With Sazerac Changing Distributors, Is Pappy Van Winkle Going to Be Easier to Find?

A change in distribution has led to speculation about getting those rare Pappy and Buffalo Trace bottles

Drinks at Eleven Madison Park from Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery at the Big Apple BBQ Block Party in 2013. Sazerac's new distribution model means consumers may (or may not) get more access to rare bottles like Pappy Van Winkle
Will smaller liquor stores now have more access to rare whiskey bottles?
Kowarski/Flickr Creative Commons license

Will recent distribution moves by Sazerac make it a bit easier for whiskey fans to get their hands on rare Pappy Van Winkle bottles?

In late December the independently-owned drinks company (which counts Buffalo Trace, Weller and Van Winkle in its arsenal) announced it was moving its portfolio currently managed by Republic National Distributing Company (RNDC) to new distributors in different states, including Breakthru, Johnson Brothers, Martignetti, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, Reyes and more. The brand also noted it would be setting up its own brokerage operations in the control states of North Carolina, Virginia, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming and Montgomery County, MD. These changes take effect on February 1.

Normally, an inside-baseball move like that wouldn’t matter much to consumers. But over at Bourbon Real Talk, speculation and questions arose: How will this affect the distribution of allocated whiskey, like the various Pappy releases and the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection? Will there be more availability? Will more stores get access to these rare bottles each year? Why did Sazerac move on?

As Bourbon Real Talk host Randy Sullivan posited about the distribution breakup, “Buffalo Trace products are a lot easier to sell these days…I would imagine their contract with RNDC was set during a time when Buffalo Trace needed field representation to get their product out there and on shelves.” Besides better margins, there’s also less risk when using multiple partners as opposed to putting “all their eggs in one basket” (which would be RNDC). As well, Sullivan suggested the issue of inducements — the idea of RNDC possibly using Sazerac products as an inducement to sell non-Sazerac brands (not legal, btw) — was another motivation to move on.

Sullivan also suggested Sazerac wanted to shift their brands from high-end bars and restaurants and get bottles out of the hands of price gougers. (Side note: With the company investing over a billion dollars in new production, there’s eventually going to be a point when inventory is going to greatly increase, which will affect price and demand.)

So will you be able to find Pappy and Buffalo Trace Antique Collection bottles more easily? “The short answer is no,” Sullivan said. “But we may see more bottles go to retailers than bars and restaurants.” So in a way, the answer is more akin to “possibly,” especially for smaller mom-and-pop liquor stores in the affected states. (Sazerac had no comment to InsideHook beyond sharing a press release outlining the new distributors; meanwhile, the reaction from many bar and liquor store owners on the r/bourbon subreddit is decidedly mixed.) And when Sazerac’s expanded inventory blooms in, well, a decade or so, you may start seeing those hard-to-find bottles more frequently.

Until then? Consult our whiskey release calendar to find out when those rare bottles are hitting the markets — and start making friends with your local liquor store owners.


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