An instant New York Times bestseller
From the bestselling author of The Cost of These Dreams
The story of how Julian Van Winkle III, the caretaker of the most coveted cult Kentucky Bourbon whiskey in the world, fought to protect his family's heritage and preserve the taste of his forebears, in a world where authenticity, like his product, is in very short supply.
As a journalist said of Pappy Van Winkle, "You could call it bourbon, or you could call it a $5,000 bottle of liquified, barrel-aged unobtanium." Julian Van Winkle, the third-generation head of his family's business, is now thought of as something like the Buddha of Bourbon - Booze Yoda, as Wright Thompson calls him. He is swarmed wherever he goes, and people stand in long lines to get him to sign their bottles of Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve, the whiskey he created to honor his grandfather, the founder of the family concern. A bottle of the 23-year-old Pappy starts at $3000 on the internet. As Julian is the first to say, things have gone completely nuts.
Forty years ago, Julian would have laughed in astonishment if you'd told him what lay ahead. He'd just stepped in to try to save the business after his father had died, partly of heartbreak, having been forced to sell the old distillery in a brutal downturn in the market for whiskey. Julian's grandfather had presided over a magical kingdom of craft and connoisseurship, a genteel outfit whose family ethos generated good will throughout Kentucky and far beyond. There's always a certain amount of romance to the marketing of spirits, but Pappy's mission statement captured something real: "We make fine bourbon - at a profit if we can, at a loss if we must, but always fine bourbon." But now the business had hit the wilderness years, and Julian could only hang on for dear life, stubbornly committed to preserving his namesake's legacy or going down with the ship.
Then something like a miracle happened: it turned out that hundreds of very special barrels of whiskey from the Van Winkle family distillery had been saved by the multinational conglomerate that bought it. With no idea what they had, they offered to sell it to Julian, who scrambled to beg and borrow the funds. Now he could bottle a whiskey whose taste captured his family's legacy. The result would immediately be hailed as the greatest whiskey in the world - and would soon be the hardest to find.
But now, those old barrels were used up, and Julian Van Winkle faced the challenge of his lifetime: how to preserve the taste of Pappy, the taste of his family's heritage, in a new age? The amazing Wright Thompson was invited to be his wingman as he set about to try. The result is an extraordinary testimony to the challenge of living up to your legacy and the rewards that come from knowing and honoring your people and your craft. Wright learned those lessons from Julian as they applied to the honest work of making a great bourbon whiskey in Kentucky, but he couldn't help applying them to his own craft, writing, and his upbringing in Mississippi, as he and his wife contemplated the birth of their first child. May we all be lucky enough to find some of ourselves, as Wright Thompson did, in Julian Van Winkle, and in Pappyland.
Sportswriter Thompson (The Cost of These Dreams) uncorks a fast-paced and colorful history of 20th-century Southern culture, told through the story of charismatic cult-bourbon maker Julius P. Van Winkle III. "He's a man around whom others tend to revolve," Thompson writes. The story begins at a recent Kentucky Derby, where Thompson meets Van Winkle III amid a crowd of people with "seersucker stuck to their thighs" who "hold liquor like ninth graders." In digging into the Van Winkle family's saga of loss and internal conflict, he recounts three generations of successes and failures: It starts with patriarch Julian Proctor "Pappy" Van Winkle introducing Old Fitzgerald, a top-shelf 100-proof bourbon in 1935 and ends with the family's reluctant sale of its distillery in 1972, due to "an eroding business and family politics." However, the wildly successful Pappy Van Winkle bourbon that Van Winkle III created, is "a chance to soothe the pain his father felt when he lost what Pappy had built." But it can't revive a fading Southern culture that was largely mythical in the first place. "Being Southern," Thompson writes, "means carrying a responsibility to shake off the comforting blanket of myth and see ourselves clearly." Thompson more than fulfills that burden with insight and eloquence.
Customer ReviewsSee All
More than just a book on bourbon.
This was a good read. As Julian said in the afterword, Wright is a wordsmith. This book transcends the world of pappy and bourbon and can create meaningful connections for anyone who reads it, even if you’ve never imbibed in your life.
Who is this book about?
I was really hoping to like this book when I heard about and started reading it, but the further I got into the book the more I realized it’s half a biography about Julian Van Winkle and half an autobiography about the author and his family which was extremely disappointing. The more I read the more I started reading about the author’s political preferences which like most people I could care less about. Lastly, you write a book about the Van Winkles and their famous distilleries and don’t bother to include one single picture of anything? Pretty disappointing as well to say the least.
Bait & Switch
Great subject if the writer wouldn’t stop talking about himself. Tricked into a memoir when thought this was about bourbon.