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Dozens of cases of 'world's finest bourbon' stolen from Kentucky distillery

Pappy Van Winkle 20-Year Reserve Bourbon retails at $200 a bottle — and older bottles can sell for twice that. Buffalo Trace Distillery

More than $25,000 worth of one of the world's rarest and most coveted bourbon whiskeys has disappeared from a Kentucky distillery in what investigators think was an inside job. 

About 230 bottles of two varieties of whiskey were found to be missing Tuesday at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Ky., authorities said.

Most of it was the distillery's world-class and extremely hard-to-find Pappy Van Winkle 20-Year Reserve bourbon, which has won numerous international competitions ranking it as the world's finest bourbon.

It starts at $200 a bottle retail — if you can even find it at all.

"We feel pretty certain that it is somebody from inside, one of the employees that had access," Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton said at a news briefing. 

"You had to have access to it," he said. "This was in a secure area, so we feel pretty confident someone had access to the area [where] this was kept."

The thief or thieves certainly knew what to look for. 

Buffalo Trace distills Pappy Van Winkle in extremely limited releases, aged for a varying number of years. Sixty-five cases holding an average of three bottles apiece of the 20-Year Reserve bourbon disappeared, along with nine cases of a 13-year-old rye, according to a sheriff's incident report on file with the Kentucky State Police.

The 20-Year-Reserve on its own was valued at $25,350 based on its wholesale price of $130 a bottle. The less-sought-after rye, which wholesales for $25, was valued at $675.

"A lot of people would love to have their hands on a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle," said Tom Fischer, editor of Bourbon Blog, which has extensively covered the theft.

In an interview with the Bourbon Blog podcast, Melton said it might not be easy for the thieves to sell off the booze.

Because it's "very highly sought and very, very rare," he said, the listing of large lots of Pappy Van Winkle would likely raise suspicions. That means it's most likely headed for the black market, rather than eBay.

Should the culprits plan to drink it, instead, connoisseurs had this advice: Pappy Van Winkle 20-Year Reserve bourbon is best sipped neat.

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