Pappy Van Winkle's Grandson Tells Us 10 Things You May Not Know About Old Rip Van Winkle

Bottles of Pappy Van Winkle
Bottles of Pappy Van Winkle - Static Media / Shutterstock / Getty

Pappy Van Winkle — if you're a whiskey fan, you know the name. Produced and sold by the Old Rip Van Winkle distillery, the bourbon is considered the holy grail for many whiskey aficionados. Some even scour the internet hoping to find an auction or lottery where they can score a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle. Now, there's no denying this bourbon (named after Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle, Sr.) is both rare and delicious; there's a reason why Pappy Van Winkle is so expensive, after all. But there's more to this whiskey -- and the distillery that produces it -- than a hefty price tag and impeccable quality.

The Old Rip Van Winkle distillery, through its partnership with Buffalo Trace, produces and sells six different whiskey expressions. Additionally, though the Pappy Van Winkle label didn't appear on shelves until 1994 with the release of its 20-year bottle, the distillery's legacy stretches back more than a century -- and across generations of the Van Winkle family.

Simply put, there's a long history behind Old Rip Van Winkle whiskeys. With the 150th anniversary of its namesake's birthday occurring in March 2024, we sat down with third-generation bourbon producer (and Pappy's grandson) Julian Van Winkle III to discuss his family's famed whiskey brand. If you're eager to learn more about this top-shelf whiskey producer, keep reading, as Pappy Van Winkle's grandson reveals some things you may not know about Old Rip Van Winkle.

Read more: The 27 Best Bourbon Brands, Ranked

It Makes Wheated Bourbons Because That's What Pappy Preferred

Bottle of bourbon with wheat
Bottle of bourbon with wheat - New Africa/Shutterstock

To be a bourbon, the law states that the liquor must be made with at least 51% corn. But beyond that, distillers can use any grain from barley to rye to wheat. While there are plenty of bourbons made with a high percentage of rye or barley, every single bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon is made with wheat. After all, according to Julian Van Winkle III, that's what his grandfather preferred.

When "Pappy" Van Winkle Sr. first started making bourbon, wheat was a more expensive grain, which is why so many older bourbons tend to be high-rye rather than high-wheat bourbons. But Van Winkle Sr. always put quality over profits, and insisted on using the pricier mash bill option.

"He enjoyed the quality of the bourbon with that wheated recipe," Van Winkle III told us regarding his grandfather. Since producing a top-notch whiskey over "making a ton of money" was his grandfather's way, Van Winkle III has carried on that tradition, and the distillery honors his memory by continuing to make bourbon the way Pappy liked it.

Old Rip Van Winkle Occasionally Releases A Limited-Time Expression (But Not Often)

Bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle 25 year
Bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle 25 year - ethan.meussdorffer.samuels/Instagram

Every year, Old Rip Van Winkle releases a certain number of bottles of each of its six main expressions. But back in 2017, Old Rip Van Winkle and Buffalo Trace decided to release a special bottle of bourbon -- one that had aged for 25 years.

"We like to do that every now and then," Julian Van Winkle III explained to Tasting Table. "Kind of mix it up, not do the same thing every year." The distillery decided to let a few 23-year-old barrels age for an additional two years for this limited-time offering, with only 700 released to the public. Though Van Winkle III said creating that particular expression "was a lot of fun," he's not sure whether the distillery would release a similar bottle in the future. "We may do another 25-year," he explained, "but it'd be a totally different package and a different look."

The Old Rip Van Winkle 25-year wasn't the first time the distillery released a unique bottle of its bourbon. It also had a 23-year-old, 114-proof bottle sold in a special decanter several years ago, meaning there's reason to think the Van Winkle family will release another limited-time offering in the future.

Distributors Decide Which Costco Stores Receive Old Rip Van Winkle Bottles

man checking liquor in Costco
man checking liquor in Costco - Trong Nguyen/Shutterstock

If you can't find a bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle at your local liquor store, there's a chance you could find one of its expressions at Costco. Before you run to your favorite location, though, you should know the whiskey isn't stocked at every Costco in America. More than that, Julian Van Winkle III said it's actually up to the distributors which stores receive bottles.

As Van Winkle III told us, "It's pretty much the distributor's discretion" when it comes to which Costco locations are lucky enough to receive bottles of Old Rip Van Winkle. He believes certain Costco locations receive them as a reward from distributors for making premium purchases from the Buffalo Trace distillery (where Old Rip Van Winkle's whiskeys are produced).

Still, he cautioned that it's rare to find bottles at the chain. "It's not like there's going to be pallets of our whiskey in a Costco," Van Winkle III said while chuckling. After all, when a fan posted a picture of a bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle 10-year that he'd found at a Costco in Washington in July 2023 on Reddit, he was quickly congratulated for finding a unicorn -- one of only three bottles at Costco locations in the entire state at that time.

Buffalo Trace Offers Some Great Alternatives To Old Rip Van Winkle

Bottles of Buffalo Trace
Bottles of Buffalo Trace - The Image Party/Shutterstock

Even though finding a bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle can be daunting, that doesn't mean you have to go without top-shelf whiskey. Plenty of other varieties (even wheated bourbons) are available to keep you happily imbibing until you finally score a treasured bottle of Pappy. But which whiskey is the best choice? According to Julian Van Winkle III, several whiskeys produced by the distillery's partner, Buffalo Trace, can fill that void.

Van Winkle III noted W.L. Weller bourbon was "an obvious choice" given it, too, is a wheated bourbon. The connections between those two brands extend further than that, though, as Julian Van Winkle Sr. got his start in the bourbon industry as a salesman for William Larue Weller (the namesake of W.L. Weller).

Of course, as Van Winkle III was quick to remind us, Weller is "not easy to find, either." With that in mind, he suggests one of the many bottles sold by the flagship brand of the Buffalo Trace distillery for anyone unable to find Old Rip Van Winkle. "Anything that they're putting out would be my second or third choice as far as bourbons," Van Winkle III said.

It Strives To Produce The Same Whiskey As Its Now-Closed Stitzel Weller Distillery

distilling the mash for whiskey
distilling the mash for whiskey - Martin M303/Shutterstock

When Old Rip Van Winkle first appeared on the scene back in 1981, its bottles were filled with bourbon procured from the Stitzel Weller distillery. Unfortunately, that distillery closed its doors in 1992, so any whiskey produced at that particular facility is long gone. Of course, just because the Stitzel Weller distillery no longer exists doesn't mean the Van Winkle family has stopped producing bourbon of a comparable quality -- or forgotten the whiskey made at its now-closed original facility.

Old Rip Van Winkle joined forces with Buffalo Trace distillery in 2002 to continue its whiskey production, and the partnership has gone splendidly according to Julian Van Winkle III. "We're obviously very pleased with the job they're doing for us as far as making a really fantastic product," he told Tasting Table.

The family works closely with the distillers at Buffalo Trace to craft bourbons worthy of the Van Winkle name -- and the never-forgotten Stitzel Weller distillery. "It's as close to our old Stitzel Weller product that you can get," Van Winkle III said, "so we're very happy with that." In other words, it seems like every bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle will continue to be filled with whiskey from Buffalo Trace.

Van Winkle Added A Rye To Its Docket In The Mid-1990s

Bottle of Van Winkle Reserve Rye
Bottle of Van Winkle Reserve Rye - therealhungrydoc/Instagram

Always up for trying something new, the Van Winkle family decided to add another whiskey to its docket back in the mid-1990s. But instead of another wheated bourbon, they opted for a rye whiskey. While rye is a popular choice in the whiskey world today, finding a rye whiskey back in the '90s was unusual.

"You'd find it on the bottom shelf of the liquor store with a lot of dust on it," Julian Van Winkle III revealed to Tasting Table, which he attributed to a lack of faith in rye whiskeys back then. Thanks to a resurgence of classic rye whiskey-based cocktails like the Manhattan and sazerac, though, rye whiskeys have become as popular as other whiskey varieties -- with older rye expressions as sought after as older bourbons. In fact, the Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye -- which has been aged for 13 years -- is just as popular as any of Old Rip Van Winkle's five bourbons.

Also similar to its bourbons is that the distillery's rye is just as hard to find. Van Winkle III admitted there are currently fewer bottles of its rye available than its younger bourbons, but mentioned the distillery was making more every year to catch up with demand in the future.

The 15-Year Is Julian Van Winkle III's Favorite

Bottle of Pappy 15 and a glass of bourbon
Bottle of Pappy 15 and a glass of bourbon - scalesandales/Instagram

As the current president of the Old Rip Van Winkle empire, Julian Van Winkle III gets to sample all the whiskeys the distillery creates. But if he wants to sit back and enjoy a glass at the end of the day, he says his first choice is the Pappy Van Winkle 15-year bourbon.

"It's just kind of in my wheelhouse," he said. Van Winkle III explained he prefers the 15-year because he feels it has more flavor than the 10 or 12-year, but not nearly as much wood as the 20 and 23-year, which he compared to a cognac (which is what makes them perfect after-dinner sippers).

Additionally, Van Winkle III noted the 15-year bourbon makes a great cocktail. Now, we know that for some of you, mixing any Old Rip Van Winkle whiskey into a cocktail may sound like blasphemy. But Van Winkle III believes you shouldn't be worried about mixing high-quality alcohol into a drink. Either way, because the 15-year hits that sweet spot of flavor between younger and older whiskey expressions, Van Winkle III thinks it's "a fun one to have."

Both Julian Van Winkle, Sr. And His Grandson Are In The Kentucky Bourbon Hall Of Fame

sign for Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame
sign for Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame - chateaubourbon/Instagram

It seems there's a hall of fame for everything these days: baseball, football, rock & roll, there's even a hall of fame for toys. It should come as no surprise, then, that there's a Hall of Fame for bourbon, as well. Created by the Kentucky Distillers Association back in 2001, the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame "recognizes individuals and organizations that have made a significant impact on bourbon's stature, growth, and awareness." With a mission statement like that, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the Van Winkle family is a part of it -- unless you're Julian Van Winkle III.

"It was kind of a surprise," admitted Van Winkle III. His grandfather received his induction posthumously in 2011, while Van Winkle III was inducted in 2022. He may not have expected it, but he was still "very honored to be in that group of esteemed people affiliated with bourbon whiskey."

Van Winkle III says he's happy to be in there with his grandfather, but hopes his father will join them someday. "He should have been put in long before me," he told us mournfully. He hasn't lost hope, though, and believes the day will come when all three Julian Van Winkles are in the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame together.

The Maker's Mark Founder And Pappy Were Great Friends

Bottle of Maker's Mark in ice
Bottle of Maker's Mark in ice - monticello/Shutterstock

When Bill Samuels, Sr. -- the man behind the well-known Maker's Mark bourbon whiskey brand -- decided to get into the bourbon business, he contacted Julian Van Winkle, Sr. After all, the man had been making and selling a successful bourbon for over thirty years. Samuels knew that if anyone understood what was involved in making a decent bourbon, it would be Van Winkle.

"Bill Samuels Sr. and my granddad were great friends," Julian Van Winkle III told us, "so, he was happy to help him out." While every distiller can create their own bourbon recipe using a variety of grains and corn, Samuels liked the bourbon that Pappy was producing. So after consulting with the senior Van Winkle, Samuels decided to follow suit and make a wheated bourbon using a soft red winter wheat.

Opening in 1953 to great success, Maker's Mark produces roughly 24 million bottles of its wheated bourbon each year -- and Van Winkle III is happy for its success. "We're quite honored that their brand has done so well with the wheated recipe," he said.

Van Winkle III's Daughters Extended The Pappy Brand With Their Business

products from Pappy &  Company
products from Pappy & Company - pappyandco/Instagram

Even though getting your hands on one of the six bottles of Van Winkle whiskey may be difficult, that doesn't mean you can't still own a little piece of Pappy Van Winkle. The whiskey brand namesake's three great-granddaughters started a company devoted to all things Pappy Van Winkle in 2013. Pappy & Company is a one-stop shop for those who love living the bourbon lifestyle, and the company stays true to Pappy Van Winkle Sr.'s belief that it should be proud of every product that leaves its facility.

Julian Van Winkle III is certainly proud of his triplet daughters. "They work very hard at it and it's become very popular," he said regarding Pappy & Company. However, despite a clear connection between the Old Rip Van Winkle distillery and the one-stop shop for all things Pappy-related, there are no plans for any joint ventures at the moment.

Of course, just because Old Rip Van Winkle hasn't connected yet with Pappy & Company doesn't mean the two businesses never will. After all, as Van Winkle III confessed, "that'd be fun."

Read the original article on Tasting Table