One of the questions I get most often is…Is Pappy Van Winkle worth the price?
That is always a difficult question to answer because the price is so difficult to pin down. The retail prices may be worth it-they are excellent whiskeys- but, I also warn people against getting wrapped up in popular trends. Everyone has different tastes and it’s always a good idea to try before you buy. I know that it has become a cult whiskey, but it is important that you know the truth behind the price mark-ups. Suggested retail prices for Van Winkle Products are as follows:
10 year old Old Rip Van Winkle- $49
12 year old Van Winkle Special Reserve (“Lot B”)- $59
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15 year old- $79
Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye- $99
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20 year old- $149
Pappy Van Winkle Family reserve 23 year old- $249
These prices, I’m sure you’ve found, are not what the stores are asking.
Average retail prices for the same products in 2014 are as follows:
10 year old Old Rip van Winkle- $416
12 year old Van Winkle Special Reserve (“Lot B”)- $567
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15 year old- $988
Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye- $398
Pappy van Winkle Family Reserve 20 year old- $1552
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 23 year old- $2,468
Often, liquor stores would rather not be bothered with carrying these products because of the craze that surrounds them. Having people hound you on the phone and having to choose which of your high end customers you want to save your two or three allocated bottles for can be tricky, not to mention detrimental to your business. Many shops offer a lottery, but most just call their loyal customers and get them out of the store as quickly as they can without putting them on shelves. It may get you attention to have the bottles, but sometimes the headache that comes with the sale can outweigh their mark-up (and profit). The distilleries do not like this pricing trend because it gives their brand a bad name, especially when their loyal customer base know all too well what the suggested retail price should be. (Many have asked that you report when you’ve come across these stores so they can begin limiting allocation away from these businesses.)
Julian Van Winkle III, “Pappy” Van Winkle’s grandson, is responsible for the new line of Van Winkle bourbons. When asked by the Wall Street Journal how he felt about the prices people are paying for his products said, “If they’re dumb enough to pay that much that’s their prerogative.” (He doesn’t set the prices you pay at the store!) The truth is that these prices are just the beginning of a trend. Super- Premium brands (anything above fifty dollars) sales have gone up more than 90% since the new millennium. Marketers know that consumers in the midst of this bourbon boom are willing to pay more for specialty brands and they are pricing their new, pretty bottles on top shelves with high prices. The educated bourbon consumer is not their target market…
The most expensive bourbon on the market is Michter’s Celebration Sour Mash Whiskey. It retails for $4,000, but can often go for more. This brand was created in 2013 as an “ultra-premium brand”. What is the difference between a super-premium and ultra-premium brand, you might ask? Marketing. That’s all. Michters Celebration has no age statement, no confirmed distiller source, no claim that is a straight whiskey (bourbon, rye or otherwise) and no real reason for pricing the product the way they do. The releases may be rare, but the whiskey in the bottle may or may not be…Welcome to the modern economics of American whiskey. Rarity is not necessarily an issue here- People will always pay what they are willing to pay.