There are people who would not think twice about spending two grand on a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon on the secondary market but then complain that the cost of the Bourbon cruise on the American Queen as too expensive. I thought that I would look at these two items and see which is the better value.  I will start with the bottle of Pappy Van Winkle.

People who pay two grand for a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle are getting a bottle of 15, 20 or 23 year old Bourbon that is hard to find – or are they? They are not paying that much retail for a bottle. They are purchasing it on the secondary market and when you see empty bottles selling on Ebay for a hundred dollars or more, you know that people are counterfeiting the bottles to sell on this black market. When you purchase a bottle from a source other than a licensed retailer that is what you are doing, purchasing an illegal bottle from someone without a license to sell alcohol, AKA the black market. The ethics of doing this does not suggest a bastion of the community and why would they not counterfeit a bottle? After all profit is what they are in the business for. Pay $100 for an empty bottle, $20 for a cheap Bourbon to put into it and maybe a buck or so for a new seal – instant profit of $1,879 if they sell the bottle for two grand. I suspect that at least a third of the bottles being sold on the secondary market today are fake, maybe more.

If you get a real bottle of Pappy you do get some bragging rights in that you have a bottle while your friends don’t. There is some social prestige that comes with the ownership of the bottle. You get to taste a truly fine bottle of Bourbon at only about ten times the retail price but you can afford it. You are successful enough and well connected enough to get real Pappy. You may even open the bottle and taste it and share with friends. That is the bottle of Pappy Van Winkle.

So what does the two grand get you on the American Queen? To start with a room for a 10 day cruise on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. They clean and comfortable, but not exactly large. They have a television but viewing is limited as sometimes you will lose satellite connection, but who really wants to watch television on a cruise? There three meals a day provided and the food is excellent. There is a formal dining room area and a buffet on the third deck “front porch”. Even on the buffet they serve prime rib every day for dinner. Alcohol does cost extra but they have a wide selection of wines, beers and cocktails for those who want them. There are four bars on the American Queen and the bartenders are very talented. They have a great selection of Bourbons to choose from and they are very reasonable on price. Ginny makes a fantastic Manhattan and Philip has an excellent Old Fashioned.

You get to cruise the rivers and stop at some ports along the rivers to explore, do a little shopping or grab a bite to eat or a drink. There are also shore excursions from the boat that are included in the ticket. Several distilleries are on the list so you pick your excursion and the American Queen provides transportation on buses. If you have been to all of the distilleries and want something different or a spouse does not want to go to a distillery, there are non-distillery options such as the Patton Museum or Lincoln’s Birthplace.

On board the ship there is a wide variety of entertainment. They have very talented musicians and performs putting on shows every evening. There are guest speakers such as myself, Bill Samuels and Don Flynn from Buffalo Trace. The talks are very informative but between talks the speakers are available and often found at one of the bars or sitting on the deck. There are plenty of opportunities to have long conversations with the speakers. Bill Samuels also rides the bus out to the Maker’s Mark distillery giving those on that excursion a real treat. Anyone can take a tour of Maker’s Mark but how many people get to have Bill on the tour with them plus a chance to listen to him on the bus to and from the distillery?

The two grand for a ticket on the American Queen gets you a week of travel and a chance to meet other Bourbon enthusiasts. These other enthusiasts can be very interesting. Many have had interesting careers in a wide variety of fields. I have found them to be very generous with their time and often willing do a round of drinks at the bar. They are a great group of people.

If you find yourself with two grand and looking to purchase a bottle of black market Pappy, think about it and consider what you are getting or could get with that money. I would think that a better use for that money is to treat yourself to a vacation on the American Queen’s Bourbon Cruise.

Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl