I have been sitting on a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year Family Reserve for several months, wondering just when to open it. I finally opened it last night, a direct reaction to the Coronavirus.
In the bourbon world, Pappy Van Winkle is an anomaly. In a market where $100 bottles are reasonably rare, a bottle of Pappy 20 Year can command an after market price of over $2,000, an insane amount of money for any form of alcohol.
I got my bottle the old fashioned way. I lucked into it. No way would I buy it.
It all started with a random conversation at the gym with a guy I have talked to but have never done anything else with. We were discussing hotels and where I should stay while on a business trip. My friend suggested I stay at a much nicer hotel than I was planning on. His point was that I have earned it, that given my proclivity towards nice cars and nice travel, I should not compromise on a hotel room.
My point was that I was content to stay in a hotel while traveling on business as long as it provided a clean, comfortable room in a hotel with decent food and a decent gym. I perceived any features above those to be a waste of money.
I have made this point to some of my other friends and they thought I was foolish. My gym friend felt the same way.
If our conversation had ended there, I would not have my bottle of Pappy. Instead, I continued to drone on about utility curves and how more is not always better if sufficient utility is achieved with a given level of expenditure.
This led to a discussion about wine, and when the price of it exceeds its intrinsic value. As neither of us are oenophiles, we were in fundamental agreement that wine hits its peak utility at about $30 bucks per bottle, and that there is not much need to spend more. Just for fun, I broached the topic of Pappy and the severe market dislocation that exists in its price.
Obviously, we both readily agreed that no bourbon or any other form of alcohol was worth what it would cost to buy a bottle of Pappy. If our conversation had ended there, I still would not have my bottle of Pappy.
After a couple of moments of silence, while he was either contemplating his next statement or catching his breath while he pumped away on the elliptical trainer, he said to me, “I can get you a bottle of 20 Year Pappy if you want one. The price point will be retail.” I almost fell off my trainer.
The MSRP for Pappy 20 Year is about $130, most likely what it is worth, though I do have to admit that I would not pay that much either, especially when I am perfectly content with my sub $30 bottles of Woodford Reserve. I say this because I have had a shot of 20 Year Pappy before. I paid $40 for the shot, not an unreasonable price for something worth that much on the open market. I had it on a boys ski trip to Aspen, the only place I have ever seen it on a menu. I liked it when I had it, but …..
Having said that, this was an opportunity I could not pass up. The conversation value alone would be worth many times the cost of the bottle. So I said, “Absolutely. Get me one.” He did. Unbelievably.
After I received it, he asked me when I planned to drink it. I had no answer for that. I mean, how does one decide when to open a $2,000 bottle of booze? I have never had to make that call before. Opportunities came and went, but I could not bring myself to open the bottle.
As I watched the Coronavirus segment on the news last night, I was struck by the utter futility of the meaningless acts we are contemplating to halt its spread. I perceived the whole Coronavirsus discourse to be insane. No matter what we try to do at this point there is no way to contain this virus. We cannot stop living because we are afraid to die.
For some reason, refrains from Eve of Destruction, one of the quintessential 60s protest songs, came to mind. Its lyrics, penned so long ago in a very turbulent time, just felt so right.
“The Eastern world, it’s explodin’…..”
“Don’t you understand, what I’m trying to say? And can’t you feel the fears I’m feeling today? ”
“Yeah, my blood’s so mad, feels like coagulatin’, I’m sittin’ here, just contemplatin’, I can’t twist the truth, it knows no regulation, Handful of Senators don’t pass legislation,“
‘This whole crazy world is just too frustratin’, And you tell me over and over and over again my friend, Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.“
As I sat there reflecting on the song, I could not deny the parallels. I was 10 when it was released, too young to understand it or act on it. Sadly, I am not too young any more. I am old enough to act.
So I decided to open my Pappy. It was worth it.