Liquor Showcase: Pappy Van Winkle 12 Year Bourbon Whiskey

Liquor Showcase: Pappy Van Winkle 12 Year Bourbon Whiskey

If you love whiskey, you might have heard of the Pappy Van Winkle brand somewhere along the line – and not only because its name sounds like something out of an old fairytale! Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve is regarded as one of the finest bourbons in the world and can be extremely difficult to find as its almost constantly in high demand.

Like all modern bourbons, Van Winkle bourbons are made primarily from corn and aged in charred new American oak barrels, however, one main distinguishing feature of the brand is their use of wheat as the secondary ingredient instead of the usual rye. But what else makes the Pappy Van Winkle 12 Year Old Whiskey so special among bourbon enthusiasts? Here are some fun facts about this unusual line – including their very storied past!

The Story Behind the Brand

Julian Van Winkle began working as a salesman for W. L. Weller and Sons, a liquor wholesaler, in 1893. Fifteen years later, he and another Weller salesman bought the firm; shortly after, he acquired the A. Ph. Stizel distillery in Louisville, which had been supplying product to W. L. Weller and Sons for many years. Fun fact: Van Winkle is a Dutch name that loosely translates to “from shopkeeper.”

During Prohibition, the A. Ph. Stitzel distillery obtained a medicinal license – which meant they could still legally continue to produce whiskey – including W.L. Weller, Old Fitzgerald, Rebel Yell, Cabin Still, and their newly introduced brand called Old Rip Van Winkle.

By 1935, Van Winkle had created Stitzel-Weller Distillery, which he opened on Derby Day and continued to run until his death 1965, at which point Julian Van Winkle Jr. took over. They made W.L. Weller, Old Fitzgerald, Rebel Yell, and Cabin Still whiskeys as they went. In 1972, family shareholders forced Julian Jr. to sell; so he decided to resurrect the pre-Prohibition label, Old Rip Van Winkle and began making new bourbon with whiskey stock he’d tucked away years earlier.

These days, the entire Van Winkle line is distilled and bottled by the Sazerac Company at the Buffalo Trace Distillery, as a joint venture with the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery company.

The 12 Year: A Class of Its Own

The Special Reserve 12 year is a very rare, limited edition bourbon that takes generations of distilling know-how to produce. Each barrel ages for 23 years, and is carefully selected out of the heart of the warehouse.

A well-known spirits critic, Paul Picult, famously described this award-winning bourbon as "a perfect combination of age and proof." Its twelve years of aging in charred, new American oak barrels and bottling at 90.4 proof fit the spirit perfectly - pour some, and you’ll be greeted with the gentle flavors of sun-kissed fruits and dark spices laced with caramel and butterscotch.

Awards & Accolades

The Van Winkle line is no stranger to awards and accolades, which have likely contributed to its popularity over the years: in the late 90s, the Beverage Institute gave the 20-year-old Family Reserve a 99/100 score. It was also recognized with the “Trophy for Worldwide Whiskey” and a Best-In-Class Gold Medallion in the 2008 International Wine and Spirit Competition.

Those awards and others that followed captured the attention of in-the-know whiskey enthusiasts around the country; celebrity chefs followed soon after. Anthony Bourdain declared Pappy 20-year-old “the most glorious bourbon on the planet” during an episode of “On the Table,” which aired in 2012. Other celebrities have made similar declarations.

If you’ve never tried the famous brand, now is your chance! We are thrilled to be one of the very few retailers in San Diego that carries Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Whiskey. Shop the rest of the brand or check out our selection of other whiskeys and bourbons.

Image credit: Old Rip Van Winkle Whiskey