Kentucky alcohol regulators are moving to shut down popular vintage bourbon seller Justins’ House of Bourbon.
Following January raids at Justins’ House of Bourbon stores in Lexington and Louisville, as well as at a shipping facility in Washington D.C., the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is seeking to revoke or suspend liquor licenses for multiple alleged violations, according to a notice of violations issued Aug. 7, 2023.
It’s the first indication of state action following the January raids, when “numerous” bottles of bourbon were seized in Kentucky. Some of the bottles seized in Kentucky may have been damaged in a water leak at an evidence facility, according to the state files obtained by the Herald-Leader.
It’s unclear when the Kentucky Alcoholic Beverage Control Board will rule on the case or what action, if any, they will take. Kentucky ABC declined to comment due to the pending administrative action.
No criminal charges have been filed.
Tom Bullock, Lexington attorney for Justins’ House of Bourbon owners Justin Thompson and Justin Sloan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Alcohol allegations against Justins’ House of Bourbon
The alleged state alcohol violations include that Justins’ House of Bourbon:
▪ Failed to report vintage distilled spirits purchases to the state;
▪ Illegally transported bottles between its two Kentucky stores;
▪ Illegally shipped bottles in and out of the state;
▪ Unlawfully bought and sold alcoholic beverages;
▪ And failed to place a sticker on vintage distilled spirits purchases on bottles to indicate they were from the secondary market.
According to the state, Justins’ also bought and sold rare bourbons that did not qualify as vintage.
Losing Kentucky licenses would close the stores here in the state; their BourbonOutfitter.com online sales are licensed out of Washington, D.C., and it remains open with an active license.
According to Kentucky ABC case files, undercover investigators went into both the Lexington and the Louisville stores after receiving complaints about illegal shipping.
In October 2022, a Justins’ employee told two undercover ABC investigators in Lexington that a bottle of Weller 107 for sale for $189 could not be shipped from Kentucky but that “they often drive it to their shipping facility in Washington.”
According to the file, an investigator had visited the store in June 2021 and informed the general manager and an employee that Justins’ was not following Kentucky ABC requirements for labeling bottles as Vintage Distilled Spirits purchases from the secondary market and had not properly notified ABC of vintage alcohol purchases.
A separate undercover investigator visited the Louisville store in December 2022 and found a wall of Weller, Blanton’s, Buffalo Trace, Pappy Van Winkle and other premium bourbons for sale without VDS stickers.
Bottles seized in Kentucky, Washington D.C.
Kentucky alcohol investigators then contacted investigators in Washington D.C. who visited the Justins’ facility there, resulting in a multistate investigation into improper bourbon shipping, including imports from the Netherlands.
On Jan. 17, Kentucky and DC alcohol authorities simultaneously raided the three Justins’ locations and seized “multiple” of bottles of bourbon. In D.C., hundreds of bottles of Blanton’s and Weller were placed under voluntary detention by federal alcohol authorities.
In May, Justins’ admitted to two violations on alcohol regulations in D.C. and agreed to pay $3,000 in fines in a settlement. It’s unclear what became of the detained bottles there.
Kentucky problems with ‘vintage’ sales
Justins’ House of Bourbon, which opened in 2018 in the wake of the passage of Kentucky’s Vintage Distilled Spirits law that allows private citizens to sell bottles to retailers, has a store in Lexington at 601 W. Main St. and another in Louisville at at 101 West Market St. Both stores specialize in vintage and hard-to-find whiskeys.
According to the case file, Justins’ House of Bourbon bought and sold “spirits that are not vintage. Rather in their words rare,” which Kentucky ABC investigators allege violates state regulations.
One investigator reported that receipts provided at the Louisville store “showed that there were purchases from private sellers and wholesaler on the same day for the same products (Blanton’s, Weller & Eagle Rare.)“ The investigator said Justins’ “purchased forty-eight bottles of Weller 107 from one person on one date. ... Another receipt shows a seller by the name of (redacted) sold Justin’s House of Bourbon seventy-two bottles of Blanton’s from 7/7/22-8/12/22. Another seller by the name of (redacted) had sold Buffalo Trace to Justin’s House of Bourbon.”
None of the purchases had been reported to the state under the Vintage Distilled Spirits law as required, according to the case file.
Herald-Leader investigation into vintage bourbon sales
According to a Herald-Leader analysis of Kentucky alcohol records, Justins’ House of Bourbon and other retailers have bought and sold thousands of bottles of Weller, Blanton’s, Pappy Van Winkle and other rare bourbons since the Vintage Distilled Spirits law created a loophole for private sales.
In the last few years, private sellers have sold dozens of bottles at a time of new highly-sought-after brands of bourbon to a handful of Kentucky stores.