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Criminal: Pappygate

A drawing of a man with a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle.
Julienne Alexander
Pappy Van Winkle bourbon is is short supply and high demand.

Bourbon is a hot commodity these days, but one brand is considered among the finest in the world.  It's called Pappy Van Winkle.  In this week's episode of Criminal, Phoebe Judge examines the rise of the brand, and how a theft in 2013 made it even more popular. Criminal is a podcast recorded at WUNC and hosted by Phoebe Judge.

Pappy Van Winkle is considered one of the best brands of bourbon because it is aged for about 20 years, distillers use wheat instead of rye and every barrel used to age the liquor is picked out by Julian Van Winkle III, the president of Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery.

Judge said the supreme bourbon is released every spring and fall to select liquor stores, but it flies off the shelves within minutes.

“I searched all over North Carolina and I could only find one person who had one bottle of it,” she said.  

Because Pappy Van Winkle is so rare, Judge said the bourbon is sold for more than $2,000 on the gray market.

But in 2013, the people at Buffalo Trace Distillery, where Pappy Van Winkle is produced, noticed about 65 cases of bourbon missing. Toby Curtsinger, a former employee of Buffalo Trace Distillery, was charged with the theft and was said to be running a crime syndicate where he pushed out loads of the liquor. News outlets took a hold of the thievery and called it “Pappygate.”


Judge said there is no doubt Pappy Van Winkle is good bourbon, but it’s hard to imagine anything, including liquor, being worth close to $2,500.

Eric Hodge hosts WUNC’s broadcast of Morning Edition, and files reports for the North Carolina news segments of the broadcast. He started at the station in 2004 doing fill-in work on weekends and All Things Considered.
Phoebe Judge is an award-winning journalist whose work has been featured on a numerous national radio programs. She regularly conducts interviews and anchors WUNC's broadcast of Here & Now. Previously, Phoebe served as producer, reporter and guest host for the nationally distributed public radio program The Story. Earlier in her career, Phoebe reported from the gulf coast of Mississippi. She covered the BP oil spill and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for Mississippi Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio. Phoebe's work has won multiple Edward R. Murrow and Associated Press awards. Phoebe was born and raised in Chicago and is graduate of Bennington College and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.
Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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