Our Legendary Pappy
This entire endeavor started with one man and his philosophy of product over profit. Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle hadn’t always planned to enter the bourbon business, but his impact on the industry continues to be felt four generations later. As he put it, he “simply tried to be honest and make a good product.” It was that simple to him, and it has stayed that simple for more than 100 years.
How Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery Came to Be
Pappy began working at W.L. Weller & Sons first as a traveling whiskey salesman and eventually as the President of Stitzel-Weller Distillery. He helped shape the industry during and after Prohibition. Through his endeavors in the warehouse, the boardroom and on the road, he built a reputation in the bourbon industry that was second to none. Fine bourbon was his mission, and he accepted nothing less.
The Julian Van Winkle Jr. Era
Pappy's son, Julian Jr., operated the distillery from 1964 until the family sold it in 1972. After, not one to be defeated, he got himself an office and a secretary and formed a company called J.P. Van Winkle and Son. He got into marketing bourbon through many types of commemorative decanters, some of the more popular being for universities. But he never stopped bottling on the side. He created the Old Rip Van Winkle label as a side venture in case his son, Julian III, wanted to come into the business.
Julian Van Winkle III Continues the Tradition
Julian III took over the business in 1981 after his father passed away. He was 32 years old with a wife and four young children. The premium bourbon business was in a lull, but 90 years ago, Pappy started from the ground up, too. So, with this same, innate passion, Julian purchased the Old Hoffman Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, for barrel storage and bottling purposes. He couldn't afford much advertising, but the quality of Old Rip Van Winkle sold itself. Julian III and his impeccable palate created quite a stir.
Preston Joins the Family Business
Julian III never insisted Preston join the family business. After Preston attended the 1999 Kentucky Bourbon Festival with the entire Van Winkle family, he saw a side of bourbon he hadn't yet seen. He finished his college degree and joined his dad in the distillery in 2001, doubling the size of the sales team at The Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery.
Distilling Moves to Buffalo Trace
When first approached by Buffalo Trace, Julian III was honored, but not immediately interested. He had ample bourbon aging, but the concern was for future reserves, since by this time, bourbon was increasing in popularity. Buffalo Trace bought the W.L. Weller label in 1999 and had been making the bourbon with nearly the same recipe as Pappy's. The transition was easy. As of May 2002, Buffalo Trace has produced the Van Winkle bourbons, using Pappy's exact recipe. This change allows Old Rip Van Winkle to maintain their strict quality standards while producing more barrels for future enjoyment.