Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve

Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve is the flagship brand of bourbon whiskey owned by the "Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery" company. It is distilled and bottled by the Sazerac Company at its Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky.[1] Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve is often regarded as one of the finest bourbons in the world, and its very low production and high demand can make it extremely difficult to find.[2][3][4][5][6]

Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve
TypeBourbon whiskey
ManufacturerSazerac Company
Country of origin Kentucky, United States
Alcohol by volume 45.2–53.5%
Related productsBuffalo Trace
Old Rip Van Winkle



In 1893, when he was 18 years old, Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle Sr. began working as a salesman for W.L. Weller & Sons. He became co-owner fifteen years later. In 1910 they acquired the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky, which had started as a sour mash whiskey distillery in 1872.[7]

The Stitzel Distillery supplied much of the whiskey sold by the Weller wholesale firm. Old Rip Van Winkle was introduced just before the start of prohibition in the United States.[1] After prohibition, the brand was not reintroduced until after 1972 when the Stitzel-Weller distillery and its current brand names (including W. L. Weller, Old Fitzgerald, Rebel Yell, and Cabin Still) were sold to other companies.[1] The only brand name the Van Winkle family had kept the rights to was the pre-prohibition brand Old Rip Van Winkle.[1] A photo of Pappy Van Winkle lighting a cigar graces the bottle's label.[3][8][9][10]

Sometime after the Stitzel-Weller distillery was sold in 1972, Julian Van Winkle Jr. reintroduced the Old Rip Van Winkle brand and initially used old whiskey stocks from the distillery for its bottlings.[1] Julian Jr. died in 1981 and Julian Van Winkle, III (Pappy's grandson)[11] took over the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery company.

After the initial sale in 1972, the Stitzel-Weller distillery was eventually closed completely in 1991.[12]

Since 2002, the Van Winkle brands have been distilled and bottled by the Sazerac Company at the Buffalo Trace Distillery as a joint venture with the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery company.[1]

In 2013, Julian Preston Van Winkle III, said the 2013 bottlings of the 23-year brand expression "may be the last of its kind", since at that point there was very little left of the aging stock from the Stitzel-Weller distillery (although he said the brand would not be discontinued).[7][13] The makers say that they do not want to boost production, as there is considerable long-term risk, and they do not want to be left holding copious quantities of unsaleable bourbon should tastes, fashions or circumstances change.[14]

Production is being increased somewhat, with a projected increase of the annual production from 6–8 thousand bottles in 2015 to 15 thousand by 2025, but the production will remain well below mass-market levels.[6]



The product has a cult-like following.[15][16] Famous chefs such as Anthony Bourdain and David Chang have favored the product.[2] Food Republic reported that Chef John Currence said: "There's Pappy Van Winkle, then there's everything else."[16] Bourbon aficionados have shown up in droves to get a small chance in a lottery to purchase some (at the full list price of more than $100 per bottle).[17][18] It has been called "the bourbon everyone wants but no one can get".[2] A writer for The Wall Street Journal said "you could call it bourbon, or you could call it a $5,000 bottle of liquified, barrel-aged unobtanium."[5][14] Jen Doll wrote in The Wire, "it's an age-old dilemma (supply and demand) leading to an age-old marketing dream (a product that can't be kept on the shelves ... money in the pockets ... bourbon in the bourbon snifters)."[2][4][14]

According to an article published by Fox News and Maxim, 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve is said to be one of the five most expensive bourbons.[19]

On April 10, 2018, Kentucky priest Father Jim Sichko personally delivered a bottle of 23 year old Pappy Van Winkle to Pope Francis. Sichko, who lives in Madison County, tweeted about the event, posting a photo of him handing over the pricey bourbon on April 10 with the caption, “Pope Francis receiving his 23 year old Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon as we shared our love of My Ole Kentucky Home!” He also posted a selfie taken with the Pope outside after mass on Sunday. The pope said "very good bourbon."[20]



Like all modern bourbons, Van Winkle bourbons are made primarily from corn and aged in charred new American oak barrels. A distinguishing feature of Van Winkle bourbons is their use of wheat as the secondary ingredient instead of the usual rye, and their additional inclusion of barley malt.

Pappy Van Winkle is aged for 15, 20 or 23 years,[11] all of which are considerably longer than the aging period for most bourbons. The 20 year is bottled at 90.4 U.S. proof (45.2% alcohol by volume)[9] and has been described as "intensely fruity".[3] The 15 year is bottled at 107 proof.[21] The 23 year is bottled at 95.6 proof.[3]


Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve is not to be confused with its similarly named sister brands, which are substantially less expensive and less sought after. The related brands include:[11]

  • Old Rip Van Winkle straight bourbon, aged 10 years, produced with a similar mash bill but much lower priced and aged for a shorter period
  • Van Winkle Special Reserve "Lot B" straight bourbon, aged 12 years
  • Van Winkle Family Reserve straight rye whiskey, aged 13 years

Some restaurant and bar menus fail to clearly distinguish the brand names, and may even list these other brands as "Pappy". Three telltale signs are that the other affiliated brands are aged less, so any product that is not aged at least 15 years is not true Pappy, only the true Pappy brands have the photo on the label showing Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle Sr., and only the true Pappy bourbons say "Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve" on the label.

The rye label includes a small subtext saying "From Pappy Van Winkle's Private Stock", but its main title does not use "Pappy", and the "Old Rip" and "Special Reserve" labels do not say "Pappy" at all.

Another product produced at the same distillery, with the same or almost the same mash bill, is Sazerac's W. L. Weller brand.[11]



Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve has won various awards.[1][22]

  • The 20-year-old expression won a Double Gold Medal at the 2014 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.[1][22]
  • The 23-year-old expression was named "Spirit of the Year" for 2010 by Wine & Spirits magazine in its annual buying guide issue.[23]
  • The 20-year-old expression was recognized with the "Trophy for Worldwide Whisky" and a Best-In-Class Gold Medallion in the 2008 International Wine and Spirit Competition.[24] It received a score of 99 ("superlative") from the Beverage Testing Institute in the same year.[24]
  • A 99 rating from the Beverage Testing Institute for the 20-year-old Pappy Van Winkle in 1996 was the highest rating it had ever given, and was instrumental in making the whiskey especially coveted.[6]

2013 theft


In mid-October 2013 the company reported the theft of 65 three-bottle cases of Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year and nine three-bottle cases of 13-year-old Van Winkle Family Reserve rye.[3][8][25] Police theorized that it took the thief about two months to complete the heist, and noted that whoever did it avoided being recorded by security cameras.[15]

On Monday December 2, Pat Melton, the sheriff of Franklin County, Kentucky, announced a $10,000 reward to anyone who could give information that leads to a conviction in the case. $1,000 of this reward money was offered by Bluegrass Crimestoppers and the other $9,000 by an anonymous donor.[26]

A break in the case came in March 2014 when a Buffalo Trace employee was arrested by Franklin County deputies when five barrels of stolen Wild Turkey bourbon were found on his property. On April 21, 2015, nine Kentucky residents, three of whom were employees at both Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace, were indicted for thefts at the Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey distilleries dating back to 2008. Over $100,000 worth of the stolen whiskey was recovered, including more than two dozen bottles of Pappy Van Winkle and 15 barrels of Wild Turkey.[27] The Van Winkle family has stated that the stolen whiskey should be destroyed as a precaution against tampering or contamination, pending the approval of the judge.[28][29][30] The recovered whiskey had been destroyed.[31]

The heists included Pappy Van Winkle (more than 20 cases), 50 to 70 cases of Eagle Rare bourbon, and stolen barrels of other whiskey that are still missing. The warrants recovered one barrel of 17-year-old Eagle Rare worth more than $11,000.[32][33] All nine defendants are charged with being members of a criminal syndicate, engaging in organized crime.[34]

In 2021, Netflix released a docuseries called Heist about the incident.[31]

Forgeries and counterfeits


Counterfeiters have used empty bottles of Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve to refill with other bourbon and sell as authentic. Counterfeiters will generally purchase empty Van Winkle bottles online on sites such as eBay and refill with similar tasting bourbon.[35]

As the Van Winkle line has grown in popularity and the values have risen, many recipes have been published online to try and mimic the taste of Van Winkle bourbon by blending other less valuable bourbons together. These bourbon mixes are commonly referred to as “Poor Man’s Pappy”.[36]

See also



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Old Rip Van Winkle Archived January 15, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b c d Doll, Jen (November 28, 2012). "The Bourbon Everyone Wants But No One Can Get". The Atlantic. Retrieved September 16, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e Gabriel, Trip (October 18, 2013). "The case of the Missing Bourbon". The New York Times. Frankfort, Kentucky. Retrieved October 19, 2013.
  4. ^ a b Simpson, Connor (October 19, 2013). "Where Did the Missing 65 Cases of Pappy Van Winkle Whiskey Go?". The Atlantic. Retrieved October 21, 2012.
  5. ^ a b Moss, Josh; Witzke, Chris. photographer (July 2013). "The Best Bourbon You'll Never Taste: Inside the Pappy Van Winkle Phenomenon". Louisville Magazine. Louisville, Kentucky: 66–69. 102. Archived from the original on August 8, 2014. Retrieved July 30, 2014.
  6. ^ a b c Hunt, Kristin (August 24, 2015). "10 Things You Didn't know About Pappy Van Winkle". The Washington Post, Thrillist. Retrieved August 26, 2015.
  7. ^ a b Lipman, Linda; Lipman, John. "American Whiskey: Commonwealth Distillery - Where Old Rip Van Winkle Sleeps". American Whiskey. Retrieved October 19, 2013.
  8. ^ a b Hall, Gregory A. (October 17, 2013). "Bourbon heist: Pappy Van Winkle stolen in apparent inside job". The Courier-Journal. Retrieved October 19, 2013.
  9. ^ a b "$26G worth of rare, expensive bourbon swiped from Ky. distillery". Fox News. October 19, 2013. Retrieved October 19, 2013.
  10. ^ Profitt, Doug (November 21, 2014). "Pappy Van Winkle: How 1 photo changed course of bourbon industry". WHAS-TV. Retrieved March 16, 2018.
  11. ^ a b c d Old Rip Van Winkle heritage Archived July 24, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ "American Whiskey: A Visit to the Ruins of Stitzel-Weller and the Louisville Distilleries". Retrieved December 31, 2022.
  13. ^ "2013 Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve Could Be Last Of Its Kind". August 31, 2013. Retrieved October 19, 2013.
  14. ^ a b c Gara, Tom (July 8, 2013). "Pappy Van Winkle, The Bourbon So Popular Even Billionaires Can't Find It". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 27, 2013.
  15. ^ a b Esterl, Mike (October 19, 2013). "Was the great bourbon heist an inside job?". WSJ Live. Archived from the original (Video) on October 20, 2013. Retrieved October 19, 2013.
  16. ^ a b "Pappy Van Winkle Stolen: $26,000 Of Beloved Bourbon Taken From Buffalo Trace Distillery". The Huffington Post. October 17, 2013. Retrieved October 19, 2013.
  17. ^ Gibson, Kevin (December 10, 2013). "Looking for a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon? Good Luck". Insider Louisville. Retrieved July 9, 2014.
  18. ^ "Bourbon fans lineup for Pappy Van Winkle raffle". WHAS-TV. Louisville, Kentucky. Archived from the original on August 8, 2014. Retrieved July 9, 2014.
  19. ^ Myers, Quinn (April 13, 2013). "5 most expensive bourbons". Maxim/Fox News. Retrieved July 31, 2014.
  20. ^ "Pappy for the Pope: Kentucky priest delivers bourbon to Vatican". Lexington Herald Leader. Retrieved April 19, 2018.
  21. ^ "Pappy Van Winkle 15 year old". Bourbon Enthusiast. Retrieved October 20, 2013.
  22. ^ a b "Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 20yr". Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery official website. Archived from the original on October 20, 2013. Retrieved October 19, 2013.
  23. ^ "Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year Old Bourbon Named "Spirit of the Year"". Best Brands. Archived from the original on October 20, 2013. Retrieved October 19, 2013.
  24. ^ a b "Pappy Van Winkle's 20yr 90.4 Proof Family Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; Pappy Van Winkles 20yr Bourbon". Retrieved October 19, 2013.
  25. ^ "Bourbon Heist: Who Stole the Pappy Van Winkle?Fans Buzzing After Batch Worth About $25,000 Taken From Kentucky Distillery". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 19, 2013. (subscription required)
  26. ^ Loftus, Tom (December 3, 2013). "Reward offered in theft of rare Kentucky bourbon". USA Today. Retrieved April 13, 2016.
  27. ^ Conlon, Kevin (April 22, 2015). "Sheriff: Criminal whiskey syndicate uncovered in Kentucky". CNN. Retrieved April 12, 2016.
  28. ^ Schreiner, Bruce (January 6, 2016). "Sheriff: Stolen Kentucky whiskey may be destroyed, not sold". Associated Press. Retrieved April 13, 2016.
  29. ^ "Franklin County sheriff: stolen bourbon to be destroyed". WKYT. January 5, 2016. Retrieved April 13, 2016.
  30. ^ Wiedeman, Reeves (January 28, 2016). "The Great Whiskey Heist". Men's Journal. Archived from the original on April 12, 2016. Retrieved April 13, 2016.
  31. ^ a b "'Pappygate' Coming to Netflix: Bourbon thefts profiled in new documentary, 'Heist'". Lexington Herald Leader. June 3, 2022. Retrieved December 8, 2023.
  32. ^ "Detective: Key man in bourbon theft promoted the victim". Times Free Press. Associated Press. April 22, 2015. Retrieved April 12, 2016.
  33. ^ Hall, Gregory A.; Loftus, Tom (March 12, 2015). "Stolen bourbon from Wild Turkey recovered". The Courier-Journal. Retrieved April 22, 2015.
  34. ^ "Kentucky bourbon theft ring targeted Buffalo Trace, Wild Turkey, Pappy Van Winkle". Associated Press. April 22, 2015. Retrieved April 12, 2016.
  35. ^ Goldfarb, Aaron (April 7, 2016). "Inside the Pappy Van Winkle Forgery Scheme That's Infiltrating Bourbon's Black Market". Esquire. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
  36. ^ Lotz, CJ (September 25, 2018). "Make Your Own (Almost) Pappy Van Winkle". Garden & Gun. Retrieved October 20, 2021.

Further reading