A man who was true to the craft, Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle Sr.’s mantra was "We make fine bourbon at a profit if we can, at a loss if we must, but always fine bourbon." His name has now become synonymous with quality in the bourbon industry.
Pappy’s involvement with bourbon began in 1893 as a traveling salesman for W.L. Weller and Sons. He and a coworker, Alex Farnsley, eventually merged the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery, which produced bourbon for Weller. The two companies merged to form the Stitzel-Weller Distillery. Opened on Derby Day of 1935, Stitzel-Weller quickly became known for its wheated bourbon recipe, using wheat instead of rye in the mash for a softer, smoother taste. Pappy remained highly involved with the Distillery up until his death in 1965, at the age of 91.
Pappy was the first in four generations of Van Winkle bourbon-making. His son, Julian Jr., ran operations at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery up until its sale in 1972. Julian Jr., resurrected a pre-Prohibition label called Old Rip Van Winkle, using whiskey stocks from the old Distillery. His son, Julian III, took over in 1981 and continues to run operations of the Van Winkle brand at Buffalo Trace Distillery along with his son Preston.
Both the Old Rip Van Winkle and the Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve labels are now produced at Buffalo Trace and remain in high demand. Both labels continue to receive the highest acclaim throughout the industry, with numerous awards and accolades.