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Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon to sell in an Ohio lottery

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Heads up, bourbon lovers. 

The state of Ohio is about to get a shipment from the Old Rip Van Winkle distillery, a delivery that will include the rarest of the rare Pappy Van Winkle 23-year.

But rather than having drinkers and collectors scouring liquor stores in hopes of a big find, the state is hosting a lottery in which it will randomly select winners who will get the chance to buy one of those famously hard-to-find bottles of aged Kentucky bourbon.

Here’s how the lottery works.

  • Ohioans who are 21 or older can go to any of the state’s contract liquor agencies now through Nov. 17 and grab a ticket. 
  • The ticket has a unique number that must be entered online before the end of the day on the 17th. Only state residents are eligible, and you can only enter once. (Yes, they check.)
  • Winners will be chosen and notified in early December. They’ll have until Dec. 18 to purchase their specific bottle. If they don’t get it by then, it goes on the shelf and is up for grabs.
  • The bottles will be sold at their normal suggested retail price. 

This is the second time the state has held a lottery for its allotment of the Van Winkle line. Last time, about 8,000 people entered. 

“This is a very highly sought-after bourbon. Small allocations are given to each state, so it’s even more highly sought after because it’s such a small amount we get,” said Lindsey LeBerth, a spokesman for the state’s division of liquor control.

Officials don’t yet know how many bottles they’ll receive. However, LeBerth did say that they expect to get at least one bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle’s 10, 12, 15, 20, and 23-year varieties.

Generally the longer a bourbon ages, the more complex the flavor profile will be — and the more it costs.

The Old Rip Van Winkle 10-year, for example, will retail for $54.94. The top-tier Pappy Van Winkle 23-year will set you back $249.38

To bourbon aficionados, finding a bottle of that Pappy Van Winkle 23 on a back bar or, better yet, a store shelf is something akin to Indiana Jones locating the Ark of the Covenant — minus the face melting. Unless, perhaps, you drink too much. But at $250 a pop, this isn’t a whiskey you slug down without thought.

Bourbon and Tennessee whiskies have been exceptionally hot over the last few years. According to figures from the Distilled Spirits Council, sales in those categories grew by 36 percent from 2011 to 2016.

And for many aficionados, Pappy Van Winkle is the bourbon to have.

Distilled by the Sazerac Co. in Frankfort, Ky., Pappy Van Winkle has taken on an almost mythical status. Bottles of the 23-year can change hands between collectors for well over $1,000 — an act that’s technically illegal, though rarely, if ever, prosecuted. Lotteries like the one the state is doing draw thousands of hopefuls. There are a number of websites in which enthusiasts try to keep tabs on which bars in which states have a bottle on the shelf.

There has even been surge in counterfeiting, something that’s gotten so bad the brand’s parent company spent half a million dollars in the last year alone to fight against fakeries.

Certainly, Pappy is a good bourbon. It’s won a barrelful of awards. But it’s also the story and the scarcity that are helping fuel the fire.

“If people could put that marketing in a bottle so to speak, I think they would do that,” said Jerry Moore, a senior product manager at Libbey Inc. Moore has worked extensively on the Toledo company’s line of bourbon glasses.

In that way, the Pappy story and the rarity of finding it, just builds on itself, creating what’s truly a commercial marvel.

“They’re producing such small batches of this product, and the demand just overwhelmingly exceeds it,” Moore said.

Sazerac doesn’t publish annual production figures, though the company did say late last month that yields were a bit higher this year for the 10, 15, and 23-year-old whiskies. A spokesman for Sazerac declined to comment.

State officials, though, say the company has been happy with the way they’ve made their allotment available and that they’re going to be offering it at the suggested retail prices. 

“They like our innovative approach to getting the product to the customer base as fairly and diversely as possibly,” liquor control superintendent Jim Canepa said on a recent conference call. 

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com419-724-6134, or on Twitter @TyrelLinkhorn.

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