Is The Pappy Van Winkle Whiskey Lottery In Pennsylvania Actually A Good Thing?

A bottle of Pappy Van Winkle whiskey is the great white whale for many a whiskey drinker. The stuff has reached mythic levels of popularity, due to it’s lauding and limited availability. For the average drinker, it’s damn near impossible to find a bottle (even though it’s released yearly). If you do spot a bottle, you’re going to pay an astronomical markup for the stuff — thereby adding to the mystique.

And your frustration with the whole circus around the juice.

This year, if you live in PA, you can circumvent that rigamarole by winning a chance to pay very close to retail for a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle’s line. Pennsylvania’s Fine Wine & Good Spirits and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board are running a “lottery” this week that’ll award entrants a chance to buy bottles of Pappy without the aftermarket getting involved.

“In an effort to more equitably distribute limited availability high-demand products to both individual consumers and licensees,” Food Wine & Good Spirits stated via a press release, “we offer a Limited-Release Lottery for our most popular, rare products.”

You can register for the lottery on the liquor store’s website before January 8th. The catch? You have to be a Pennsylvania resident. If so, you’ll have the chance to enter one, multiple, or all six drawings. The prices for each expression range from $89 for the 12-year-old bourbon to $399 for the 23-year-old bottle of Pappy — undeniably a great opportunity for anyone looking to get their hands on this coveted whiskey.

However, let’s say you enter the lottery for all six bottles. If you’re drawn for one of the bottles, your other entries will be removed to allow the most number of people to get their hands on bottles. So, if you do win, you’re only going home with one bottle this year.

Buffalo Trace, which owns and produces Pappy Van Winkle, has been very active in acknowledging the ridiculousness of the secondary market’s markups of their various products. When they dropped the 2020 line last the fall, Buffalo Trace said, “If you are a customer trying to buy a bottle at a licensed retailer who has marked it up above MSRP, we encourage you to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau or contact your state Attorneys General office.”

The brand’s boss, Julian Van Winkle, reiterated that sentiment:

“Unfortunately even though we suggest what we believe to be a very low and fair MSRP,” Van Winkle told Paste. “We cannot control the price retailers charge, and some retailers mark it up even though we and the distributors that those retailers buy from ask them not to.”

Sazerac Company

While we understand that this feels like a great chance for the average person (in Pennsylvania) to actually get their hands on some good whiskey at a fair price, we can’t read about it without sighing. Yes, it’s great that you can actually buy a coveted whiskey for close to it’s MSRP. And it’s certainly more egalitarian than allowing investors and opportunists to dictate price. But having to win a lottery for the chance to buy a bottle of whiskey still feels… off.

Mostly because it underscores how those aforementioned investors and opportunists have created a system that means many Pennsylvania aficionados will never get to try Pappy without winning a lottery.

In the end, it’s best to think of this more like a ticketing system to avoid a Black Friday style stampede. Hopefully, aftermarket sellers don’t clog the lottery (by having their friends and family enter for them, etc.). If that pitfall can be avoided, perhaps Pennsylvania — by taking a bit of a stand with their supply and giving people a chance to buy some Pappy at a reasonable price via random chance — will lead the way for more retailers and liquor boards to do the same.

After all, once you get past the hype, this is still some pretty special stuff.