Why Is Pappy Van Winkle so Expensive and Rare?
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Why Pappy Van Winkle is so Rare and Coveted

Pappy Van Winkle

Rare bottle of Pappy Van Winkle Whiskey during the Nashville Best Cellars Dinner at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel on April 25, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for T.J. Martell Foundation )

Pappy Van Winkle is the crown jewel among rare whiskeys: highly coveted, super expensive and nearly impossible to find.

This famed Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey is produced by the Van Winkle family in partnership with Buffalo Trace distillery, who have been in the whiskey business for over 200 years. Pappy Van Winkle is a highly sought-after family of American whiskeys that have ridden a meteoric trajectory to fame. It’s one of the most expensive on the market, and connoisseurs go to great lengths to get their hands on a bottle. Each year, only a limited number of bottles are released, which drives up the price and contributes to the bourbon’s exclusivity.

In recent years, Van Winkle products have become even more elusive due to the increasing demand from collectors and connoisseurs. As a result, bottles of Pappy Van Winkle often sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars on the secondary market.

But what is it about this bourbon that makes it so desirable? We’re diving deep into why this whiskey is on every bourbon lover’s wish list.

Pappy Van Winkle Recipe

There are several reasons for Pappy’s high price tag. First, it is made in generally small batches using a wheated bourbon mashbill – one of the most popular recipes in bourbon’s current scene. A mashbill is simply the ratio of grains used to create a specific whiskey. Van Winkle bourbon is in large part responsible for the hype related to wheated bourbons, known as “wheaters” by enthusiasts. All Van Winkle bourbons are produced using more than 51% corn, as law requires, followed by wheat as the second-most-used grain, followed by malted barley.

The inclusion of barley malt rounds out the flavor and adds depth and complexity to the sweetness that a wheat-heavy mashbill can lend.

These bourbons are well-balanced and easy to drink, making them a great choice for both experienced whiskey drinkers and those just starting to explore the bourbon world. Many are often drawn to the integration of oak and tannins with the sweetness of the wheat, which makes for an easy sipping whiskey, regardless of experience drinking whiskey neat.

Pappy Van Winkle Age Statement

Pappy Van Winkle is a brand of bourbon renowned for its high quality and unique flavor profile. One of the reasons that Pappy Van Winkle is so remarkable is because of its age statement.

Most bourbons are aged for at least four years, but Pappy Van Winkle is aged for a minimum of 10 years. This extended aging process helps to soften the harshness of the alcohol and gives the bourbon distinct flavors. The longer the bourbon sits in the barrel, the more rich and complex the flavor profile becomes. As the age statements climb, so does the price and the rarity. Less of each bottling is released the older they get. Pappy Van Winkle bottlings encompass a 15-year, 20-year and 23-year set of bottlings.

The Buffalo Trace Distillery

An airview historic photo of Buffalo Trace Distillery during Prohibition. Image via Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Pappy Van Winkle is produced by the Buffalo Trace Distillery, which is located in Frankfort, Kentucky. The distillery has been in operation since 1773, making it one of the oldest distilleries in the U.S.

In addition to being one of the oldest, the Buffalo Trace Distillery is also considered to be one of the best. The distillery has won numerous awards for its products, including Pappy Van Winkle.

However, Pappy isn’t the only desirable bourbon that comes out of Buffalo Trace, which also produces brands such as Eagle Rare, George T. Stagg and Blanton’s. Many of Buffalo Trace’s brands have also received major hype thanks to “halo attention” – the focus cast on them since they are related to Van Winkle. Many folks have given tips like “Weller is made from the same mashbill as Pappy, so just get that instead,” which has consistently driven public attention toward bottlings like Weller 12 and Old Weller Antique – which used to be easily found and quite reasonably priced. The spotlight that Van Winkle whiskey has cast on every product produced at Buffalo Trace is noticeable, and the availability of their other brands shows as a result.

Pappy’s Storied History

The Pappy name has now become synonymous with quality in the bourbon industry. According to the Buffalo Trace Distillery, Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle Sr. was a man who was true to the craft of bourbon making. His mantra was, “We make fine bourbon at a profit if we can, at a loss if we must, but always fine bourbon.” Now, the Pappy name is synonymous with the bourbon industry.

Pappy’s involvement with bourbon began in 1893 as a traveling salesman for W.L. Weller and Sons. Opened on Derby Day of 1935, Stitzel-Weller quickly became known for its wheated bourbon recipe, using wheat instead of rye in the mash for a softer, smoother taste. Pappy remained highly involved with the production until he died in 1965, at the age of 91.

Since then, the whiskey released under the Van Winkle name has seen a remarkable uptick in recognition, both within the world of whiskey and beyond. Anthony Bourdain was a notorious fan of the brand and an early voice into its quality. The whiskey has been featured as a sign of luxury and a trophy across television, film and high-end dining for years now. Its desirability has grown so much that it even became the focus of a major whiskey heist recently covered by Netflix.

Limited Releases

Only a limited number of bottles are bottled within the Van Winkle line each year. This, combined with the high resale value of the bourbon, is what drives the exclusivity of Pappy Van Winkle and the outrageously high price tag.

The limited release of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon is due to the fact that only a certain number of barrels are produced each year. On top of that, the Van Winkles themselves hand select the barrels used for Van Winkle releases, meaning the volume is likely to vary each year as supply ebbs and flows and quality control

This results in only a limited number of bottles of Pappy Van Winkle being produced each year. And, because of the high demand for Pappy Van Winkle, bottles often sell for hundreds and even thousands of dollars on the secondary market, which is the most significant contributor for Pappy’s continued hype and unavailability to the average drinker.

So, if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle, consider yourself fortunate. You’re holding one of whiskey’s most desirable bottles.

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Madison Kopta is an editor at Whiskey Raiders. As a Northern California native and mom of four, Madison spends much of her time enjoying the great outdoors with her family. From camping to keeping an eagle eye out for Bigfoot, you can find Madison in nature, enjoying a glass of whiskey with her husband.