Pittsburgh Whiskey Festival: Aged to perfection

The theft, probably an inside job, has the hospitality and bartending world abuzz: Who stole dozens of cases of small-batch Van Winkle bourbon and rye from the Buffalo Trace distillery's Kentucky warehouse?

Most egregiously, at least for cultish bourbon lovers, the thief took 195 bottles of Pappy Van Winkle 20-year bourbon, which retails for $130 a bottle (and can fetch much more on the secondary market, once the retail supplies have evaporated), sometime in the last two months, perhaps a case or two at a time.

Total retail value? About $26,000 -- and what was already a rare release now has become that much rarer, and that much harder to sample this autumn.

But you can sample it Friday at the Pittsburgh Whiskey & Fine Spirits Festival.

Six years ago, it was an intriguing but ragged jug of unaged moonshine; today, it's matured into something more pleasant and refined. Now in its seventh year, the novelty of the Pittsburgh Whiskey & Fine Spirits Festival may have worn off, but the novelty of trying rare, expensive and newly released spirits never does.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board had been getting calls about whether it would receive its allocation of Pappy 20-year, said Chandler Carranza, PLCB spirits category manager.

They got it, he said. And Friday may be your best shot to taste it, since the stuff usually sells out two hours after the PLCB makes it available for purchase online.

The PLCB-sponsored festival, at Rivers Casino after spending its first five years at Heinz Field, will start at 6 p.m. Friday. This year, a portion of the proceeds from the festival go to Team Tassy, a Pittsburgh non-profit that fights poverty in Haiti.

As with years past, the festival will feature tasting of not just rare and expensive whiskies, but also premium brands of tequila, rum, cognac, gin and vodka.

Mr. Carranza said those who attend can sample Jack Daniel's new "Winter Jack" apple whiskey, which to date has been released only in Europe and New Hampshire; the new, seasonal Jagermeister Spice; Johnnie Walker "platinum" label; and Wild Turkey "Forgiven" rye-bourbon blend which, according to Wild Turkey's marketers, was created by mistake when a distiller accidentally mixed rye and bourbon together.

This year's festival has a Halloween and masquerade theme; to buy tickets, visit pittsburghwhiskeyfestival.com.

Bill Toland: btoland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2625; on Twitter @btoland_pg.


Hot Topic