and gloves, shuffled inside.
“If no one knew about it ahead of time, then what you could do is get it in, and then you could say, ‘At this hour, on this day, it will be sold,’” Liquor Barn general manager Roger Leasor said. “Well, that’s not how it works. Instead everyone starts talking about ‘Tuesday is when it’s going to get delivered,’ and it did, sort of.”
Leasor said some the stores in his chain got a delivery that day, while one got an accidental partial order and others didn’t receive theirs at all.
“So part hasn’t come yet, and customers were camped out last night. I feel terrible for them,” Leasor said on the afternoon of the expected delivery date. “You don’t know when that truck’s going to come. They line up — I think they’re lined up in a nice place to be lined up in — but still it can be for hours and hours, and then there’s never enough.”
It turned out there was enough of the 23-year bourbon for Booth and Bonner, but they had to wait until noon for the shipment to arrive and make its way to the register for them to buy. The five-hour wait paid off for the man who drew Booth and Bonner out of their cars too, as he purchased the third and final bottle of 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle that location sold. Fortunately for at least those in line when the store opened, and not necessarily for the stragglers or those who’d been at other Liquor Barn locations and were trying to “double dip,” according to Booth, there was enough of the 20-year, 15-, 10- and 13-year-old rye to go around. The 12-year bourbon hadn’t made it there and was expected the next day, according to the cashier.
“I’m a lucky, fortunate, little guy,” Booth said, when reached following his triumphant initial attempt to buy Pappy Van Winkle.
“If [having to wait in line for it and risking not getting any] is the worst thing we can say about it, it’s a pretty nice thing,” Leasor said, “and the whiskey’s great.”
That’s what Booth was counting on; he’d never even had a taste of it before. Now he’s got a bottle all to himself.