Did Oregon State Officials Hoard Rare Bourbon Bottles?

A state agency may have amassed some rare Pappy for personal gain

Pappy Van Winkle bottles
Sure, it's delicious — but is it worth breaking the law for?
Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a whiskey aficionado in possession of good fortune must be in want of a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle. That’s easier said than done, however — bottles of the iconic bourbon are infamously difficult to get ahold of, even if you do have the money on hand to pay for one. While a change in distributors might open the door to changes in the future, the market for new bottles of Pappy remains highly competitive. It’s a wonder someone hasn’t remade Jingle All the Way, but with rare whiskey in lieu of toys.

Or perhaps the best tone for an inside look at the competitive world of whiskey buyers is less absurdist comedy and more crime drama — specifically, those focusing on institutional corruption. (Think The Shield, but with more whiskey crime and less murder.) 2021 brought with it the news that members of a police union stood accused of improper behavior with respect to the sale of whiskey.

This year, it’s the West Coast’s turn for a whiskey crime case of its own, with a number of Oregon officials facing accusations that they abused their power in the state agency that oversees alcohol to, well, amass rare bottles of booze for themselves. As The New York Times reports, six officials redirected rare bottles from a warehouse to liquor stores, where they then bought the bottles in question.

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The state investigation that unearthed this unethical behavior also revealed that it took place on the highest levels of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission, with its executive director among the people cited for this behavior. For her part, Oregon governor Tina Kotek has called for the officials named in the report to be replaced. “I will not tolerate wrongful violations of our government ethics laws,” Kotek said in a recent letter addressing the matter.

As for the bourbon involved, the Times‘ Michael Levenson writes that the bottles singled out were often “Pappy Van Winkle bourbon that had been aged from 10 years to 23 years and Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel.” Excellent bourbon, to be sure — but not worth losing one’s job over. And the archives of Law & Order: Whiskey Crime Unit can add one more case to their files.


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