Sunday, December 4, 2016

Indy's Big Red Liquors May Be on to Something


The line to get in.
Big Red is a chain wine, beer, and spirits retailer in Indiana. On Saturday they held their third annual Pappy Van Winkle Rare Bourbon Lottery and Sale in the Champions Pavilion at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on the north side of Indianapolis. Everybody calls the event 'bourbonfest,' but there is also scotch and even some wine and beer. Even Ale-8-One, an iconic Kentucky ginger ale, was there giving out samples.

In some ways it was just like the whiskey festivals held in other major cities. There were tables, with people giving sample pours of various whiskeys and other products (e.g. Louisville's Copper & Kings Brandy). Wild Turkey's Jimmy Russell was there.

In other ways it was completely different. One was the price. General admission tickets were just $15. For that you got all the samples you cared to taste, and one ticket for the Van Winkle lottery, which also included the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. All proceeds from ticket sales were donated to the Tony Stewart Foundation.

Inside the pavilion.
It was pretty spartan. The facility usually hosts prize livestock. There were not many amenities, a few snacks and plenty of bottled water. The lines for the small bathrooms were as long as the tasting lines. It was also in the afternoon, from 1:00 to 4:00 PM. Most people left when the lottery wrapped up, about 3:30 PM.

They won't say if it's their entire Van Winkle and BTAC allocation, but that is how it looked. It came to about 43 bottles. Lottery winners win the right to buy their bottle at the regular retail price. The bottle you get is also the luck of the draw. The last ticket drawn was for the lone Pappy 23.

The result? A huge, enthusiastic crowd of about 2,400 people, the biggest crowd I've ever seen at this type of event. All of the tables were doing a big business, but the longest lines were at the tables for Buffalo Trace and Four Roses. All of the majors were there but also many craft distilleries.

They planned well for it. Every whiskey vendor had two tables, at opposite ends of the hall. The 'sale' part of the event is the order form every attendee receives upon entering, along with a tasting glass. The form lists each table and the products available there for tasting, with the item's regular and sale price, and a space for how many bottles you want to buy. No money changes hands at the event. You indicate on the order form the Big Red store where you will receive your order. You pay when you pick it up.

People took the buying opportunity seriously. One guest brought his own set of Glencairn glasses so he could comparison-taste.

Speaking of comparisons, Big Red Bourbonfest's $15 ticket compares to $139 for WhiskyLive and $245 for WhiskyFest.

Big Red may be on to something.

10 comments:

Scott Dreyfus said...

I don't know any curious whiskey lover that wouldn't love a chance to win a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle, and have a chance to taste a few pours and geek out with the manufacturer reps. Great job and way to keep it affordable.

John Swisshelm said...

Hello Chuck,
T here are several stores in the Louisville area that try to do the same thing. One even has food trucks, and live music, but Big Red"s party sounds more enticing for all..
I'm going to get on their list for next year..
Maybe you could do a cameo visit..
I'll bring the AAA.
Happy Holidays,
John

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see this happen in NJ. Heck, I'd drive to NY, , MA, CT or PA to attend.

Anonymous said...

Kind of. Glad you attended this, but it took them about 5 years to figure out how to host the event. I'd say at worst these have been truly unfair events (catered to the staff's friends grabbing stock early/first) and at best just utterly crowded s***shows. A couple years ago their raffle was a complete mess. Upon entering the building, they merely asked people nicely to put only one entry into a large cardboard box (guess how many people heeded the rule). Long after the guy who won a bottle of Pappy 20 left the building, they called his name again (and again, woops). Sure, lessons are learned/nobody's perfect, but let's not over-promote. I don't think its apples to compare a regional store's liquor event with a more typical convention (tho not necessarily saying conventions are doing it right). Big Red shouldn't charge more than $15. In fact, they should donate 5% of their markup to a foundation, not rely on their customers to do so. Even hinting that their ceiling could be higher towards the customer makes me cringe when I think of what they're misguided marketing department will do with this information. This is and always will be a Big Red promotional event to encourage folks to spend more $$ at Big Red. If you're looking to guzzle booze for $15 then yes by all means - stellar deal - but Big Red customers shouldn't have to pay Big Red - which is unfortunately the only source for decent spirits for most Hoosiers - on top of paying for their marked up spirits. There's work to do.

Brian (AKA The Dean) said...

Scott, I believe Chuck said the lottery winners won the right to buy Pappy, at the regular price. They didn't win a bottle of Pappy. I'd love to win a bottle of Pappy, but I'll pass on paying the crazy-high prices, it currently demands. I suppose you could sell the "right" to some well-healed chooch.

Otherwise, it sounds like a pretty nice event. I'd certainly think about attending something like that, if there were one near me.

Jim Laminack said...

Just curious Chuck,
Do you get the sense that more and more people are tired of chasing the Unicorn? These are certainly great whiskeys but there are many wonderful whiskeys out there that can be purchased with reasonable effort. Many bourbon fans that I speak with are kinda over it. While I am sure they would jump at the chance to get a bottle, it's just not worth the trouble. I think for most of us, in truth, our pallets are not developed to the point to justify the never ending search for the unobtainable. To a bigger point, too many people like what they think they are supposed to like. We have joined the wine society in almighty praise and aggressive search of what the experts tell us we should like - and the more limited the supply the more we want it. Having said that I admire the way Big Red is doing this. Prices are more than fair and these people get to experience many whiskeys that they might not have had and at a bargain price.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Jim, I'd say there are always new people entering the game and that is what keeps it going.

Jack Johnson said...

Chuck - as a fine wine drinker for decades I've always thought bourbon was under-priced. When you consider the distilling process,storing and aging, taxes, etc., I think bourbon is a bargain. Even at $100, a bottle of Booker's will last me 5-10 days and I don't have t worry about it being corked or spoiling after it's opened, or replacing the air with an inert gas. I just checked prices on a 2012 Ponsot Clod de la Roche averaging $600 and a 2012 Chateau Lafite at $550. So, when there are complaints about raising prices I basically yawn. I certainly don'r have to buy it and there are plenty of products on the lower shelves which taste good. But, as long as I can afford it I will buy premium spirits and enjoy them.
I enjoy your books and comments.

Athalia said...

I really enjoyed reading this post, big fan. Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Defiant Whisky was best in show! ( my opinion )