Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve

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Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon whiskey
Bottle of Pappy Van Winkle
Bottle of Pappy Van Winkle
Type Bourbon whiskey
Manufacturer Sazerac Company
Country of origin Kentucky, United States
Introduced 1893
Alcohol by volume 45.20%
Proof (US) 90.4
Related products Buffalo Trace

Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve is the flagship brand of bourbon whiskey owned by the "Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery" company (which does not actually own or operate a distillery, but rather has it produced under a contract with another company). It is distilled and bottled by the Sazerac Company at its Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky.[1] Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve is often regarded as one of the finest bourbons in the world, and is rare to find on the market due to its very low production and high demand.[2][3][4][5][6]


In 1893, when he was 18 years old, Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle, Sr. began working as a salesman for the liquor wholesaler, W.L. Weller & Sons. Fifteen years later, he and another Weller salesman bought the firm. In 1910 they acquired the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky, which had started as a sour mash whiskey distillery in 1872.[7]

The Stitzel Distillery supplied much of the whiskey sold by the Weller wholesale firm. The consolidation coincided with prohibition during which time the Stitzel-Weller firm was licensed by the government to produce whiskey for medicinal purposes. One of their labels that was introduced on the market just before prohibition was Old Rip Van Winkle.[1] After prohibition, the brand was not reintroduced until after 1972 when the Stitzel-Weller distillery and its current brand names (including W.L. Weller, Old Fitzgerald, Rebel Yell, and Cabin Still) were sold to other companies.[1] The only brand name to which the Van Winkle family kept the rights was the pre-prohibition brand Old Rip Van Winkle.[1]

The Stitzel-Weller plant was opened on the day of the Kentucky Derby in 1935, just outside Louisville in Shively, Kentucky. At the time of his death in 1965 at the age of 89, Pappy Van Winkle was the oldest active distiller in the nation. A photo of him graces the bottle's label.[3][8][9]

Sometime after the Stitzel-Weller distillery was sold in 1972, Julian Van Winkle, Jr. resurrected the pre-prohibition Old Rip Van Winkle brand and initially used old whiskey stocks from the distillery for its bottlings.[1] Julian Jr. died in 1981 and Julian Van Winkle, III (Pappy's grandson)[10] took over the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery company.

After the initial sale in 1972, the Stitzel-Weller distillery was eventually closed completely in 1991.[11] In 1984, Buffalo Trace distillery commercially marketed the first modern (post-1950s) brand of single-barrel bourbon, Blanton's.[3]

Since 2002, the Van Winkle brands have been distilled and bottled by the Sazerac Company at the Buffalo Trace Distillery as a joint venture with the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery company.[1]

As there is very little left of product from the Stitzel-Weller distillery, a company source (namely Julian Preston Van Winkle III), opines that the 2013 vintage "may be the last of its kind", although disavowing that the 23-year-old aged branded whiskey will be discontinued.[7][12] The makers say that they do not want to boost production, as there is considerable long term risk, and they do not want to be left holding copious quantities of unsaleable bourbon should tastes, fashions or circumstances change.[13]

Production is being increased somewhat, with a projected increase of the annual production from the current 6–8 thousand bottles to 15 thousand by 2025, but the production will remain well below mass-market levels.[6]

Popularity among Bourbon enthusiasts[edit]

The product has a cult-like following.[14][15] Famous chefs such as Anthony Bourdain and David Chang have favored the product.[2] Food Republic reported that Chef John Currence said: "There's Pappy Van Winkle, then there's everything else."[15] Bourbon aficionados have shown up in droves to get a small chance in a lottery to purchase some.[16][17] It has been called "the bourbon everyone wants but no one can get".[2] A writer for The Wall Street Journal said "You could call it bourbon, or you could call it a $5,000 bottle of liquified, barrel-aged unobtanium."[5][13] Jen Doll wrote in The Wire, "It's an age-old dilemma (supply and demand) leading to an age-old marketing dream (a product that can't be kept on the shelves ... money in the pockets ... bourbon in the bourbon snifters)."[2][4][13]

According to Fox News and Maxim, PVW-23 is said to be one of the most expensive bourbons.[18]


Like all modern bourbons, Van Winkle bourbons are made primarily from corn and aged in charred new oak barrels. A distinguishing feature of Van Winkle bourbons is their use of wheat as the secondary ingredient instead of the usual rye, and their additional inclusion of barley malt.

Pappy Van Winkle is aged for 12, 15, 20 or 23 years, which is considerably longer than the aging period for most bourbons. The 20 year is bottled at 90.4 U.S. proof (45.2% alcohol by volume)[9] and has been described as "intensely fruity".[3] The 15 year is bottled at 107 proof.[19] The 23 year is bottled at 95.6 proof.[3]


Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve has won various awards.[1][20]

  • Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year Old Family Reserve won a Double Gold Medal at the 2014 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.[1][20]
  • Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 23 Year Old Bourbon was named "Spirit of the Year" for 2010 by Wine & Spirits magazine in its annual buying guide issue.[21]
  • The 20 Year Old Special Reserve was recognized with the "Trophy for Worldwide Whisky" and a Best-In-Class Gold Medallion in the 2008 International Wine and Spirit Competition.[22] It received a score of 99 ("superlative") from the Beverage Testing Institute in the same year.[22]
  • "A rating from the Beverage Testing Institute created the Pappy frenzy." The 99 rating for the 20-year Pappy Van Winkle was the highest rating ever. Thus, Pappy "was rescued from schmaltzy marketing hell and exploded into the cult it is today."[6]

Limited edition decanter[edit]

The Van Winkles released a special limited edition decanter set of specially selected Old Rip Van Winkle 23 year old, 114 proof Van Winkle bourbon barreled in the spring of 1986.[23]

2013 theft[edit]

In 2013 a massive theft of Pappy Van Winkle was reported: 65 three-bottle cases of Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year, and nine three-bottle cases of 13-year-old Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye. "A single bottle of 20-year-old Pappy, as aficionados know it, sold at Bonham's auction in New York . . . for $1,190."[3][8][24] Production is severely limited: about 7,000 cases a year,[8][9][14] as against the 7 million cases produced yearly by Jim Beam.[14] Police theorize that it took the thief about two months to complete the heist, and note that whoever did it avoided being recorded by security cameras.[14] Authorities are pessimistic about recovering the stolen goods. When interviewed about the case, Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton said "This is the mac daddy."[15]

Police reported a lead on October 24, as someone, who was videotaped, allegedly attempted to sell a large amount of 20-year-old bourbon to an Elizabethtown liquor store.[25][26][27] The "person of interest" police were searching for in the video footage was then identified as Bardstown High School Principal Chris Pickett, who immediately denied the claim that he ever attempted to sell bourbon to the store and said he was trying to buy the bourbon, not sell it.[28][29][30] On November 23, Sheriff Melton announced that Pickett had been cleared as a person of interest. Melton also said he would make an important announcement about the investigation on Monday December 2, 2013.

On Monday December 2, Sheriff Melton announced that a $10,000 reward was being offered to anyone who gives information which leads to the conviction of the thief or thieves in the case.[31] $1,000 of this reward money is being offered by Bluegrass Crimestoppers and the other $9,000 is being financed by an anonymous donor.[31]

A big impetus to the break in the bourbon theft case came in March 2014 when Buffalo Trace employee Gilbert 'Toby' Curtsinger, was arrested by Frank County authorities when five barrels of stolen Wild Turkey bourbon were found on his property.[32] Because of his tie to Buffalo Trace and the perceived similarity of the crimes, there was public suspicion that Curtsinger was connected to the Pappy theft.

On April 21, 2015 nine Kentucky residents, three of whom were employees at both Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace, were indicted for thefts at the Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey distilleries dating back to 2008.[33] Over $100,000 worth of the stolen whiskey was recovered, including more than two dozen bottles of Pappy Van Winkle and 15 barrels of Wild Turkey. Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton held a press conference[34] where he reported details and explained that seized barrels of bourbon will have to be destroyed after the trial is completed. Melton expressed his hopes to return the unopened bottles of Pappy Van Winkle to the Van Winkle Family.[33]

The heists included Pappy Van Winkle (more than two score cases), 50 to 70 cases of Eagle Rare bourbon and other stolen barrels of whiskey that are still missing. The warrants recovered one barrel of 17-year-old Eagle Rare worth more than $11,000.[35][36] All nine defendants are charged with being members of a criminal syndicate, engaging in organized crime. Because nine were said to be operating a "criminal syndicate," the name "Great Bourbon Syndicate" was coined to refer to the group of alleged criminals.[33]

As illegal steroid sales were involved, there were also a number of other charges.[35][37][38] It was an inside job which was linked to illegal trafficking in steroids. Sheriff Melton said this "Bourbon Syndicate" had met in a softball league with Curtsinger being the ringleader. Authorities say they believe that there are still others involved in the syndicate who have yet to be identified along with other stolen bourbon still out there.[33] Additional indictments continue to appear.[39] Some of the suspects have pleaded guilty, while others are cooperating with authorities.[40]

The theft was said to have been surprisingly easy to pull off. The company trusted its employees, and had easily defeated security devices in place.[6]

While there is no trial date scheduled, there has been controversy over what will happen to the stolen Pappy Bourbon once the case is adjudicated.[41] A charity auction was reported to be the plan and the wishes of the Franklin County Sheriff's Office, Julian Van Winkle and the judge.[42] The most recent news is that now Julian Van Winkle wants to see the stolen Bourbon destroyed due to concerns of bottles being tampered with while in the hands of thieves.[43]

The local sheriff says that the purloined bourbon may be destroyed. He was rejecting suggestions that it be sold in a charitable auction; the distillery has concerns that the product may have been tampered with.[44][45][46]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Pappy Van Winkle is now the subject of a clothing line, manufactured in the United States, which was announced in October 2013.[47]
  • Pappy Van Winkle is displayed and mentioned on several episodes (2x4,[48] 3x1,[49] 3x4,[50] 4x2,[51] 4x8,[52] 5x5, 6x2 and 6x7[53]) of the 2010 FX television series Justified, where the show's prop master John Harrington says he obtained four bottles prior to "Pappy Mania".[54]
  • Pappy Van Winkle is referenced in the 2011 film Crazy, Stupid, Love as the bourbon Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling) drinks.
  • Pappy Van Winkle is also mentioned several times in the 2013 movie The Internship.
  • The bourbon is also mentioned in an episode of the Netflix television series Bojack Horseman (1x5), where the titular character crudely alludes to his choices in whiskey being older than his sexual conquests.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Old Rip Van Winkle
  2. ^ a b c d Doll, Jen (November 28, 2012). "The Bourbon Everyone Wants But No One Can Get". The Atlantic. Retrieved December 11, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Gabriel, Trip (October 18, 2013). "The case of the Missing Bourbon". The New York Times (Frankfort, Kentucky). Retrieved October 19, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Simpson, Connor (October 19, 2013). "Where Did the Missing 65 Cases of Pappy Van Winkle Whiskey Go?". The Atlantic. Retrieved October 21, 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Moss, Josh; Witzke, Chris. photographer (July 2013). "The Best Bourbon You'll Never Taste: Inside the Pappy Van Winkle Phenomenon". Louisville Magazine (Louisville, Kentucky): 66–69. 102. Retrieved July 30, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c d Hunt, Kristin. "10 Things You Didn't know About Pappy Van Winkle". The Washington Post, Thrillist. Retrieved August 26, 2015. 
  7. ^ a b Lipman, Linda; Lipman, John. "American Whiskey: Commonwealth Distillery - Where Old Rip Van Winkle Sleeps". American Whiskey. Retrieved October 19, 2013. 
  8. ^ a b c Hall, Gregory A. (October 17, 2013). "Bourbon heist: Pappy Van Winkle stolen in apparent inside job". The Courier-Journal. Retrieved October 19, 2013. 
  9. ^ a b c "$26G worth of rare, expensive bourbon swiped from Ky. distillery". Fox News. October 19, 2013. Retrieved October 19, 2013. 
  10. ^ Van Winkle Family Heritage[dead link]
  11. ^ Ellen Jaye, American Whiskey – Ghosts of the Past: Old Fitzgerald – The Stitzel-Weller Distillery – September 14, 2000.
  12. ^ "2013 Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve Could Be Last Of Its Kind". August 31, 2013. Retrieved October 19, 2013. 
  13. ^ a b c Gara, Tom (July 8, 2013). "Pappy Van Winkle, The Bourbon So Popular Even Billionaires Can't Find It". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 27, 2013. 
  14. ^ a b c d Esterl, Mike (October 19, 2013). "Was the great bourbon heist an inside job?". WSJ Live. Archived from the original (Video) on October 20, 2013. Retrieved October 19, 2013. 
  15. ^ a b c "Pappy Van Winkle Stolen: $26,000 Of Beloved Bourbon Taken From Buffalo Trace Distillery". The Huffington Post. October 17, 2013. Retrieved October 19, 2013. 
  16. ^ Gibson, Kevin (December 10, 2013). "Looking for a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon? Good Luck". Insider Louisville. Retrieved July 9, 2014. 
  17. ^ "Bourbon fans lineup for Pappy Van Winkle raffle". Louisville, Kentucky: WHAS-TV. Retrieved July 9, 2014. 
  18. ^ Myers, Quinn (April 13, 2013). "5 most expensive bourbons". Maxim/Fox News. Retrieved July 31, 2014. 
  19. ^ "Pappy Van Winkle 15 year old". Bourbon Enthusiast. Retrieved October 20, 2013. 
  20. ^ a b "Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 20yr". Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery. Retrieved October 19, 2013. 
  21. ^ "Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year Old Bourbon Named "Spirit of the Year"". Best Brands. Retrieved October 19, 2013. 
  22. ^ a b "Pappy Van Winkle's 20yr 90.4 Proof Family Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; Pappy Van Winkles 20yr Bourbon". Retrieved October 19, 2013. 
  23. ^ blogofbourbon (May 24, 2013). "Old Rip Van Winkle 23 Year Decanter at Bull & Bush". Retrieved October 22, 2013. 
  24. ^ "Bourbon Heist: Who Stole the Pappy Van Winkle?Fans Buzzing After Batch Worth About $25,000 Taken From Kentucky Distillery". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 19, 2013.  (subscription required)
  25. ^ "Pappy Van Winkle heist lead: Man wanted to sell large quantity of the bourbon" (Video). The Courier-Journal. October 23, 2013. Retrieved October 24, 2013. 
  26. ^ Belcher, Kristina (October 25, 2013). "Liquor store owner shocked man attempted to sell rare bourbon reported stolen: He thought it was a joke at first". The State Journal (Frankfort, Kentucky). Retrieved October 25, 2013. 
  27. ^ Fischer, Tom (October 24, 2013). "Interview with Liquor Store Where Pappy Suspect Was Caught on Camera" (Audio). Retrieved October 25, 2013. 
  28. ^ Belcher, Kristina (October 28, 2013). "Bardstown High School Principal Denies Pappy Van Winkle Theft". The State Journal. Retrieved May 14, 2015. 
  29. ^ Warren, Jim (October 28, 2013). "Attorney: Bardstown High principal wanted to buy Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, not sell it". Lexington Herald-Leader. 
  30. ^ Hall, Gregory A. (October 29, 2013). "Ky. principal denies trying to sell stolen bourbon". USA Today via The Courier-Journal. Retrieved May 14, 2015. 
  31. ^ a b "10,000 Reward Offered in Pappy Theft Case". December 2, 2013. 
  32. ^ Fischer, Tom (March 12, 2015). "Wild Turkey Bourbon Theft Suspect". Retrieved March 12, 2015. 
  33. ^ a b c d Fischer, Tom (April 21, 2015). "Great Bourbon Syndicate: 9 Kentuckians Steal Bourbon for 7 years". Retrieved April 21, 2015. 
  34. ^ Fischer, Tom (April 21, 2015). "Pappy Bourbon Theft Full Press Conference". Retrieved April 21, 2015. 
  35. ^ a b Schreiner, Bruce (April 22, 2015). "Detective: Key man in bourbon theft promoted the victim". Associated Press. Retrieved April 22, 2015. 
  36. ^ Hall, Gregory A.; Loftus, Tom (March 12, 2015). "Stolen bourbon from Wild Turkey recovered". The Courier-Journal. Retrieved April 22, 2015. 
  37. ^ Schreiner, Bruce (April 21, 2015). "Officials: Rogue workers targeted big bourbon distilleries". Associated Press. Retrieved April 22, 2015. 
  38. ^ Hall, Gregory A.; Karma, Dickerson (April 22, 2015). "Pappy Van Winkle theft may be tied to syndicate" (Video). The Courier-Journal, WHAS-TV (Louisville, Kentucky). Retrieved June 13, 2015. 
  39. ^ "Former security guard indicted in bourbon theft scheme; prosecutor says she turned 'blind eye'". Fox News (Frankfort, Ky.). Associated Press. May 19, 2015. Retrieved May 19, 2015. 
  40. ^ Schreiner, Bruce (May 22, 2015). "Husband, wife plead not guilty in Kentucky bourbon thefts". Associated Press. Retrieved May 23, 2015. 
  41. ^ "Stolen Pappy Now To Be Destroyed and Not Auctioned Due to Wishes of Julian Van Winkle;". Retrieved 2016-01-05. 
  42. ^ "Stolen Pappy To Be Auctioned for Charity;". Retrieved 2016-01-05. 
  43. ^ "Stolen Pappy Now To Be Destroyed and Not Auctioned Due to Wishes of Julian Van Winkle;". Retrieved 2016-01-05. 
  44. ^ Schreiner, Bruce (January 7, 2016). "Sheriff: Stolen Kentucky whiskey may be destroyed, not sold: Stolen bottles of prestigious Kentucky whiskey may be destroyed, not auctioned, sheriff says". Associated Press. Retrieved January 7, 2016. 
  45. ^ Fischer, Tom (January 5, 2016). "Stolen Pappy Now To Be Destroyed and Not Auctioned Due to Wishes of Julian Van Winkle Posted". Retrieved January 8, 2016. 
  46. ^ Goldfarb, Aaron (January 8, 2016). "Why Are Kentucky Police Destroying Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon? A sad day for bourbon fans". Esquire. Retrieved January 10, 2016. 
  47. ^ Schuman, Alex (October 19, 2013). "Popular bourbon Pappy Van Winkle announces clothing line". Crestwoood, Kentucky: WHAS-TV. Retrieved October 20, 2013. 
  48. ^ "Bourbon Watch: For Blood or Money". It's Justified. Retrieved May 4, 2014. 
  49. ^ "Bourbon Watch: The Gunfighter". It's Justified. Retrieved May 4, 2014. 
  50. ^ "Bourbon Watch: The Devil You Know". It's Justified. Retrieved May 4, 2014. 
  51. ^ "Bourbon Watch: Where's Waldo?". It's Justified. Retrieved May 4, 2014. 
  52. ^ "Bourbon Watch: Outlaw". It's Justified. Retrieved May 4, 2014. 
  53. ^ "Bourbon Watch: Shot All To Hell". It's Justified. Retrieved May 4, 2014. 
  54. ^ Pace, Gina. "FX's hit drama 'Justified' is a whisky lover's dream". New York Daily News. Retrieved May 4, 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Van Winkle Campbell, Sally (1999). But Always Fine Bourbon: Pappy Van Winkle and the Story of Old Fitzerald. Louisville, KY: Limestone Lane Press. ISBN 0967420806.  ISBN 9780967420806

External links[edit]