Monday, May 22, 2023

VA ABC: Incompetence or Shenanigans?

The search for hard-to-find bourbon in Virginia is a challenge. The State controls the sale of distilled beverages through their own distribution system and retail stores, known as the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (VA ABC). It's a huge money making scheme, that at the same time creates a manipulated supply and demand for sought after spirits. It's a system any Marxist government would be proud of. For more than a decade there have been pushes to privatize sales of alcohol, which are met with strong resistance from the "revenuers." 

About a year ago, Virginia began supposedly randomizing the distribution of certain spirits, mostly bourbon, to its stores. The stores sit on the stock of "allocated" beverages until, supposedly without any advance notice, until the State decrees certain stores are "authorized to sell any limited availability products in stock." Emails and social media posts are sent out and enthusiasts rush to the listed stores. (Example notification here.) Most of the spirits are limited to three or six bottles of a variety in any given store, and the specific products made available is varied and unknown until one arrives at the store.

The system is not without issues. There have been incidents when an included store actually had no allocated stock to sell. I've arrived at my nearby store in as little as 17 minutes after the announcement, only to see lines out the door and the shelves picked bare of the most sought after spirits. Even if there is a selection left, purchases are limited to one bottle per customer per day from all the limited availability products offered in any location.

It has long been rumored that despite the supposed secrecy, "friends" of the right people are given advance notice of a "drop." It's not uncommon to see folks waiting in their cars, or even wandering a store, before a drop is announced. 

The State also runs periodic lotteries for the allocated bourbons. A selection of the allocated beverages is made available through a lottery, in which the winners are given the opportunity to purchased the selected bottle. The listed items may have available quantities from two to several hundred. Entries received for each product are typically upward of 25,000. Not great odds. 

It as been rumored that in April 2022 lottery, ALL of the winners had last names starting with the letter A, or the entrant has inserted a space before their last name. That leads one to believe that the lotteries have long been handled incompetently and unprofessionally. Suspicions around the lottery were heightened this week, in what VA ABC described as a "statistically abnormal" occurrence when a few lucky folks won multiple bottles.

I was surprised last week to read in a Virginia bourbon enthusiasts Facebook group a post from someone claiming to show his lottery winnings of three of the four bottles. I was naturally skeptical, until I saw more discussions on Facebook and Reddit, and subsequent media release by the agency.

The "statistically abnormal results" are revealed by VA ABC here

"Two entrants won all four products; 50 entrants won three products; and 229 entrants won two products. There were 978 total winners for 1,313 available products. The lottery was conducted April 19-23. Winners and non-winners of the lottery were notified on May 12. Virginia ABC is honoring the results and selling the products in line with the lottery terms and conditions."

 . . . 

"George T. Stagg Bourbon – 37,485 entries and awarded 770 bottles = 1 in 48.68 chance of winning

"Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – 35,828 entries and awarded 286 bottles = 1 in 125.27 chance of winning

"William Larue Weller Bourbon – 37,416 entries and awarded 209 bottles = 1 in 179.02 chance of winning

"Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – 35,492 entries and awarded 48 bottles = 1 in 739.41 chance of winning"

To describe one person winning all four as "statistically abnormal" is a stretch. Two people winning all four is goes beyond that. VA ABC says "Everyone who enters during the 3-day period has an equal chance of being selected. Odds depend on the number of entries received and the number of bottles available." Obviously that statement is blatantly false, without apology. The VA ABC statement says the normal process was used for the drawing. If that was the case, this would be a normal occurrence. Social media posts described the selection process to be one of manual sorting, review, and lots of cutting and pasting in Excel. Not something one would expect from a well-funded state agency. Or maybe, exactly what one would expect.

I do not doubt that advance word of the random store drops is made available in some cases to friends and family, maybe even for profit. The unusual lottery results in May could be a matter of incompetence and lack of oversight, or some as yet undiscovered corruption. In any event, the Virginia ABC is struggling to prove both competence and integrity. The state should stop issuing noncommittal and meaningless statements, and replace the system and the people behind it. Or better yet, respect private enterprise and get out of the alcohol distribution business.


There's an update with more head shaking absurdity here.


  1. ABC stores? Never shop there as I have a big Class 6 store at the USCG BX in Centreville, VA. No tax, and about 15% lower in price than ABC. Plus the problem with the ABC just 300 yards away is that Centreville is full of seoul and I'm not talking music. The shelves are full of that paint thinner/nail polish remover called soju and makali.

    1. The things I hear about supplies at the Exchanges only serve to prove the ABC "shortages" are artificial. I learn the same when I shop at stores in MD, and even pay the same prices as in VA.


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