Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20 yr Straight Bourbon Whiskey Red Foil Green Glass


SPIRIT: Bourbon

VOLUME: 750 ml

ABV/PROOF: 45/90

AGE:  20 years

 In 2003 Julian Van Winkle III, the grandson of the legendary Pappy Van Winkle – and something of a legend in his own right – signed a deal with Buffalo Trace to produce whiskey for him, with his specifications and under his supervision, under the Van Winkle line of bourbons and rye. Until then, Van Winkle had been relying on stocks left over from his family’s Stitzel-Weller distillery, and others that he acquired along the way, to fill bottles for his brands and those of his clients at his Old Commonwealth Distillery. But supplies were running low, and Diageo, the new owners of the old Stitzel-Weller facility, cut off future whiskey. As a result, the history of Van Winkle whiskeys is split in two: before Buffalo Trace and after. 

While there is much to say in favor of Van Winkle’s whiskeys in the Buffalo Trace era, nothing can match the peculiar qualities of those older stocks of whiskey, or the irresistible collectability of that era. Today Van Winkle releases a regular line of whiskeys, in uniform bottles. But this wasn’t always the case – in fact, it was quite the opposite. Strapped for cash and desperate for customers, he used whatever he could find to bottle whatever he had, for domestic consumption or export. The result is a treasure trove of unicorns, idiosyncratic releases of which, in many cases, only a handful survive. 

Among the rarest is this bottle, among the first of Van Winkle’s 20-year-old releases. Its red-foil cap and green glass suggest that he produced it in the mid- to late 1990s (he switched to clear glass in 1999). These early bottlings of the 20 year old – and the 23 year old – draw not on the wheated whiskey stocks Van Winkle sourced from Stitzel-Weller, but a high-rye bourbon that likely came from the Old Boone distillery.

Arguably, it was this batch of whiskey that more than any other single bourbon is responsible for the Pappy craze to follow – and, arguably, the bourbon boom itself. It was a bottle of Van Winkle’s Boone-sourced bourbon that so impressed the judges at the Beverage Testing Institute, who in 1997 awarded it an astounding 99 points out of 100. American whiskey had never soared so high, and the world took notice.

Release: Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20-Year-Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Spirit: Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey

Producer: Old Rip Van Winkle

Misc.: The Stitzel-Weller distillery no longer makes whiskey, but its current owner, Diageo, has kept it largely intact from its distilling days.

Collectors’ tips: Though it looks identical to the Pappy bottles later sold by Buffalo Trace, an easy giveaway is the location listed at the bottom of the front label – Lawrenceburg indicates that Julian Van Winkle III bottled it himself, while Frankfort would mean Buffalo Trace did it.

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