Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon is perhaps best known for the highly sought-after Pappy Van Winkle releases, which are today distilled under contract at Buffalo Trace.
During the latter part of the nineteenth century, Julian P ‘Pappy’ Van Winkle Sr worked as a salesman for the alcohol wholesaler W L Weller and Sons in Louisville, Kentucky. Van Winkle and Alex Farnsley acquired the business along with the A Ph Stitzel Distillery. They merged the two businesses to form the Stitzel-Weller Distillery, producing such bourbons as Old Fitzgerald and W L Weller. Pappy Van Winkle’s son Julian Jr managed the business following his father’s death in 1965, though he was forced to sell in 1972. Julian Van Winkle Jr created a new brand in the pre-Prohibition style, using whiskey stocks he had wisely kept by from the previous distillery. Julian Jr’s son Julian III ran the operation from 1981 following his father’s death and continued the brand.
There have been four generations of Van Winkles working for the brand since Julian Van Winkle III’s son Preston joined in 2001. Since the Van Winkles began working with Buffalo Trace, the entire range is produced at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankwort, Kentucky. All of the bourbon sold under the Van Winkle label is distilled from a mashbill with no rye; rather, they use wheat instead. Van Winkle bourbon has received wide acclaim; unusually the range is very well-aged for US whiskey, most of which are more than double the average age of standard bourbon.