Police Finally Caught the Terrible People Behind the Great Kentucky Whiskey Heist

By Mike Pomranz |
FWX PAPPY VAN WINKLE THEFT

© Jeremy Johnson

Justice will finally be served in one of the biggest whiskey thefts of all time. After an investigation that took nearly a year and a half, nine people have been indicted for stealing almost $100,000 worth of bourbon from Kentucky distilleries, including 65 cases of Pappy Van Winkle 20-Year, one of the world’s rarest and most expensive.

Though the investigation only goes back to 2013, local authorities in Franklin County, Kentucky, think the ring of thieves began pilfering whiskey as far back as 2008. “This is probably the tip of the iceberg,” said Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton.

As anticipated, the nine suspects included two employees of Buffalo Trace Distillery (owners of the Pappy Van Winkle brand) and an employee of Wild Turkey (another brand that had seen theft). But what was not expected was the way the crooks got their stolen booze out into the world. Melton told NPR that the ringleader utilized the connections he’d made playing softball throughout Kentucky.

For those wondering what happened to all that lost bourbon, there’s good news and bad news. Officials say they were able to recover 17 wooden barrels of bourbon, 20 cases of Pappy Van Winkle and one stainless steel barrel of Eagle Rare. However, due to state law, Melton said much of the booze seized would have to be destroyed since there was no way of knowing what happened to it after it left the distillery. Not to say that there aren’t people out there who’d gladly drink tampered Pappy at a discount, but hey, the law is the law.

Sheriff Melton also stressed just how time-intensive his team’s investigation had been. “This has been six weeks that these guys have worked anywhere from 10 to 18 hours a day for six weeks straight—huge, huge investigation. A lot of hours, a lot of time,” he said.

This is bourbon we’re talking about, after all. The police wouldn’t put in that kind of time for peach schnapps.

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