Utah creates new online drawing for distributing Pappy Van Winkle, other ‘unicorn’ liquor

(Tribune file photo) Pappy Van Winkle bourbon

The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control soon will allow customers to sign up for a chance to win — well, actually, buy — rare, high-demand liquor products like Pappy Van Winkle and Old Forester bourbons.

On Tuesday, the DABC announced that it will now hold random drawings to ensure that these items are distributed in a “fair and equitable” way to consumers.

The Rare High Demand Products drawing is expected to begin next month with a lesser-known spirit to test the system, DABC Deputy Director Cade Meier told the state liquor commission Tuesday.

“Many people are excited about these products,” he said, “and the state needs to find a better method to deal with them.”

To participate, Utah consumers will have to create a profile on the DABC website and register for the drawings in which they may be interested. Those who win the opportunity to purchase products would be notified by email and would be able to select the liquor store where they want to pick up and buy the item.

Products that will be featured in a drawing will be announced during liquor commission meetings — typically held the last Tuesday of each month — and on the DABC website. Consumers will have five days to put their name into the hopper.

The drawing — don’t call it a lottery, that’s illegal in Utah — has been used by several other states, said Meier, who added that it is open only to Utah residents and those in the active military here. DABC employees may not participate, neither can restaurants, bars or others businesses with state liquor licenses.

Only one bottle can be purchased per address, and reselling the product is prohibited.

Meier said he had no idea what the odds of getting selected would be. “That will depend on the number of bottles and the number of applicants.” But the computer software that the DABC is using for the drawing "gives everyone an opportunity who wants to participate. "

The state agency has been criticized in recent years for the way it handles these “unicorn” products, which are released only once a year in limited quantities and, at least in Utah, at a “bargain” price.

Each year, for example, the Pappy Van Winkle distillery releases 7,000 cases — with three bottles each — to liquor outlets around the country. Two years ago, Utah’s allotment was around 100 bottles. With such limited distribution, the bourbon has a huge markup and sells for $270 to $300 a bottle in other states.

However, with Utah’s legislatively set markup at 88%, consumers in the Beehive State were able to nab bottles for about half that price.

The arrangement has created high demand in the state, and many customers do not get fair chance to buy them, DABC spokesman Terry Wood, said in a news release Tuesday. The agency has been working on a plan for sometime to “alleviate the problems associated with the distribution."

“Rigged” is what customers like Scott Tatum of Bluffdale have called the current DABC process.

“On the day these products are released, they are gone only moments after the DABC has posted [on the website] where they are available,” he said. “Somehow people know which stores have them and they are lining up at 7 a.m. to get them. How do they know which liquor store to go to?”

Tatum and others who have complained to the liquor commission believe employees in the state warehouse, where the products are first shipped, are tipping off friends or are buying bottles before state stores open.

Last year, in an effort to curb the criticism, the DABC told patrons to put their name on a list and there would be a drawing for Pappy Van Winkle distribution. That plan was postponed because the DABC had to make sure it was not considered a lottery.

That frustrated Tatum, who pointed out that the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources holds drawings for some hunting permits. “There is zero chance for me. as a working professional, to purchase one of these products."

The new system is intended to change that, so now it will be Pappy Van Possible.