Jimmy had a shot of Pappy Van Winkle the other night. He was at a bar with some friends, one of which was having an auspicious birthday, and wanted to celebrate. The bartender whispered some magic words: "We have Pappy 20, and 23. Off menu." So Jimmy ordered a shot of the 20, neat. It arrived, everyone tasted, and all praised what was a lovely, lovely brown spirit.
Then, the bill came. $150. For a single 1 and 1/2 ounce of liquid.
Let's put that sticker shock in perspective: Given that there are about 16ish shots in a 750 ml bottle, that means that this bar will make around $2400 for that brown liquid. Not a bad profit, even considering that this bottle likely cost them (because it was off-menu and likely purchased retail, from a profiteer - they wouldn't tell us exactly where) around $1000. (EDIT: A reader, Jim, correctly states that 99% of the time restaurants and bars pay wholesale for Pappy, if they have the chance to purchase. And AN ENTIRE BOTTLE of Pappy 23 retails in some markets for $149!!)
Now, we get it - we live in a free country with a Capitalist system: There are lots of popular drinks out there, astonishingly well crafted, and the producers of these drinks, if they are lucky enough for it to achieve the cult status that Pappy has, can charge "whatever the traffic will bear" as it were. But when there is rarity or cultishness around a 'WHITE WHALE' (as these types of drinks are called), profiteering inevitably comes into the picture. And we believe that it spoils the intent with which the drinks were made in the first place.
According to our sources, some distributors in the US are now tying whether or not a liquor store receives bottles of Pappy to quantity sales of other whiskies, some of which are exceedingly hard to move in large batches. In other words, a store must move X cases of another product to earn the right to 'get Pappy'. This leaves the smaller Mom and Pop stores at a huge disadvantage, as they simply can't move the number of bottles necessary to qualify. In the Craft Beer world, pursuit of rare releases like Cigar City's Hunahpu Stout have led to black/gray markets springing up, in which a profiteer will buy multiple bottles at the brewery, then sell them online for a steep markup.
We've spoken to the good folk at Cigar City; in the case of Hunahpu Stout, they just want to make great beer, and they've set what they believe to be a fair price this beer - the fact that someone who had nothing to do with making the liquid is profiting from a black market re-sale is an insult to the work that they've put in to making it in the first place.
In both cases, the producers have the best and worst kind of success; their drinks have become astonishingly popular, but a great deal of the money that is changing hands over them never makes it back to their pockets, where it belongs.
Our advice? Stay away from profiteers. The point of having these amazing beverages is to experience them the way the producer intended - in the case of Cigar City, buy from a reputable retailer like Bruisin' Ales, or GO TO TAMPA YOURSELF - because bev-touring is awesome.
And as far as Pappy goes, we agree that it's wonderful, amazing, astonishing; but there are many, many other fantastic, aged bourbons out there that won't deliver such a blow to your wallet. Want to be super cool? Find the next one that less people know about. The Elijah Craig 23, for instance.
What about you? What are your feelings about Bev Sticker Shock, and Profiteering? Leave us a comment below.
And we'll see you next time!