I'll begin by saying I've only tried one Pappy Van Winkle whiskey, and it was the Van Winkle 12 year. That said, I've always been fascinated with the cult-like following this whiskey has. My first taste came on my 48th birthday, and I paid for a 1.5 oz, and I'm not going to lie, it was fantastic and well worth the price.
But, what is with the obsession many have with Pappy?
After a bit of research, I found the best-detailed account comes from whiskey author Fred Minnick, in his book Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey. Minnick writes that the Van Winkle phenomenon began in the 1990s, when Julian Van Winkle, the grandson of Pappy, began blending the 20- and 23-year-old whiskeys, which, up to that point, most consumers considered too oaky for their liking.
“Julian kind of entered the space—he’d been in the business for a long time—and he’s getting barrels from his family’s old distillery at Stitzel-Weller and bottling them,” wrote Minnick. “He has this kind of savant palate where he can taste one barrel and know that it would really complement another barrel when he mingles them together for a batch. He had this incredible talent to put something out at 20 and 23 years old that was not saturated in oak—something that the market hadn’t seen before.”
In 2002, the Van Winkles partnered with Buffalo Trace Distillery—and the brand really started to heat up. By 2005, the demand is really there,” says Minnick. “People know about [Pappy]. Around 2008, for one bottle there are 50 to 100 people who want it. In 2012, you have such demand that these guys have to do lotteries and now people are camping out.
It is estimated that less than 10,000 barrels are released each year.
In 2018, the love for Pappy's is as strong as ever, prompting many area bars and restaurants to work hard to acquire what they can. And when they do, it usually doesn't last very long.
This week, Gamlin Whiskey House welcomed six new Pappy Van Winkle bourbons. Old Rip Van Winkle 10, Van Winkle 12, Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15, Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20, Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23 and Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye are currently available at Gamlin Whiskey House (236 N. Euclid Ave., St. Louis, MO 63108).
Each variety is available in a 1.5 oz. or 2.5 oz. pour ($30-150). Based on previous releases, these will likely sell out within a week, if not sooner.
Old Rip Van Winkle 10
1.5 oz. $30 2.5 oz $45
Van Winkle 12
1.5 oz. $35 2.5 oz. $50
Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 15
1.5 oz. $55 2.5 oz. $75
Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 20
1.5 oz. $85 2.5 oz. $110
Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 23
1.5 oz. $120 2.5 oz. $150
Van Winkle Family Rye
1.5 oz. $55 2.5 oz. $75