The search for rare bourbon stirs up the criminal offense

Rob Adams allegedly promised bourbon lovers something they couldn’t get enough of: easy access to the good stuff.

The nation has been in for a long time at a bourbon party, making the rarest bottles increasingly unobtainable. Travel buffs drive cross-country, bomb thousands, and even swap boats for brown water.

“Right now, members of my group know exactly where Weller 107 will land on Mondays and Tuesdays. No one knows this but me,” Adams mocked members of the Bourbon group on Facebook in a message obtained by The Washington Post. “I have inside sources… I offer a 100% money back guarantee.”

Price details on which state-run liquor stores in Virginia will get you the hot bottle? $20 per month, according to the Facebook post.

Prosecutors claim it is a real inside job.

In an unusual criminal case unfolding outside Richmond, a former employee of the State Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Confessed to working with Adams To sell distribution information That would allow bourbon fans to collect the limited supply of selected bottles.

Adams, 45, was charged with embezzlement and other crimes. His attorney said his client had done nothing illegal. Edgar Garcia, 28, an ABC employee, pleaded guilty Monday to illegally copying government data, telling the judge he was “deeply sorry.” Garcia received a suspended sentence.

The alleged scheme has revealed just how crazy the Ender Bourbon hunt is. Collectors say big money can be made by reselling the bottles in a thriving – sometimes unruly – black market where prices can be three, five or ten times the shelf price.

Greed, deceit and sometimes crime have become part of this world. Distillery employees have registered more than $100,000 of the most famous name in rare bourbon, Pappy Van Winkle, to resell the 2013 capers they’ve dubbed “Pappygate.” Other scammers refill the empty empty bottles with a cheap cap and make them appear as real things.

A class of profiteers, known as flippers, buy stocks with dodgy names with no intention of consuming them. They’re looking to make a quick buck – or a thousand – by illegally promoting them on private social media pages, the back alleys of the bourbon scene. Fans pile on, worried about when their next hit will come.

“There’s a joke that nobody drinks bourbon anymore. That’s not quite right,” said Aaron Goldfarb, author has Bourbon Rise Record. But then it stopped. “I wrote a story this year about a man who spent $400,000 on bourbon and is sober.”

The search for rare bourbon reached its peak in Virginia.

One fan described camping outside for nearly 24 hours outside a liquor store to get an injection in a bottle of George T. Stagg bourbon last November. The man and his friends set up tents and chairs and wrapped the entire camp in plastic to fend off the 15-degree cold.

Others said they hired bourbon “mules” to queue before stores opened, or followed delivery trucks from store to store to get the first shot of everything inside.

In This World, prosecutors claimed Adams and Garcia laid out their plan last fall. At the time, it was ABC, which has the sole authority to sell liquor in Virginia, Use an in-house list that identifies which stores will receive the rare bottles. It was basically a roadmap for the best of things.

David Stock, the assistant Commonwealth attorney for Henrico County who is handling the case, claimed in an interview that Garcia and Adams met at bourbon groups on social media.

Stock said the investigation concluded Adams knew that Garcia was an ABC employee. As a retail professional who earns $16.53 an hour, Stock said Garcia had access to an inside list that directs distribution of Angel’s Envy Cask Strength, Old Fitzgerald 17-year Bottled in Bond, WhistlePig 18-year Double Malt Rye, and other coveted bottles .

“They said, ‘Why don’t we make a little money on the side,'” Stoke claimed in an interview.

Stock said during Monday’s hearing that Adams paid Garcia $600 to access the menu and promised him bottles of alcohol.

Stock said in an interview that Adams created a private Facebook page, where he was accused of distributing the list for a fee. The access price varied, but Stock claimed it was hovering around $300.

Bourbon fans said Adams aggressively marketed the exclusive information, posting about it in a number of Facebook groups where bottles are bought and resold.

Stock said he found 25 members who joined the group, but Adams claimed they had 96 people, who were paying $400 each to access the roster at one time just months after the project launched, according to an image from a social media post obtained by Adams. by The Post. If accurate, that would come out to close to $40,000.

Vaughan Jones, Adams’ attorney, said his client distributed the list, but he did not commit a crime because he had no legal obligation to keep the information confidential.

“My client was not an ABC employee,” Jones said. He never accessed the information. He was just giving it to her.”

Adams seemed uninterested in getting caught.

He claimed to have a “knowledgeable person” at ABC – on ABC’s own Facebook page – and wrote in another Facebook message that he was “untouchable”.

“There is absolutely nothing abc or anyone can do to me to sell information,” Adams wrote in a third Facebook message obtained by The Post. “My insider won’t be arrested either.”

This insolence will come back to haunt him.

The frothy market that allowed the so-called scheme to thrive has been taking shape for more than 10 years, with bourbon giving up its notoriety as a sign of grandfather.

Experts point to a range of factors driving what some are calling the “bourbon boom,” from the rise of artisanal food and drink culture and a renewed interest in cocktails to the influences of “mad men” and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who professed love for Papy at the 2012 show.

“If God had made bourbon, that’s what he would have made,” Bourdain gushed.

Whiskey sales in the United States have nearly doubled since 2010, according to the Distilled Spirits Council. Since 2016, the top brands have seen their profits rise by about 130 percent, according to the board. Distillery revenue approaches $5 billion annually.

But rabid fans have a problem. Premium bourbons take years or even decades to age, which means producers can’t pump more to meet growing demand. One collector recently complained: “Quite simply, the world has almost run out of old whiskey.”

From this dynamic, a powerful black market has grown.

In 2014, Powell was hanging out with a friend who bought a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle for 12 years for $35, he said. Powell remembers that his friend casually mentioned that he could resell them online for $100. Powell was intrigued and quickly jumped to the black market with both feet.

It’s illegal to sell liquor without a license in most places, but authorities initially paid little attention to reselling bourbons on Facebook. Powell created a group called BSM (Bourbon Secondary Market) and began the meteoric rise to become Warren Buffett of the Bourbon Black Market.

BSM has had more than 55,000 members and has become a free center for the trade and resale of bourbon in just a few years. Powell said the page averaged 100 transactions per day at an average price of $200 per bottle. Prices continued to rise.

Powell said some guns have been replaced with bourbon (a practice he said he quickly banned), while others made deals with boats. He said he was blown away by a $50,000 transaction for a batch of bourbon, until he saw another go for $100,000.

“I got a letter from a guy telling me he needed to kick his wife out of the group because he was getting ready for divorce and wanted to empty his bottles for cash,” Powell said. “He didn’t want his wife to know the value of his collection.”

Madness follows money.

Adam Hirs, a bourbon lover and Hollywood screenwriter who wrote the screenplay for “American Pie,” said he noticed something intriguing in 2016. Empty Pappy Van Winkle bottles were going for big money on eBay.

“The trash will sell for $200,” Herz said.

Each bottle was individually numbered, so Herz jotted down a collection one day and then browsed Facebook pages where the bourbons are being resold. Within five minutes, he said, he found one of the numbered empty bottles. It has been repackaged, sealed and sold as new.

Herz found a forger and alerted fans in the Bourbon community. Hunting reloading will become a second job for Harz. He was once a Hollywood player, but in his spare time he searched the web for fakes, documenting his investigations with forensic details on Facebook.

Facebook shut down BSM and a host of other pages where bourbon was resold in 2019, saying they violated a ban on alcohol sales. Powell went on to open a bourbon bar and bottle shop in Kentucky.

Facebook’s move came shortly before 46 prosecutors asked Facebook, eBay and Craigslist to stop selling alcohol on their sites in October 2019, saying underage drinkers were buying alcohol on them and counterfeit bottles being sold.

The move cooled the black bourbon market for a while, but soon new resale groups began popping up on Facebook again, including ones where Adams was whipping up his alleged scheme to sell access to the ABC List.

There was something strange going on in Virginia’s liquor stores earlier this year. Stock said people were walking into stores and telling employees exactly what bottles their site was getting.

“People were wondering: How did they get that?” stock said in an interview.

At the same time, ABC was monitoring some bourbon groups on Facebook and became concerned that someone might leak ABC’s privileged information, Stock said. ABC also said in a statement that it had received information from the public about the alleged scheme.

Stock said ABC agents launched an investigation, creating fake Facebook profiles and using $300 in state funds to join Adams’ evidence-gathering group this spring, about six months after the alleged scheme was launched. Adams and Garcia were indicted in June.

Adams is scheduled to be tried by a jury in December.

Dawn Eschen, a spokeswoman for ABC, said in a statement that ABC has phased out its menu and moved to a system of randomizing rare bottles in stores and advertising the drops on Facebook “to make sure every customer has a fair chance of getting the highly sought-after products.”

Fans say that under the new system, the best bottles are sometimes sold five or 10 minutes after they hit shelves at some of the roughly 400 liquor stores in the state. Many take to the government’s ABC Facebook page to celebrate victories or vent about their inability to score.

One described the store’s dash when bottles fall as “Cannonball Run,” a reference to the ’80s movie about crazy car racing. Another said a fistfight broke out outside a store and a third described how a car crashed into a concrete barrier as the driver scrambled to make a purchase.

“I’ve seen people screaming tires in the parking lot and entering stores,” said Clint Spivey, a bourbon fan from Virginia Beach. “It’s like a swarm.”

Few think the arrests in the state will put much of an impact on the bourbon black market. Blake Riber, who runs the popular Bourbonr blog, said bourbon aficionados have grown to accept its existence as long as demand outweighs supply for the best bottles. Bourbon has become another asset like bitcoin, pork belly, or NFTs.

“It is a beast that is not going to be tamed any time soon,” Reaper said of the black market.

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