It's been a year since almost 200 bottles of rare 20-year-old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon went missing. And nobody has seen it since.
That's not quite true. Somebody has seen it, and probably has drunk it, along with 27 bottles of 13-year-old Pappy Van Winkle rye.
Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton has a pretty good idea what happened. But not enough to say who pulled off the whiskey heist from Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort. The theft was reported to his office on Oct. 15, 2013.
"Proving it in the court of law is another thing," he said.
They've had tips from near and far — it was rumored to be in a warehouse in Louisiana this spring, Melton said.
But nothing — including the video of a potential suspect who turned out to be the principal of Bardstown High School, allegedly looking to buy, not sell — has brought back so much as one of the bottles.
The principal was officially cleared last fall, and Melton promised a major announcement, but there has been no more news.
"I would assume it's gone," Melton said. "I don't think you'll ever get it back. We just hope to bring to justice whoever did it."
Because of the value of the whiskey — police estimated the total value at more than $26,025 — the theft is a felony. So evidence could turn up years from now and someone still could face charges, Melton said. "We're still receiving tips," he said. "I'm optimistic."
The myth of Pappy was born in 1996, when the brand — and it was pretty much only a brand rather than a "made" whiskey at that point — began to win accolades in spirits competitions.
Julian Van Winkle, the grandson of the original "Pappy" Van Winkle, never meant to create 20-year-old Pappy. And the fact that it existed at all is proof that in the early days, Pappy wasn't a bourbon phenomenon. He just couldn't sell what he had.
"I thought, well, I'll just design another label to get rid of this older whiskey," Van Winkle said in an interview last year with the Herald-Leader.
After the critics and the chefs started touting Pappy as "the" bourbon to drink, Van Winkle realized he couldn't rely on found whiskey much longer. In 2002, he contracted with Buffalo Trace Distillery to make his wheated bourbon, which is essentially the same recipe as its Weller.
Meanwhile, the whiskey world has moved on.
Any day now, collectors will line up at a store like Capital Cellars in Frankfort to put their names in a lottery just for the chance to buy one of a handful of bottles of this year's Pappy release.
Buffalo Trace won't say how many bottles are sent out each year, but it is thought to be about 21,000.
The distillery declined to comment on whether last year's theft had left them with less to sell.
Pappy Van Winkle remains the name most people know, but the bourbon is elusive and expensive. You sometimes can find it in bourbon bars for prohibitively expensive prices.
Collectors have turned to other bourbons to fill the gap — Buffalo Trace's Antique Collection, Four Roses Single Barrel, Elijah Craig special releases all have followings, and certain pre-Prohibition whiskeys are much sought — but for some, the ultimate get is Pappy.
Eventually, Van Winkle told the Herald-Leader, he expects to have 10,000 to 15,000 cases to release every year. But that won't help you much now.
Bourbonr.com has a Pappy Tracker map (and an app) so you can follow the trail of this year's release.
And even if the lost Pappy is never found, there is a glimmer of light for law-abiding bourbon drinkers: word from Buffalo Trace is there a "tiny, tiny, tiny" bit more Pappy this year in a variety of ages.
"We've been slowly increasing production over the years," distillery spokeswoman Amy Preske said. "But obviously waiting from 10 to 23 years for them to age up is the kicker."