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Bottles of Pappy Van Winkle on auction drive bourbon fans wild

Christmas comes not once, but twice a year for the folks at Chalet Party Shoppes and Belmont Beverage in northern Indiana.

Roughly 63 people visited the Chalet Party Shoppe on 667 C.R.17, in Elkhart, last night — all vying for a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. It’s a spirit that you just don’t see on the shelf every day, said Gary Gardner, Belmont Beverage operations manager.

“Bourbon has caught fire during the last two or three years,” Gardner said. “Pappy Van Winkle released its bottles at the beginning of November … Pappy is rare enough that it is so highly in demand that you can’t get anywhere near enough to make everyone happy.”

Just how rare? Try $288 for a single bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 23 year.

“People go crazy for this,” he said. “If it’s rare, it just makes it all the more exciting.”

Pickings were slim, too, Gardner explained — there were only 26 bottles of Pappy between eight Chalet stores. The solution was to auction the supply, he said, so everyone who wanted one of the available bottles of Pappy had a fair chance. Chalet donated all proceeds over retail price to Food Bank of Northern Indiana.

Last night’s auction was the first and drew quite a turnout — raising more than $13,000 for the food bank, he said.  All five of the Pappy Van Winkle bottles at the store — the 10, 12, 15, 20 and 23 year — were sold for for $3,000 during the auction.

The event also included a tasting before the bidding began promptly at 7 p.m., drawing staff from Fort Wayne and across northern Indiana to pitch in and help.

“People go crazy for this. If it’s rare, it just makes it all the more exciting.”

It wasn’t just Pappy Van Winkle bourbon on the auction block. George T. Stagg, EH Taylor and other rare bourbons were available for bidding as well, according to the store’s Facebook page

“We had a total of 42 bottles of bourbon tonight,” Gardner said. “We put them together in 21 different lots, shall we say, with as few as one or as many as five bottles that were all mixed up. Everyone had an opportunity to get the bottle of their choice.”

Stores getting ahold of a bottle of Pappy, though, is the trickier part. The Kentucky distillery sends the product to a wholesaler in Indiana, Gardner explained. Based on the allocation the distributor gets, the distributor has to determine what is fair to distribute amongst its producers.

“It’s actually a surprise to us each year, even down to the day we get the bottles of Pappy,” Gardner said. “It’s just like Christmas! We open the box and, lo and behold, we have Pappy Van Winkle. It’s very exciting for us, like ‘Hey! Santa has been here!’”

Though last night’s auction was successful — even for a first-time event — Gardner explained it can be hard to predict how many bottles will be available, or what to even expect for next year.

Because of Pappy’s rarity, “we could easily only get a few bottles of Pappy next year, there’s just no correlation from year to year. But we were surprised with how well the auction went tonight without having any idea of what to expect.”

“In a perfect world, we will do it again,” he said. “I’m sure it’ll grow. This bourbon is the type of item people ask about all year round.”

Follow digital producer Danielle Waldron on Twitter at @DanielleWaldron

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