Silhouette of a Buffalo

Pappy Van Winkle Biography

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.  

Recently, the Van Winkles entered into a joint venture with the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY.  All of the Van Winkle’s whiskey production now takes place at Buffalo Trace under the same strict guidelines the family has always followed in order to produce a superior quality product.

Aside from the rich family history, Van Winkle bourbons are special for another important reason, their recipe.  All of the Van Winkle bourbons are made with corn, wheat, and, barley instead of corn, rye and, barley.  This “wheated” recipe gives the bourbon a much softer, smoother taste and it also allows the whiskey to age more gracefully.  

The first of the Van Winkle family generation to venture into the bourbon whisky business was Julian P. Van Winkle, Sr., or "Pappy" as he was affectionately known by his family and friends. His career began in 1893 at the age of 18 as a salesman for the Liquor wholesaler, W.L. Weller & Sons. In 1908 he and another Weller salesman brought the firm. Later they acquired the old A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery in Louisville, which dated from 1872 and was widely known for the excellence of its sour-mash whiskey.

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 sold just before the prohibition was OLD RIP VAN WINKLE. 

The Stitzel-Weller plant was opened on Derby Day 1935, just outside Louisville in Shively, Kentucky. Up until his death in 1965, "Pappy" was the oldest active distiller in the nation at the age of 91. 

The next in the Van Winkle generation, Julian P. Van Winkle, Jr., became president of the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in 1947. He headed the firm until the sale of the distillery in 1972. During that time, he produced such popular brands as Old Fitzgerald, W.L.Weller, Cabin Still, and Rebel Yell. 

After the sale in 1972, J.P. Van Winkle, Jr. resurrected the pre-prohibition label OLD RIP VAN WINKLE using some of the bourbon whiskey he had produced years before. In 1977, he was joined by his son, Julian, III, creating the firm of J.P. Van Winkle & Son. After his father's death in 1981, Julian, III carried on his family tradition of selling the finest bourbon whiskey available. 

The OLD RIP VAN WINKLE sold today is made according to the same strict 

standards of fine bourbon-whiskey making as it has been in the past Van Winkle generations. 

True bourbon connoisseurs can taste the difference and quality that sets the Van Winkle whiskies apart from others on the market today. 

The Van Winkle bourbon whiskey that we sell today is aged a little longer than most others available. We think that the extra few years of aging in the barrels smooths out the taste and flavor of the whiskey as it passes in and out of the charred wood of the white oak barrels each season.