The Hunt for D.C.'s Most Elusive Bourbon

Forget white truffles or beluga caviar, Pappy Van Winkle bourbon is the real hot commodity in D.C.

If you think that hunting down some white truffles, shark fin soup, or beluga caviar is tough in this town, just try getting your hands on a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle.

"We got a shipment two weeks ago and it sold out in 45 minutes," says Josh Feldman, owner of Potomac Wine and Spirits, who estimates receiving up to 20 calls every day last month from customers desperately searching for a bottle. "We got a batch just before Christmas that sold out in a day and a half," says Andy Creemer, manager of MacArthur Beverages. "The complete lack of this stuff in the market has turned it into a bit of a frenzy." At Chevy Chase Wine and Spirits, meanwhile, manager Larry Robinson just laughs at the question: “Ha, no. We got some in December and it was gone in a couple of hours. The stuff is fabulous and everyone knows it.”

During my recent quest to procure the uber-popular bourbon, I could find only one place in the entire District that currently had the stuff on hand — and even those bottles weren't available. "Technically, yes, we have some," says Stewart Phillips, wine consultant and beer buyer at Schneider’s of Capitol Hill. "We got the 12-year and 20-year this morning, but it went on hold for customers in about 15 minutes.” (Prices at Schneider's range anywhere from $35 for a bottle of the 10-year variety to a whopping $350 for the 23-year reserve.)

What is it about Kentucky distiller Julian Van Winkle's particular brand of bourbon that makes it so sought-after?

Its enduring mystique is summed up nicely in the latest issue of Lucky Peach, New York chef David Chang's frat house newsletter-cum-culinary journal:


"Julian allowed that there could be a combination of recipe, barrel, and aging that produced grand slam whiskey… [but] there was no real way to find that formula. Which led us to the flabbergasting… conclusion: It’s something in Julian’s ability to taste whiskey that makes the whiskey he selects to bottle so improbably good."