Morgan Weber has a belated Christmas present for Houston bourbon enthusiasts. For the second year in a row, Eight Row Flint — this year’s CultureMap Tastemaker Awards Bar of the Year winner — will sell its entire allocation of highly coveted bourbons from Pappy Van Winkle and the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection at cost.
At a suggested retail price of $270 for the Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 23 Year Old, the 16 shots in Eight Row Flint’s bottle will cost less than $20 (including tax). As a point of comparison, downtown whiskey bar Reserve 101 sold its bottle of the 2016 PVW23 for $90 a shot in July (some bars will charge that much for the Van Winkle 12-year); Anvil lists their bottle of the 2015 vintage at $195 for a full pour. Bottles can be found on the secondary market for about $1,800 (over $100 for each one-and-a-half ounce serving).
Weber, who operates Eight Row with business partner Ryan Pera as part of Agricole Hospitality, tells CultureMap that his original motivation for the event came from a conversation he overheard when he visited Goody Goody to receive his Van Winkle bourbons for 2016. As Weber recalls, he heard an unnamed bar owner telling sales manager Sam Ray that his establishment wouldn’t be considered “a legitimate bourbon bar” unless it received at least one bottle of each of the six Van Winkle expressions.
“I was, like, Jesus Christ, this has gotten way out of hand. The distributors don’t like it anymore than the wholesalers, and the Van Winkles don’t like it any more than anybody else,” Weber says. “To have this absolute craziness surrounding it, I (thought) let’s sell all of this stuff in 15 minutes and still consider ourselves a legitimate bourbon bar. It turned out to be a lot of fun.”
Fun as in, people started lining up around 10 am for their chance to drink these rare pours at a fraction of the usual price (expect that to begin a little earlier this year). The plan for Tuesday is that Eight Row staff will be on hand in the morning to distribute numbered wristbands. When the bar opens at 2 pm, the first 100 people or so will get the opportunity to buy one shot of the Pappy Van Winkle expression of their choice at Eight Row’s cost.
“Last year people drank it down in numerical order,” Weber says. “If you’re 100 in line, you’ll probably get the Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year for $7.”
While the frenzy around all things Pappy can seem obsessive, Weber notes that the company has been making spirits that are "held in super high regard by bourbon nerds" going back to the '60s. The hype can be overwhelming, but it's still a special product. The 23-year includes bourbon from the legendary Stitzel-Weller distillery that closed in the '90s.
“Van Winkle stuff is good. If you drink it and say it sucks, you haven’t had enough bourbon or you’re just being a contrarian,” Weber says. “It is not worth what the secondary market and some retailers are trying to charge for it.”
In addition to the 100 or so people who will receive the opportunity to buy a shot of Van Winkle, everyone who shows up Tuesday will receive a raffle ticket. Every 15 minutes or so, Eight Row will pick five or six tickets that entitle people to buy a shot of one of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection Bourbons at cost (roughly $7). The bar has one bottle each of the Sazerac 18, the Eagle Rare 17, the George T. Stagg, and the William LaRue Weller, as well as a few bottles of the Thomas H. Handy Sazerac rye whiskey. To compare, Anvil sells them for $45.
For those who can’t make it Tuesday but are still looking for a special bourbon, bottles of Eight Row Flint’s proprietary single barrels will be available at Houston Wine Merchant on Saturday morning. Head to this Instagram post for details.