author’s note: This post may look a wee bit familiar to a few of you. It went up briefly yesterday when I got my days mixed up (holiday Mondays will do that to me), though I eventually pulled it. So if you picked this up yesterday, read it, and are wondering why on earth are you reading it again…Liz messed up her days. With that, here we go again!
A few years back, my husband and I hit Kentucky for a family wedding. Besides falling head-over-heels for Rebecca Ruth bourbon balls (foreshadowing here as you’ll see RR again at BoFN), I left the state with a deep appreciation for all things bourbon. While BoFN isn’t the place to expound on how to make your own bacon bourbon or use this all-American spirit to spike cookie dough (stop by food for fun for these tricks), it’s certainly the blog to introduce one of the many funnily-named folk in Kentucky’s bourbon heritage.
Let’s meet Pappy, shall we? Way back when in 1893, 18-year-old Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle, Sr. traveled as salesman for W.L. Weller and Sons, a liquor wholesaler in Louisville, KY. Pappy and a fellow salesman dreamed big and bought the wholesale house out in 1908. Two years later, they purchased the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery, which made bourbon for Weller. Bright fellows both, Pappy and his pal merged the two companies to create the Stitzel-Weller Distillery, which went on to sell bourbon labels such as W.L. Weller, Old Fitzgerald, Rebel Yell, and Cabin Still.
If you know your history, you’ll do the math here and realize that Pappy was distilling and selling whiskey as the U.S. entered prohibition. But Stitzel-Weller kept on keeping on even during those 13 dry years as the government licensed Pappy and his crew to produce whiskey for medicinal purposes.
Prohibition eventually ended and Pappy opened a brand-spankin’ new Stitzel-Weller Distillery in South Louisville on Derby Day in 1935. That strong Kentucky spirit (talking disposition here, though the beverage itself may also have had something to do with it) kept Van Winkle Sr. heavily involved in distillery operations until his death in 1965.
Son Julian, Jr. then took over operations, though stockholders forced him to sell the distillery in 1972. (Google wouldn’t dish on why he had to sell, so I say we make up our own stories. Why do you think Julian Jr. was forced to sell? Let me know in comments.)
JJ didn’t go down easily, though, as he went on to resurrect the only pre-prohibition label the Van Winkle family still owned–Old Rip Van Winkle. Whiskey stocks from the old distillery were called in to supply this brand and JJ’s son (yes, you guessed it–Julian, III) took over when his father passed away in 1981. Julian, III has continued with the company and his son Preston (they’d had enough of the Julians apparently) signed on in 2001. More recently, the Van Winkles joined up with the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, where all of their whiskey is now produced.
At his death, Pappy Van Winkle, Sr. was the oldest active distiller in the nation and his photo graces the label of each bottle of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. While I’ve yet to have the pleasure of tasting his brand, it’s said to be one of the finest bourbons in the world. We raise a glass in salute to you, Pappy!