TheDC investigates: did a high school principal steal a bunch of tasty, rare bourbon?

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A high school principal in rural Kentucky is now a primary suspect in the heist of almost 200 bottles of rare, expensive bourbon that went missing from a nearby distillery earlier this year.

Chris Pickett, the principal at Bardstown High School, met with police Monday to discuss the theft of 195 bottles of Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Rye from the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, reports Louisville CBS affiliate WLKY.

The participants in the meeting were Pickett, his attorney Doug Hubbard and Sheriff Pat Melton.

Melton had previously called the crime “the mac daddy” of all rare bourbon thefts.

Pickett became a suspect after a clerk at Packages & More Liquors in Elizabethtown, Ky. said he tried to sell the store a large quantity of Pappy Van Winkle.

Surveillance tape taken at the liquor store shows a man entering Packages & More Liquors. The same man later exits empty-handed.

“In the video you’ll see that he’s wearing a — what we believe is a Bardstown High School sweatshirt,” Melton said at a press conference.

Hubbard told WLKY that his client ended up at the center of the Pappy Van Winkle investigation as a result of a big misunderstanding.

According to Hubbard, the principal is a bourbon aficionado who has collected various iterations of the distilled spirit for several years. He wasn’t trying to sell stolen swill, the lawyer said, and has never been to the Pappy Van Winkle distillery. Instead, he was merely asking about the possible purchase of a collector’s bottle of Pappy.

Hubbard predicted that Pickett will be cleared. He added that the principal wants to get back to work but will answer further questions if necessary.

Sheriff Melton told the CBS affiliate that Pickett will no longer be a suspect provided that investigators can verify the information he gave in the meeting.

Pappy Van Winkle bourbon is aged for 15, 20 or 23 years—much longer than the aging period for other bourbons. The pilfered 20-year version is 90.4 U.S. proof (45.2% alcohol by volume).

Production is limited to only about 7,000 cases a year (compared, to say, the seven million cases of Jim Beam churned out annually).

According to The New York Times, Pappy Van Winkle is “intensely fruited” with a “tantalizing citrus zest note.”

The suggested retail price of a bottle of 20-year reserve is $130 but the secondary market has seen prices as high as $1,190. At high-end restaurants, a two-ounce shot of Pappy Van Winkle 20-year reserve fetches $65.


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Eric Owens