Old Rip Van Winkle Straight Bourbon Whiskey 10 yrs American Legion Post #120 Xmas 1988


SPIRIT: Bourbon

VOLUME: 750 ml

ABV/PROOF: 45/90

AGE:  23 years

American whiskey has come a long way, and few bottles demonstrate that journey better than this one, a 10-year-old Old Rip Van Winkle prepared for American Legion Post #120, located in the middle of Loogootee, Indiana, a town of fewer than 3,000 people (at the time) on the Illinois border. Today, such bottles are as rare as hen’s teeth and impossible to find at less than $1,000 – but in 1988, when this bottle appeared, it was cheap enough to distribute as a Christmas gift at a small-town veterans’ club.

At the time, Julian Van Winkle III, the scion of the Van Winkle distilling family, was scraping by as a private bottler out of a near-derelict old distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. He made most of his money bottling for other people, and for export – everything from A.H. Hirsch to Old Saint Nick passed through his facility. He picked up extra money by bottling his own whiskey, sourced from the Stitzel-Weller Distillery, which his father procured after he was forced to sell the site in 1972. 

It was amazing liquid, and Van Winkle knew it. The problem was, nobody else did – or at least, not enough people cared. Bourbon was unpopular generally, and well-aged, luxury American whiskey of the sort that Van Winkle was selling attracted only a small clutch of fans (the story was different in Japan, where many of his bottles ended up). Hence the American Legion bottling – Van Winkle would do anything to keep his namesake brand alive, and at least a group of Indiana veterans were likely to actually enjoy what he was selling.

There is nothing fancy about this bottle – it has a screw cap, and the label is largely hand-written. But that is, of course, part of its charm, and its great historic value. It speaks to the hard-scrabble work that people like Van Winkle were willing to undertake to keep their industry, and their legacy, alive.

Release: Old Rip Van Winkle 10-Year-Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Bottled for American Legion Post #120

Spirit: Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey

Producer: Old Rip Van Winkle

Misc.: Though Van Winkle’s labels would later become much more updated and sophisticated, this one still bears many of the tropes of the old industry, including the notion that the whiskey had been “asleep in the wood” for 10 years.

Collectors’ tips: This is not the only time Van Winkle bottled his whiskey for a particular organization, and it’s worth seeking out a variety of them if you are building out a Pappy-centric collection. 

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