Every year since 2016, Houston’s Eight Row Flint knows exactly what it’s going to do with its small allocation of Pappy Van Winkle, the much sought-after bourbon that can go for thousands of dollars in the grey or bourbon black market.
It sells pours at cost.
At least, they do so for one day, which is usually December 26th (note: this year, due to supply chain issues there was some concern about getting the allocation in time, but it arrived — still, check their Instagram for updates). On this proclaimed Pappy Van Winkle Day, Eight Row Flint Owner and Beverage Director Morgan Weber offers up 1.5 oz tastings of Pappy for the MSRP to the first 100 guests … and then smashes the bottles so no one can take an empty and resell it for more nefarious purposes..
“The bourbon market has turned into a circus over the last five years,” as Weber tells us. “In my experience, someone that is willing to pay $2,000 for a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle is likely not a true enthusiast — it’s more so someone that read about it and just had to have the bottle for status. But we just do our best in our bars to acknowledge how great the bourbon is but not be too precious about it. Hence, Pappy Day.”
As Weber explains, a typical Pappy Day is first-come, first-serve. Based on what Eight Row Flint receives, they’re able to do about 125 pours of 1.5 oz. People start lining up at 8 a.m. (for an 11 a.m. opening) and people get a wristband … and possibly booze and a breakfast taco while they wait. You don’t actually drink at 11 a.m. — patrons return at 5 p.m. to pick their pour based on where they fell in line (the bar usually gets a bottle from everything in the Pappy lineup). The most you’ll pay will probably be about $27.
Weber also has an answer for the inevitable questions about why they even have to take such care to charge this much for a bourbon everyone wants. “I was having a conversation with Preston Van Winkle years ago about this and he had a great anecdote to people’s constant questions, which usually go something like, ‘Why don’t y’all just make more?’; His reply: ‘Yeah, I wish our crystal ball was working 20+ years ago, too.’”
The bar will also take other coveted allocated bottles, such as the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, and do a raffle for pours of those throughout the day, even for those who can’t get any Van Winkle sips.
So, what if you either can’t get your Pappy or want to stick around? Weber has a few suggestions. “I really like some of the everyday drinkers from Willett — their Bardstown line, plus Four Roses Small Batch, Wild Turkey 101, and of course Old Forester — from their bonded bottlings to their historical line of bourbons. I also think the Very Old Barton distillery is one of the most underrated big boys in Kentucky.”
So if you’re in Houston, take a chance. “We don’t do this to make a statement that Pappy isn’t great; we do it because it is fun, and it gets it into people’s hands without them having to take out a second mortgage on their house,” says Weber, who notes that his bar thankfully is just serving this as it was intended — as a pour. “There was a bar a few years ago that made headlines for using Van Winkle Bourbon in Jell-O shots. Regardless of people’s propensity to overpay for it, a lot of work and patience goes into every release of their whiskey. To put it in a Jell-O shot is something I cannot get behind.”
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