Pappygate: Man Admits Involvement in Theft of World’s Most Valuable Bourbon

Pappygate: Man Admits Involvement in Theft of World’s Most Valuable Bourbon
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In October 2013 a distillery in Kentucky reported the theft of some of the world’s most sought-after bourbon, Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve. Sputnik investigates why a black market has sprung up and why it was the subject of a popular podcast.

A former employee at a distillery in Kentucky has pleaded guilty to his involvement in the theft of some of the world’s most valuable bourbon whiskey.

Sixty-five cases of 20-year-old Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve were stolen from the Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky in October 2013.

Toby Curtsinger was considered to have been the ringleader but on Wednesday, September 20, he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Some of the bottles were recovered, but many others have disappeared into the thriving black market for Pappy’s.  

But what’s so special about Pappy’s and why do some people go to such extraordinary lengths to get their hands on it?

In April 2016, the popular US podcast, Criminal, devoted an entire episode to Pappy’s.

The most expensive bottles are aged for 20 or 23 years and are sold for around US$200 each.

They are released so rarely that a black market appears the minute they are allotted to a handful of liquor stores, and they are soon being traded on the internet for thousands of dollars.

Brett Anderson, a restaurant critic for the Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans, appeared on Criminal and explained that even though he was prepared to pay well over the odds for a bottle he still could not find it, even on the internet.

‘Very Kentuckiana’

The original Pappy’s heist made big headlines in the US and some even speculated that the Van Winkel family themselves behind it, something they have refuted and which Mr. Anderson said did not make sense.

Eventually Curtsinger was arrested and several bottles were found stashed behind his house.

Several people began to come forward saying they had innocently bought Pappy’s off him, not realizing it was stolen.

Curtsinger was indicted, but on Wednesday he accepted a plea bargain, admitting to handling 28 bottles of stolen Pappy’s and insisting he had nothing to do with the original robbery.

“This case is one that has a romantic aspect to it, has a very Kentuckiana aspect to it but in the end, this is a property theft crime,” said prosecutor Zachary Becker.

“Toby has asked that I make it very clear to everybody. I want to make it very clear this is no way connected to that 2013 Pappygate. We are no better off today knowing in terms of who did that theft from Buffalo Trace than we were in 2013. That investigation as far as I’m aware is still open,” said Curtsinger’s attorney, Whitney Lawson.

Curtsinger has also offered to testify at the forthcoming trial of Sean Searcy, a distillery delivery driver.  

Bourbon is whiskey which is distilled in the United States, hence the phrase “all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.”

The most common brands are Jack Daniels, Jim Beam and Makers Mark. Kentucky and Tennessee are the states with the most distilleries.

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