Van Winkle Whiskey

Thank goodness that I am not a journalist, because if I had to be non-partisan and free from bias as I write this blog that no one will ever see about the Van Winkle whiskey – I would have to worry about a visit by Edward R. Murrow’s ghost.

Simply put: The whiskey made with the Van Winkle recipes are simply some of the best whiskeys that I have ever had, from the 10yr 107proof bourbon, through the 13yr 94proof Rye, stepping next to the astoundingly great 15yr 107proof bourbon and then rising to the heights of the perfect 23yr bourbon. Hell – I didn’t even mention the 90proof 10yr, the 12yr and the 20yr bourbons, but let’s put them to the side for another time. This blog is but one small sip of the history of the Van Winkle’s large barrel of history.

That history spans back to 1875, which is the birth of Julian ‘Pappy’ Van Winkle, the scion and progenitor of the Van Winkle dynasty. In fact, if you really want to read about the family, the history, the whiskey and the people, read But Always Fine Bourbon, the story about then Van Winkle Family. Here’s the Cliff Notes version, from the Van Winkle Website:

lineagevw1The Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery has a four generation history. The Van Winkle family’s involvement in the bourbon industry began in the late 1800s with Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle, Sr. He was a traveling salesman for the W.L. Weller and Sons wholesale house in Louisville, traveling around the state by horse and buggy. Pappy and a friend, Alex Farnsley, eventually bought the wholesale house and also purchased the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery, which made bourbon for Weller. They merged the two companies and became the Stitzel-Weller Distillery. Their prominent brands were W.L. Weller, Old Fitzgerald, Rebel Yell, and Cabin Still.

In May of 1935 at the age of 61, Pappy opened the newly completed Stitzel-Weller Distillery in South Louisville. He had a heavy influence on the operations there until his death at the age of 91. His son, Julian, Jr. took over operations until he was forced by stockholders to sell the distillery in 1972. The rights to all of their brands were either sold with the distillery or to other distilleries.

After selling the distillery, Julian, Jr. resurrected a pre-prohibition label, the only one to which the Van Winkles kept the rights, called Old Rip Van Winkle. He used whiskey stocks from the old distillery to supply his brand. Julian junior’s son, Julian, III took over in 1981 when Julian, Jr. passed away. Julian, III has continued with the Van Winkle tradition of producing the highest quality wheated bourbon available. His son, Preston joined company in 2001 and the Van Winkles look to continue that tradition for generations to come.

There are only a few items across our globe that have so much of a higher quality than most of the rest in their class, and in this regard, the Van Winkle whiskeys surely stand out in this small family, and has for four generation. With any luck, it will “...continue that tradition for generations to come.” Well, I certainly hope so.

In the future, I will be writing more about the different labels.  Each different whiskey has its own particular nature, and it will be interesting to really go into each vintage.


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