Stolen Pappy may be destroyed, not auctioned

Posted at 9:45 PM, Jan 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-06 21:45:37-05

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Prized bottles of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon that were spirited away by a whiskey-theft ring in Kentucky might end up being destroyed rather than auctioned off, a sheriff said Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton backed off his suggestion that 28 bottles of the prestigious Pappy Van Winkle brand be sold at auction, with proceeds going mostly to charitable causes.

Julian Van Winkle III, grandson of Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle Sr., raised concerns about putting the purloined whiskey up for sale, Melton said. Van Winkle wants the stolen bourbon destroyed because of concerns it might have been tampered or contaminated, the sheriff said.

"We totally respect his wishes," Melton said.

But ultimately, a judge will decide the fate of the confiscated whiskey once the theft case is completed.

The 28 bottles of the super-premium bourbon were confiscated by the sheriff's office as part of the investigation into the theft ring. Officials say it was led by rogue distillery workers. The scheme went on for years and involved tens of thousands of dollars' worth of whiskey before it unraveled last year, authorities said.

Melton said he suggested the auction because he wanted to "see some good" come out of the theft case. He suggested auction proceeds go to such causes as the Kentucky Sheriff's Association's Boys and Girls Ranch.

Industry observer F. Paul Pacult, editor of the newsletter Spirit Journal, said Wednesday that it would have been "foolhardy and irresponsible" to auction the bottles.

"What if, by chance, these stolen bottles ended by being stored improperly by the alleged robbers, causing damage to the whiskey or, worse, if they had been tampered with by the accused," Pacult said. "In Van Winkle's eyes, the risk of harming the reputation of his hallowed brand isn't worth the publicity."

Not everyone agrees, though. Carla Carlton, who writes a blog about bourbon, said destroying the bottles "seems like adding a crime on top of a crime."

Carlton said she doubted that winning bidders would buy the whiskey to drink, which would lower the value of the bottles. Instead, they'd probably display the bottles as collector's items, she said.

Carlton sent a letter last spring to then-Gov. Steve Beshear, asking him to "Pardon My Pappy." She also launched a social media campaign urging bourbon fans to show support on Facebook and Twitter.

She said she plans to resume the campaign by reaching out to new Gov. Matt Bevin.

In announcing multiple arrests last spring, authorities said more than $100,000 in bourbon was stolen from the Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace distilleries in the heart of Kentucky bourbon country. Pappy Van Winkle is made at the Buffalo Trace Distillery, using a family recipe that traces back to the 1800s.

Prosecutors at the time said the heists included more than 20 cases of Pappy Van Winkle bourbons, 50 to 70 cases of Eagle Rare bourbon and other barrels of whiskey that were stolen but not recovered.

Four people have pleaded guilty in the case. Charges are pending against several other defendants.