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Busted: A Years-Long Bourbon Conspiracy

Rogue distillery employee suspected to be at the center of a huge bourbon theft ring

(Adrianna Williams/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

They stole bottles. They stole barrels. Now ring of bourbon thieves is being accused of stealing over $100,000 worth of whiskey in a conspiracy that targeted the Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace distilleries in Kentucky. Bruce Schriner reports for the Associated Press that after years of investigations, the thieves may have been apprehended. 

The first indication that something was not right in the world of whiskey came in 2013, when bottles of rare Pappy Van Winkle bourbon started to vanish from a secure area in a distillery. The crime sparked an intensive investigation — along with suspicions that the theft was an inside job. But the theft, which was dubbed “Pappygate,” was just the beginning. Investigators soon got wind that someone was selling bottles and even barrels of whiskey to private buyers at a significant markup.

A rogue distillery employee seems to have masterminded the thefts, Schriner reports. Gilbert “Toby” Curtsinger was indicted on Tuesday along with eight other people, who have been charged with engaging in organized crime, including a trade in anabolic steroids. The case of the missing whiskey is the latest in a string of high-profile food heists, from maple syrup to Muenster cheese.

Though hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of whiskey has now been recovered, NPR reports that despite the arrests, there are still questions about who has the rest of the missing whiskey:

…[Franklin County Sheriff] Melton and the investigators haven't accounted for all of the missing bourbon just yet. The authorities have 25 bottles of Van Winkle bourbon in custody right now, he says — but that’s only about 10 percent of how much was stolen. The rest has been sold, and Melton doesn't sound optimistic about recovering it.

So what happens to the bourbon that he could find? Prepare to shed a tear, bourbon connoisseurs.

“It’s being held by the case, and it will be secured,” says Melton. “And then I think by law it will have to be destroyed.”

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