For an updated version of this story for the December 2019 Ohio Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Bottle Lottery, see this story:
>> JUST IN: How to get in on this year's Pappy Van Winkle bourbon lottery
Pappy Van Winkle bourbons have achieved cult-like status around the U.S. and beyond due to their scarcity and high quality (or so we’re told, since WE certainly haven’t tasted them!).
But that cult status comes at a cost: wildly inflated bottle prices on the secondary market by individuals looking to make a quick buck, wildly inflated bottle prices on the primary market by overly ambitious retailers (in other states, of course) trying to make a quick buck — and the very real possibility of counterfeit bottles created by thieves looking to make a quick, fraudulent buck.
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The Ohio Division of Liquor Control and the producer of Pappy Van Winkle bourbons, the Buffalo Trace Distillery, would like to change that. Starting on Monday, Nov. 6, the division is holding a "bottle lottery" in which applicants can win the right to purchase a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon at the distillery's (at least somewhat more reasonable) suggested retail price.
Just to be clear: the winners of this lottery don't get the bourbons for free. They win the right to purchase one bottle that will be determined by the agency. But for hard-core bourbon enthusiasts, that's nearly equivalent to actually winning the real lottery.
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Here’s how the bottle lottery works:
Applicants can obtain a free ticket at any of the 465 contract state liquor stores in Ohio. The 11-day window to enter began Monday, Nov. 6, and will end at 11:59 p.m. Friday, Nov. 17. Customers must then must go online to register the entry number. Only one entry per person is allowed.
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Officials will notify those holding the winning ticket numbers by email of which bottling — there are five, ranging in age (and escalating price) from 10-year to 23-year — the winner can purchase. The winning ticket holder doesn’t get to choose which bottle — the state assigns each ticket to one of the five bottlings. They are:
• Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year: $54.94
• Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Year: $64.21
• Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year: $91.98
• Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year: $156.80
• Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year: $249.38
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Jim Canepa, superintendent of the Ohio Division of Liquor Control, said he expects the state to receive an allocation of “at least 500 bottles” total of the five bourbons. The bottle lottery is part of the division’s drive to infuse fun and innovation into Ohio’s system of selling liquor, Canepa said.
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The Ohio liquor-control agency’s first Pappy Van Winkle bottle lottery, held a few months ago, attracted more than 8,000 applicants for a 500-bottle allotment. Ohio liquor control officials say they expect an even more robust response to the current bottle lottery.
The Pappy Van Winkle family products are considered "the most coveted and hardest to buy bourbons on the planet," according to Food & Wine Magazine, which also notes that the Buffalo Trace distillery has gotten plenty of reports of retailers jacking up the sales price of Van Winkle bourbons.
And the distillery has warned consumers to be wary of online re-sellers who may be selling counterfeit whiskey or, even worse, something that may not be whiskey at all.