If there’s such a thing as bourbon royalty, it’s Pappy Van Winkle. The whiskey is one of the hardest-to-find bottles out there, and it’s cherished worldwide as the ultimate example of quality.
But how well do you really know Pappy? We separated fact from fiction and explored the Frankfort, Kentucky distillery and its beloved bourbon. Here are 11 things you need to know about the most treasured name in bourbon.
It started as a bourbon buy-back business.
Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle sold whiskey for W. L. Weller starting in 1893, and eventually became president of the Stitzel-Weller Distillery. But the distillery hit rough times and was eventually sold. To keep the family name and attention to quality alive, Julian Van Winkle III started buying back barrels of bourbon and bottling it as Old Rip Van Winkle.
Pappy Van Winkle is rare — really rare.
The distillery only releases around 7,000 cases a year, which is approximately 84,000 bottles. The distillery’s motto for its whiskey production is, “at a profit if we can, at a loss if we must, but always fine bourbon.”
Luckily there’s such a thing as a Pappy tracker.
The folks at Pappy want to make it as easy as possible for people to get a taste and have a list on the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery website of all the stores that receive an allocation of Pappy. Unfortunately because of the limited quantity, as easy as possible isn’t all that easy.
When you do find it, it’s pricey.
Bottles can go for thousands of dollars each. A bar in New York sold $145 shots of the stuff and ran out in a couple of hours.
Pappy was at the center of one of the largest alcohol heists.
Gilbert and Julia Curtsinger stole around $100,000 in whiskey from 2008 to 2015. The total heist included 17 barrels of bourbon and 20 cases of Pappy Van Winkle. The worst part of the story is that much of the bourbon had to be destroyed after it was found in 2015.
Some states resort to a Pappy lottery system.
Finding a bottle gets so competitive that the government in the state of Ohio holds a lottery to see who gets a bottle.
Julian Van Winkle has some whiskey alternatives for you, though.
Julian Van Winkle says you don’t have to drink Pappy. It’s hard to get and he knows it, so he offered some other options during an interview with GQ: 7 year old W.L. Weller, Maker’s 46, Four Roses single barrel, “and if that’s not available, then I’m gonna go drink vodka.”
Or you can go the jello shot route.
Not everyone treats it like a cherished object. A bar in Louisville called Meta sold $10 Pappy Van Winkle jello shots because if you’ve got it, flaunt it.
It hasn’t always been this way.
The Pappy craze didn’t start until 1996, after the Beverage Testing Institute rated the 20-year Pappy Van Winkle a 99 out of 100 — the highest rating for a whiskey ever given by the institute.
Part of the secret is in the mash.
Pappy Van Winkle is made with a higher percentage of wheat than most bourbons. To be a bourbon, it must have at least 51 percent corn, and then Pappy uses wheat instead of the typical rye, which makes the whiskey sweeter and fruitier.
The other part is time.
It takes 53 gallons of whiskey to make three gallons of Van Winkle 23. The rest is what’s known as the angel’s share, or the portion that’s evaporated and soaked into the barrel.