SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Buttery, smooth, oaky. These are characteristics of the best bourbons, and a growing cult of aficionados is willing to pay an astonishing amount of money for these increasingly scarce premium American spirits — and even bend or break laws. 

Premium spirits have always been expensive and sought-after. But a surge in interest in high-end bourbon has made finding that elusive bottle even more difficult. Distillers have upped production to try to meet increased demand, but before the whiskey reaches stores and bars, it must age for years and even decades. Scarcity has changed what some fans are willing to do to obtain the most sought-after bourbon. 

In Oregon, a criminal investigation is under way after an internal probe concluded several state liquor officials used their clout to obtain scarce bourbons, including the holy grail for bourbon fanatics: Pappy Van Winkle 23-year-old, which can sell for tens of thousands of dollars on resale markets. That brand is so popular that it found itself at the center of criminal investigations in at least three other states, from Virginia to Pennsylvania to Kentucky.

The cases underscore how demand has reached a fever pitch. A limited number of Pappy Van Winkle 23-year, produced by Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery of Frankfort, Kentucky, goes to each state. In 2022, Oregon received just 33 bottles. 

“The average person cannot get good bottles,” said Cody Walding, a bourbon aficionado from Houston who has been on the hunt for Buffalo Trace Distillery’s five-bottle Antique Collection. He hasn’t been able to find any despite making connections with liquor store managers. He believes he’s years away from success. 

“Like, to be able to get Pappy Van Winkle or Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, unless you’re basically best friends with a store manager, I don’t even think it’s possible to get those, ” he said.

In a Los Angeles bar that Walding visited last week, one shot of Pappy 23-year cost $200.

Supplier sales for American whiskey — which includes bourbon, Tennessee whiskey and rye — rose 10.5% last year, reaching $5.1 billion, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Revenues for makers of super-premium American whiskey grew 141% over the past five years. 

In Oregon, the price of a bottle of Pappy 23-year-old bourbon is set by the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission at $329.95. But finding Pappy 23-year-old on a store shelf would be almost …read more



As bourbon booms, thirst for rare brands breeds skullduggery

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