Saturday, June 23, 2012

What's in that bottle of Van Winkle anyway?

With all the interest in Van Winkle Bourbon -- I thought this was a very interesting read from the Whiskey Advocate Blog

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What's in that bottle of Van Winkle anyway?
JUNE 11TH, 2012

A few weeks ago, when I posted my review of Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15 year old here, a big discussion ensued about the source of this whiskey (and other Van Winkle expressions). I noted at the time that the comment thread on my review was neither the time nor place to discuss something as in-depth as this. I wanted to focus on the quality of the whiskey, not the politics behind it.

We approached the person who we feel knows as much about the subject as anyone, Whisky Advocate contributor Chuck Cowdery. He went directly to Julian Van Winkle for the facts, and here’s his report.

It’s no secret that the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery isn’t a distiller. It’s a marketing company, and a brand, run by Julian Van Winkle III and his son, Preston, with partners the Sazerac Company.

Van Winkle, as a brand name, was retained by the Van Winkle family when Julian’s father sold the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in 1972. Julian took over after his father died. The company continued to operate as a non-distiller producer, mostly selling whiskey made at Stitzel-Weller, which stopped distilling twenty years ago.

About ten years ago, with whiskey from Stitzel-Weller no longer available, the Van Winkles entered into a joint venture with the Sazerac Company to secure a future supply. Sazerac’s Buffalo Trace Distillery made wheated bourbon sporadically between 1991 and 1999, and in earnest after 1999. When Sazerac acquired the W. L. Weller brand in 1999, it received stocks of wheated bourbon made at the new Bernheim distillery between 1992 and 1999.

That’s where things stand now.

Because the Van Winkle whiskeys are so rare, esteemed and costly, there is always a great deal of interest in where they were made. Sources changed over the years and it can be hard to keep up. It is impossible for anyone, even the Van Winkles, to say with certainly what any given bottle contains, though except for the rye, everything in recent years has been Buffalo Trace, Bernheim, or Stitzel-Weller, individually or in combination. They create a profile prior to bottling, based on what they have available and how much whiskey they need, then dump barrels accordingly.

Here, specifically, is the make-up for the upcoming (Fall 2012) bottling. This information comes directly from Julian Van Winkle.

The Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye has long been a 50/50 combination of Medley (Owensboro) and Cream of Kentucky (old Bernheim in Louisville) rye whiskey. The whiskey was all dumped into stainless steel tanks years ago. Each fall, some of it is withdrawn and bottled.

This fall’s Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year old will be wheated bourbon made entirely at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort.

Van Winkle Family Reserve 12 year old (‘Lot B’) will be a mixture of wheated bourbons made at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort and the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville.

Pappy Van Winkle 15 year old will be a mixture of wheated bourbons made at Buffalo Trace, Bernheim, and Stitzel-Weller; every bottle will contain some whiskey from each distillery.

Pappy Van Winkle 20 year old and Pappy Van Winkle 23 year old will be a mixture of wheated bourbons made at Buffalo Trace and Stitzel-Weller.

Eventually, as current stocks are depleted, everything will become Buffalo Trace.

–Chuck Cowdery

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