Heist on Netflix: Have you heard of this Bourbon and why did it blow up?

The Juice

We recently finished up Season 1 of Heist on Netflix, a show released in 2021 showing how ordinary people almost got away with multi-million dollar heists. The third installment of the first season, “The Bourbon King,” shows Toby Curtsinger stealing millions in Kentucky’s finest Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon and others. 

You might be thinking, how much bourbon do you need to steal to commit a million-dollar heist, and why the heck would you even want to do it? Who’s buying all this alcohol? Well, without giving anything away, we’re here to dive a little deeper into what made bourbon such a hot commodity at the time that Curtsinger was committing his crimes and what we see in its future.

Quick Bourbon History:

Bourbon is a type of American whiskey. It’s a barrel-aged distilled liquor made mostly from corn, distilled since the 18th century. Bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States, but it’s strongly associated with the American South in general, and with Kentucky in particular. 

As of 2014, the wholesale market revenue for bourbon sold within the US was about $2.7 billion, and bourbon made up about two thirds of the $1.6 billion of US exports of distilled spirits. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, in 2018 US distillers made $3.6 billion in revenue from bourbon and Tennessee whiskey.

Why did everyone get so Bourbon Crazy?

The bourbon market has a very long history, something we may dive into in a following article. Right now we want to know what the impetus was for Bourbon prices to go through the roof, just about a decade ago. We have your answer:

During the 1970s, distillers sat on millions of barrels of inventory, as consumer preferences were turning to lighter, un-aged spirits like tequila and vodka. The introduction of small-batch and single-barrel bourbons in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s helped boost bourbon’s reputation as a high-quality spirit. That, mixed with the rise in cocktail culture at the turn of the century, led to the rediscovery of classic bourbon cocktails like the Old Fashioned. Heist references the show, ‘Mad Men’ for having this  effect on popular culture.  

Who is this Pappy guy?

As the need for bourbon rose, we now circle back to Pappy Van Winkle. Heist and many other sources attribute the rise in popularity of Pappy to when Anthrony Bourdain first drank it in a 2012 episode of The Layover. In the words of Boudain, “If God made Bourbon, this is what he’d make.” 

Pappy Van Winkle can refer to up to seven different bourbons: 

  • Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15 Year
  • Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20 Year
  • Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23 Year
  • Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year
  • Van Winkle Special Reserve (often called “Pappy 10” and “Pappy 12”) ‘
  • Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye (“Pappy rye”)
  • Old Rip Van Winkle 25 Year Old that debuted in 2017

Crazy, right? 

There was once a time where Pappy was just Bourbon. In 2002, the distillation and aging of Pappy Van Winkle was taken over by Buffalo Trace Distillery. Buffalo Trace would distill and age it to the brand’s specifications, and it would be bottled under the Pappy Van Winkle label. These bottles began to hit the shelves in 2011-2016. This is when Pappy blew up, with people paying anywhere from $1,000 to $16,000. Thus the world of Black Market bourbon was born.

Want to get in on the Bourbon Craze? September is National Bourbon Heritage Month, so now’s your time. And if you can get your hands on a *legal* bottle of Pappy, let us know!

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