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Some of these Van Winkle bourbons will be sold at $7 per pour tonight at Meta, a cocktail bar at 425 W. Chestnut St.

Last year, when Meta owner Jeremy Johnson turned some of his prized Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve Bourbon into $10 Jell-O shots, the brazen move — for Bourbon Country at least — drew huge crowds to the downtown cocktail bar.

It also drew attention from national news outlets, raves from those who loved the brilliant marketing maneuver, and rants from those who called the curly-haired cocktail shaker a heretic and a hateful sort who’d abuse such precious liquor that commoners only dream of tasting.

Jeremy Johnson of Meta with the Pappy Jell-O shots | Photo by Steve Coomes
Jeremy Johnson of Meta with the Pappy Jell-O shots | Photo by Steve Coomes

And that was the point: To make a statement that such people can’t afford Pappy because market demand for the old oak bourbon has pushed prices for it into the stratosphere. He deliberately sought to stick a thumb in the eye of bourbon fans convinced that dropping a few thousand dollars on it was a good idea.

“I thought I needed to stop this and send a message that there are other great bourbons out there, that it’s time to remember that you can get your hands on other great bottles that will make you happy,” Johnson said. The idea went over so well in November, that he repeated it in Derby week this year.

But Johnson insists he isn’t disrespecting the Van Winkle name or the family itself. “I love Pappy Van Winkle, and Julian (Van Winkle III) and Preston (Van Winkle), we all good. But I don’t like that good bourbon has become a status symbol for guys to drink only in a boardroom where they’re shaking hands and slapping backs. I hate, I hate it, I hate it!”

And so he’s doing it again tonight — a fitting move to add to the freakiness of Friday the 13th, right? Only this time the Van Winkle 10-year will be used for Jello-O shots, and he’ll pour the 12-year and the 15-year … at cost.

You read that correctly: his cost, no markup. About $7 per 1.5 ounce pour. Sip it neat, chill it over the rocks or throw that one-time bargain tipple right down your undeserving gullet. Your choice, $7. Less than a Meta-priced pour of Old Forester Signature.

“I think I got three bottles of everything, so that means there’ll be enough for 100 straight pours and about 150 Jell-O shots,” he said. Last year’s Jell-O shots were gelled Old Fashioneds. (Trust me, no Jell-O shot you’ve had before ever tasted that good.) “Whatever people pick, it’s all going to go quick. So everything is limited to one per person.”

Johnson said the party will be “a nice community event” where everyone can “come and have a good time, just hang out.”

Um, really?

As the absurdity of that statement sank in — the “nice community event” sounding more like a potluck than a Pappy fire sale — he revised his remark: “It’ll be insane.”

Yes it will.

Meta opens at 4:30 p.m. and the Pappy party starts at 7.

Steve Coomes

Steve Coomes

Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 24-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Louisville magazine, Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass and Food & Dining Magazine. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.